Thursday, July 19, 2018

14 alternative ways to top up your professional learning...

Everyone knows that I am a professional learning junky. I love professional learning. I love the feeling of knowing that your practice has truly been transformed and has made a positive difference in the world. What you might not know, is that I get my kicks from far more than just conferences and reading educational books and journals. Next time you are in need of some professional learning or a new perspective, why not try one of these...

#1 Visit the art gallery.
Visiting a well-curated art gallery is a relaxing but cognitively engaging way to gain new perspectives and understanding about many issues in society. For example, my visit to the Auckland Art Gallery this week revealed some new understandings about the way that our 'priority learners.' I was interested to learn about the way that the term Pasifika is used and perceived. It had me wondering about my own inquiry and the language that we use in schools that inadvertently serves to alienate, exclude or include people. Additionally, the gallery also provided some inspiration for my upcoming module about Megastructures! I see some making in our future!

Photo taken at the Auckland Art Gallery, 18 July 2018.
Photo taken at the Auckland Art Gallery, 18 July 2018.

#2 Visit the museum.
Museums can hold many clues about how we got to where we are. At the same time, they can provide inspiration for where we might go next. My most recent visit to the Auckland War Memorial provided inspiration for an upcoming module at school called War Machines. Not only did it help me to plan out my unit, it has provided me with relevant examples from the New Zealand Māori and European context. As my inquiry this year is focussing on how we might draw on and build cultural knowledge (in the science classroom), the inspiration was well received and immediately implemented.
At the end of the museum visit I had to sit down and take a moment to write down all the ideas!

#3 Curate a Twitter list. 
One of the reasons why I keep coming back to Twitter over many other social media platforms is that I have far more control over what I see. There are fewer algorithms prioritising what I see (in my experience at least). Hence, to increase my understanding and awareness of alternate perspectives, I have curated a Twitter list of Māori new sources, influencers and leaders. This provides an ongoing narrative helping me to reframe my thinking about what is going on in our world on a daily basis. I find Twitter an endlessly useful tool for exciting my regular thought bubbles.

#4 Watch a comedy show.
There are some absolutely brilliant comedians that provide a nuanced and critical view on many of the issues that influence our young people and their decisions in school. And, they do this in an entertaining way. Just think about Trevor Noah or Hannah Gadsby.

There are tons of other ways that you are able to top op your learning too. Here are a few of the other ways that I like to supplement my academic reading with:

  1. Interview an expert.
  2. Watch a related documentary.
  3. Listen to a podcast.
  4. Read a novel with a similar theme or context. (Talk to your librarian/English teachers about this!)
  5. Watch a movie with a similar theme or context. (Talk to some media studies teachers about this.)
  6. Complete a MOOC. They are free, fantastic and flexible with time. 
  7. Curate a Pinterestrest board with some visual inspiration. 
  8. Observe a colleague.
  9. Visit a school who has attempted to solve the same problem in a different way.
  10. Check in with your local university about upcoming (and usually free/cheap) seminars and talks.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Do we really need 13 reviews in education?

At my last count, there were 13 reviews currently underway in education. The review fever is so intense right now that some principals have called for "the [NCEA] review to be reviewed" (NZ Herald, 1 June 2018). But do we really need all these reviews? 13 potentially signals further shift in an education system where teachers, school leaders, and other stakeholders are already resistant and reluctant to embrace change. 13 reviews seems a bit much when educators are talking about things like change fatigue.

The past few months have seen various agendas in education pushed to the forefront. The New Zealand Initiative is promoting agendas such as returning to more external exams, suggesting that 21st-century approaches that promote creativity and critical thinking is selling snake oil. In the meantime, both NZEI and the PPTA are concerned about teacher workload, pay, and student to teacher ratios. There are also the Ministry of Education's priorities to add to the mix. The past few years have seen them demand Innovative Learning Spaces and Communities of Learning, and at the same time request more and more data.

While the battle rages, I wanted to take a moment to remind all of us, the unions, the school leaders, the teachers, the government, the students, the parents, the universities and any and every other stakeholder in education why it is so important that we take an in-depth and critical look at our education system as we engage with these reviews.

There are many reasons why I believe that large-scale change is desperately needed in education, however, one reason stands out to me in the New Zealand context. For generations, our education system has been failing to meet the needs of Māori and Pasifika students. Māori is not only said to be "underachieving" in our current system, but they are also over-represented in our prisons and in our suicide figures. For anyone who believes in education being egalitarian, this should ring alarm bells (and trigger an evacuation?). It was Marx who argued that education "propagates the social hierarchies of the ruling class." For me, this demands serious action, not just a review.

I also believe that the world has changed. To argue that education should not drastically change for the age of the internet, e-commerce, big data and climate change, would be the same as saying that education should not have changed with the arrival of the printing press, international trade and the industrial revolution. I worry that the traditionalist agenda does not seriously address the reality of our times, and instead may inadvertently create further inequality in our education systems by failing to acknowledge or address the reality of climate change, automation, networked knowledge, radical inequality and exponential technology such as quantum computing.

There are many other reasons why I think education should change. I have briefly summarised them in the infographic below. Hopefully, your critical information consumer alarm bells start ringing when you see such abbreviated versions of complex issues... If this is you, you can skip the junk food (infographic) and instead read the far more in-depth explanation (nutritious citations, references and a dash of philosophy) included at the end of this post.

(You can download the image here)

13 reviews seem like a lot, but when you consider the systemic problems of our current system, I wonder if it is enough. Hopefully, these reviews are are only the beginning, a starting point for systemic educational change that eliminates inequality in our system. I hope that these reviews create possibilities for a more hopeful future for everyone.

And for those of you who wanted a more in-depth version of why I believe education should be different... The text below is an 'outtake' of writing that I used to make sense of some of the themes that informed my thesis. 

Is education broken?

Purpose of education

To understand why education, and in particular schools might need a radical transformation, it is important to first examine its purpose, as this inevitably acts as the measure by which we establish whether it is in fact, fit for purpose.  Additionally, these conflicting philosophies contribute tension in public, private political and academic debates where unknowingly, arguments about the priorities for educational outcomes are underpinned by conflicting ideologies. These ideologies are philosophically “fundamentally irresolvable” (Biesta, 2009; Egan, 2001).

Generally, we can agree on a range of common, albeit conflicting purposes for education; Plato’s academic idea, Rousseau’s developmental idea, and socialization (Egan, 2001), or similarly as identified by Biesta (2009), socialisation, subjectification (development of individual autonomy), and qualification, (acquisition of knowledge and skills). Despite these ideas underpinning most, if not all debates in education, they are rarely acknowledged, but instead are assumed as a common understanding and assumption. This problem stretches beyond our current dissatisfaction in education, even extending to Aristotle who captures these tensions when he writes; “For in modern times there are opposing views about the tasks to be set, for there are no generally accepted assumptions about what the young should learn, either for virtue or for the best life; nor yet is it clear whether their education ought to be conducted with more concern for the intellect than for the character of the soul. The problem has been complicated by the education we see actually given; and it is by no means certain whether training should be directed at things useful in life, or at those conducive to virtue, or at exceptional accomplishments.”- Aristotle (Thomas, 2013)

Further, the legitimacy of these conflicting purposes are rarely questioned when considered in terms of postnormal times, described by Sardar (2010) as being “characterised by uncertainty, rapid change, realignment of power, upheaval and chaotic behaviour. We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. Ours is a transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future.”

Hence, if we wish to consider the ‘state of education’ and whether change is truly necessary, it is important that we examine these conflicting purposes in the context of our current, postnormal times.  

Plato’s academic idea or qualification

Despite the shift in the New Zealand Curriculum towards key competencies, much of the current New Zealand schooling experience is still heavily academic. Particularly at senior secondary, content is still assessed, usually with academic, externally marked and moderated exams at the end of an academic year. In many schools, these results act as gatekeepers for entry towards the next level course. Content is staggered, with schools gradually exposing students to increasingly complex ideas. Most schools still divide their time according to the academic disciplines – mathematics, English, science, social sciences and the arts. Few of these institutions however would recognise that these structural elements within the school timetable and their associated national qualifications are influenced by Plato’s ideas and purpose of education. 

Of particular importance here, is the purpose of education as upheld by Plato, that the ‘best’ accumulated knowledge is learnt, and that it transforms the mind of the learner to become increasingly rational (Egan, 2001). Thus, by selecting the best of our human knowledge, and selectively and gradually exposing students to the best of knowledge, we will develop students who are rational, and as a result, increasingly just and virtuous, and further, who might appropriately and rationally contribute in a democratic society. Biesta (2009) identifies this, as the qualification purpose of education, where the key purpose is the provision of particular knowledge and skills, often for set purposes such as preparation for the workforce or for economic development and growth.

We can thus conclude that Plato’s influence on education provides much of the foundation upon which the academic purposes of our current education systems rest, and as such, why so many of the systems and processes in our current education landscape reflects the ideals upheld in Plato’s Republic. Additionally, subsequent philosophers of education have also been influenced by Plato, and as a result further established these ideas as part of the common education paradigm.  

Rousseau’s developmental idea or subjectification

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a second philosopher whose ideas have had a significant influence on the current education paradigms within which we operate. Rousseau is credited with reimagining education as “supporting the fullest achievement of the natural process of mental development” (Egan, 2001). Or in other words, Rousseau is credited with reimaging education to be ‘age appropriate’, matching the curriculum to age of the child. Roussea’s ideas about a developmental curriculum is of particular significance as it forms the foundation upon which Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories were built (Egan, 2001). Much of today’s debates around personalisation in education are echos of Rousseau’s ideas which evolved to include learning style and personal sensibilities as matters also to be considered in educating a child. Thus, for Rousseau, the purpose of education was to develop the potential of the individual child and as such, he contributes a second potential purpose for education. 

Roussea’s ideas can also not be viewed in isolation, as he himself credits Plato’s Republic as “the finest treatise on education ever written”(Rousseau, 2012). However, Roussea’s philosophy does suggest an entirely different focus for the purpose of education. While Plato’s education system focuses on the society, seeking to develop the role of education in stabilising society, Roussea seeks to develop the individual development of the child, viewing society as a corrupting influence. Central to Rousseau’s philosophy, is that the child is at the center, and as such, we might conclude that the second key philisophical purpose of education is the development of the autonomos individual . This idea of the development of the autonomous individual is also echoed in Biesta (2009) who writes that “any education worthy of its name … allow those being educated to become more autonomous and independent in their thinking and acting.”


Yet a third purpose of education as outlined by Egan (2001), is that of socialisation, where education seeks to  impart the norms and values of a particular society. Or, as Dewey (2012) explains, it is the process by which a social group moulds or shapes an immature member into its social form. This means that a third potential purpose of education is that it helps young people learn to navigate the social codes of their society succesfully. Dewey (2012) even goes as far as to suggest that this socialisation contributes towards an individual winning the approval of others. Further, the socialisation purpose also might seek to inculture ways of being, or cultures of inquiry (Kuhn, 2008) within an academic domain as mathematician, scientist, sociologist and so forth (Biesta, 2009).

Coupled with the idea of socialisation is also that of democracy. Education serves a purpose in establishing a particular kind of citizen, as well as the type of democracy this is to bring about (Biesta, 2009). This is evident in Plato’s ideas in particular as his educational dialogues are heavily connected to ideas of a just society. We can thus conclude that it is this socialisation purpose that fosters a sence of belonginging and responsibility within a community (both academic and civil), particularly in regards to citizenship.

Fit for purpose? 

Although Biesta (2009) begins to stress the importance of examining the purpose of education within the current political landscape, his argument does not extend to a critique of these ideas, or the extent to which the current system actually meets these goals. Further, whilst the above three ideologies regarding the purpose of education are inherent within current and historical debates around education reform, a case can be made that education within its current state does not serve any one of these three foundational purposes of education. Thus, an argument can be made that a radical shift is needed within formal education, particularly in schools and tertiary academic institutes.  Further, since the intent of this study is to disrupt debates on educational futures, it is thus necessary to justify why such a disruption might be required.  

Individual level
One might begin a critique of the current modus operandi of education, and in particular schooling in New Zealand, with an evaluation of how the purposes of schooling are serving the individual. 

Central to the philosophies of Rousseau’s developmental idea and subjectification as discussed by Egan (2001) and Biesta (2009) respectively, is that the child and their needs are at the centre of the educational experience. However, if the child is in fact at the centre of our current system, the vast literature on student disengagement in school, particularly that of the ethnic minorities and those with special educational needs would suggest that this intention is not being met (Appleton, Christenson, & Furlong, 2008; Finn & Servoss, 2014; Wang & Eccles, 2013). A further example that illustrates that the child is not in fact at the centre, is that here in New Zealand, there are concerns around the unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety experienced by young people, because of their schooling experience, particularly around assessment (Education Review Office, 2015).
One might thus make the argument that the increasing levels of disengagement, partnered with concerns over student wellbeing indicates that the current schooling experience does not have the students at the centre, particularly for those students most at risk. 

The socialisation aspect of education as outlined above would suggest that education might play a significant role in helping students assimilate and to be successful within our social codes. Despite a general public consensus of the egalitarian purpose of school (Gilbert, 2005; Gordon, 2016), that education should act as the great equaliser, for some time now, research has suggested that this is in fact not the case (Biesta, 2009; Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh, & Teddy, 2009; Peet, 1975; Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999). If we are successful at using school as a means to socialise our young people, then we should not see such stark differences in the engagement, dropout rates, exam results and even incarceration of ethnic minorities or those from a lower socio-economic groups. However, given the differences we can observe between ethnicity and socio-economic groups (Finn & Servoss, 2014), we can thus argue that at an individual level, education does not successfully socialise all our young people to effectively navigate the social and political codes of society, but rather, as Marx argued, that it propagates the social hierarchies of the ruling class (Peet, 1975; Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999).

As to the third purpose of education, that of qualification or Plato’s academic idea, where the intent is to expose students to ‘best’ accumulated knowledge with the intent of developing rational and virtuous citizens, we can argue that here too education falls short in its goals. 
When considering the current rate at which knowledge advances (Weinberger, 2011), in conjunction with the pace at which National Curriculums and policy are reviewed and adapted,  we can raise serious questions as to the relevance of the knowledge to which students are exposed to throughout their academic career. This of course does not even begin to address what the expansive and exponential explosion of information should mean for education.
Additionally, the academic ideals of exposing our young people to the ‘best’ of human knowledge in an effort to prepare them for the working world, falls remarkably short of its promises too, as is evident by the skills gap (Stewart, Wall, & Maciniec, 2016). Graduates are frequently criticised for not having the right skills for success in the workplace, whilst the media also have begun questioning the usefulness of current qualifications including tertiary degrees (Alton, 2016; Durden, 2015; Duronio, 2012; Lehmann, 2015; Ryan, 2015). 

Further, one might also argue, that our education systems not only falls short in developing adults with the necessary skills for the postnormal workplace, but an argument can also be made that education is failing to develop adults with the mental models to successfully navigate the complexities and demands of the modern personal life too (Kegan, 1995). Not only are we seeing increased diversity within our communities and schools that require the skills to communicate effectively across cultural differences (Hall & Theriot, 2016), but we are also seeing a redefinition of how personal and professional relationships are navigated and established thanks to the rise and reach of social media (Gardner & Davis, 2014),.

In summary, we might argue that public education, in particular schools, fail to meet the needs of the individual. Not only do they fall short in socialising students in such a way that they are able to successfully navigate the vast complexities of postnormal life, but, it would appear that the academic agenda fails to do so also. Moreover, high levels of student disengagement, dissatisfaction and frustration would also suggest that the personal needs of students are also not met. 

National level

Despite the value that we have placed on the individual in recent times, national goals cannot be excluded from the debate around whether education and schooling is in fact meeting its goal. As is highlighted by both Plato and Dewey, the role of education is fundamental in that of the democratic society. 

At a national level we might also make the case that here too, education is not meeting its socialisation purpose. Within New Zealand, lower socio economic groups, as well as Maori and Pasifica groups, all have a long history of underachievement within academic contexts, but also of higher levels of unemployment, as well as higher levels of incarceration, illness and poverty (Bishop et al., 2009). Thus we can argue that education does not serve these groups in helping them to assimilate and be successful in the dominant culture (Peet, 1975).  Again we might bring into question the supposed egalitarian intent of education. Additionally, Dewey (2012) highlights the role of socialisation in bringing the “immature members into its own social form”. Thus, for those who have been marginalised within education and society, this will likely continue as these values and ideals are proliferated through the socialisation that takes places in education. Further, this educational idea also struggles in navigating the tension between the losses of cultural knowledge at the expense of socialisation (Milne, 2013). 

When examining the ideas of subjectivity and Rousseau’s developmental ideas within a national context, again, our current education model struggles to meet its goals here too. 
Current education models see large amounts of standardisation, a remnant from the industrial age. This sits both within the organisation of schools, but also the standardisation of the academic curriculum through achievement objectives and an externally driven assessment systems. Our students are educated in batches where everyone must learn the same things, where machinelike efficiency is valued (Berry, 2011; Callahan, 1962; Claxton, 2013), often over diversity, creativity, innovation, complex problem solving, individual strengths, passions and cultural capital, autonomy, and personal agency (Berry, 2011; Wagner & Compton, 2012). Given current, and potentially future economically and politically volatile times, one might argue that diversity, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking will likely play a key role in adaptability of communities and nations (Capra & Luisi, 2014; Facer, 2016) yet, our current system through high degrees of standardisation acts to reduce and diminish this diversity. Further, diversity is also attributed as a key factor for innovation (Pentland, 2014; Wagner & Compton, 2012), and as such, one may question whether the excessive focus on standardisation might mean the loss of economic revenue at a national level, due to the loss of creativity required for innovation.

A further contention within the national context when evaluating whether education is in fact fit for purpose is again, the academic agenda. A national curriculum serves the purpose of establishing an agenda for the ‘best’ knowledge. In New Zealand, despite the socialisation aspects of the curriculum that seek to develop “young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved life long learners” (Ministry of Education, 2007), a large part of the curriculum (or the back half as it is more informally called), still concerns itself with establishing what knowledge and skills students should learn. Despite the values of the curriculum claiming diversity, inquiry and curiosity, the back half serves as a reminder of the Platonic ideals of education where we already ‘know’ what the ‘best’ knowledge is. The achievement objectives that fill the second part of the New Zealand curriculum falls short because not only do they (potentially unintentionally) act to limit the potential of diversity through their standardisation of what students must know, and hence limit inquiry and curiosity within schools, but additionally, it also makes some assumptions about what constitutes the ‘best’ knowledge and skills for our students to learn. This begs the questions what knowledge is best to learn for who and for what purpose? 

Additionally, when considering the tension between social and cultural diversity, and the role of education to socialise individuals into the culture of inquiry within academic disciplines, one should also consider the changing nature of knowledge. David Weinberger (2011) and others (Barker, 2000; Cope & Phillips, 2009; Gilbert, 2005, 2007) argue that the internet, much like the printing press before that, has shifted the nature of knowledge. 
The rise of the printing press saw knowledge often being treated with an artificial linearity and hierarchy, and as a scare resource (Weinberger, 2011). However, the Internet, as well as wicked problems such as climate change that transcends disciplinary boundaries, has led to epistemic shifts in the way knowledge is produced, stored, used and communicated. Weinberger (2011) and Bolstad et al. (2012) summarise these shifts through identifying that knowledge has become more accessible and less of a scarcity, becoming available to a much greater number of people in a greater range of contexts, but also through being filtered forward (rather than out, as was necessary in the age of print where every word costs money to print). In other words, knowledge is no longer guarded in paid journals and university libraries. This has a range of implications including, that the shape of knowledge has shifted to networks of interactions, people and reasoning. This also means that we have seen an explosion of knowledge, particularly as knowledge production is no longer reserved largely for universities and academia, but rather, we can now easily find the contributions of the expert amateur, corporate research and development, and cultural knowledge. 
Essentially, knowledge has become networked, exponential, dynamic and diverse (Weinberger, 2011).

When the very nature of knowledge is shifting, then here too we can argue that socialising students into the culture of an academic domain poses problems. For example, when knowledge no longer needs to be dominated by a male Eurocentric bias (Ruse, 1981), what becomes the ‘best’ knowledge to learn and teach? Additionally, what new role can and should the greater accessibility to knowledge play when considered in light of developing the individual rather than the society or class? Should individuals be allowed and enabled to choose their own path through the exploded landscape of knowledge, or should the best knowledge be chosen from across this landscape to expose all students too? And, by choosing the ‘best’ knowledge to expose all students to, what critical redundancy is removed from the system, by socialising individuals into particular modes of thinking that might serve to propagate existing cultural norms and mental models that have contributed to climate change, inequality and other global wicked problems?  
Further, few national curriculums make space for the rise of emerging interdisciplinary fields such as climate change and nanotechnology, quantum biology or nutrigenomics. As noted earlier, national curriculums generally cannot keep pace with the dynamic rate at which knowledge is evolving in modern times. 
In summary, the idea of the ‘best’ knowledge no longer holds up in postnormal times, where the selection of this knowledge not only serves to exclude, both cultural and academics perspectives, but also that national curriculums simply cannot match the current explosion of knowledge and so is at risk of forever being out of date. 

Global level

At the global level, a large number of factors contribute towards experts predicting shifts in our society as radical as the Industrial Age, if not more (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012; Facer, 2011; Sardar, 2010). Hence, if we compare the present model of education against currents global trends and challenges, here too, the purported purposes of the education, of what school supposedly provides do not hold up to their promise. 
Whilst our current education system was a product of the industrial revolution, one might argue as Gilbert (2005) does, that a new model is required for a different age.

On a global scale, humanity is facing a number of wicked problems. Of major concern is the rising impact of climate change (Stokes, Wike, & Carle, 2015). Rising sea levels that will impact coastal communities and infrastructure, drastic differences in climate that will likely impact global food production through drought, floods and other changing weather patterns, as well as increased risk of natural disasters, means that this environmental problem is likely to impact the lives of citizens in every country, at every level. Given that most of New Zealand’s economy is dependent on agriculture and forestry, it becomes urgent and critical that the possibility of radical climate change is addressed as this will directly impact out economic sustainability. Alongside climate change, radical inequality, over population, resources scarcity, specifically around food and water are also major global concerns (Emmott, 2013; Facer, 2011). 

When considering the potential socialisation purpose of school, one may then question the role that education plays in the increasing amount of concerns around these wicked problems that may dramatically, if not catastrophically transform our environment and way of living. Where socialisation is considered to act as a means to impart the norms and values of our culture (Egan, 2001), we can then question the extent to which schools have contributed in socialising the populous into cultural norms that prioritise economic growth over environment, consumerism over environmentalism, growth over ethics. In other words, to what extent are the ways that we socialise our young people into the current ways of doing things, the current paradigms of thinking, actually contributing to the escalating environmental disasters? Monbiot (2012) captures much of this culture of consumerism that feeds large-scale environmental destruction when he writes, “Pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it. … There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush …”

Additionally, since the establishment of our current education model, globalisation has taken hold. Not only are we seeing significantly increased international levels of trade and exchange, but also some experts have argued that we are in the ‘age of migration’ (Triebert, 2014). 
Individuals are asked to navigate the complexities of a range of cultural norms and practices on a daily basis within the workplace and community. This means that our formerly homogenous communities have been overtaken by new levels of cultural and social diversity, meaning our norms and traditions within which we have been socialised, are challenged on a daily basis (Kegan, 1995).
Hence, we can argue that here too socialisation falls short of its goals, since we can argue that our schools do not socialise our young people into new models of citizenship and ways of being within this global landscape; a task that might be increasingly necessary given the ever-increasing levels of migration and globalisation. 

It is evident that these new models of democracy and citizenship in increasing cultural and social diversity is not yet established, particularly when considering the on going public discussion around the banning of hijabs (Kakissis, 2016; Nasralla, 2017), or gay rights movements (Herskovitz, 2017), or recent current events in the United States of America and their executive orders around excluding refugees from particular countries. 

It is difficult to see how a focus on literacy, numeracy, academic qualifications and standardised testing helps to socialise a population to navigate the complexities of human diversity successfully, whilst maintaining the ideals of equality and democracy, particularly when these are not the histories or values of all the people that now make up our economic, social and political contexts. 

Questions can also be raised about the homogenising effect of socialisation, and how these serve in direct opposition to the subjectification goals of education. If diverse student bodies are socialised in such a way that we are homogenising the population, enormous cultural capital, as well as personal autonomy and identity is lost. 

Much has been written about the role of education in preparing the individual for society (Biesta, 2009; Plato, 2004; Rousseau, 2012), yet, again when examined on a global scale, we can argue that current education models are failing to do so. The rise of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) in postnormal society suggests that it has become nearly impossible to ‘prepare’ students for their future, particularly as already their present is characterised by extreme volatility and complexity (Facer, 2011; Sardar, 2010). 

Within the business world, this has led some experts to argue for the limitations of a strategic plan in a volatile, complex world (Bennett & Lemoine, 2014; Berger & Johnston, 2015).  The question can then be asked, if in the business domain strategic plans no longer provide the flexibility for companies to adapt to a changing world, how then does a standardised education system largely designed during the Industrial Revolution prepare our young people to be sufficiently adaptive in a volatile world? In a system where command and control dominates, how might students develop the agility and adaptiveness that enables successful navigation in and of a VUCA world? And, when considering Rousseau’s developmental idea, how can an education system conceived of during the Industrial Revolution, possibly provide for the passions and interests of our modern students who are living in fast paced world characterised by new technology including social media, online gaming (Gardner & Davis, 2014), and a myriad of other new economies, and communities, all of which contribute towards increasing complexity, volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity.

Further, amongst politicians, academics and social forecasters, much speculation has centred around the role of increased automation and the impact this will have on society and economy.  In particular, growing concerns are suggesting that the impact of automation on jobs including lawyers, doctors and so forth might see a shift in society as big as the industrial revolution, albeit more rapidly (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012). Already, IBM’s super computer Watson is diagnosing lung cancer at rates more accurate than experienced human doctors (reference?). As a result of the increasing impact of automation in replacing human jobs, many governments around the world are investigating the concept of Universal Basic Income (Bulman, 2017) as a means of managing a society where many people may no longer need to work. 

Again, the qualification purpose of education is brought into question here. Since currently much of school supposedly serves as a means of preparing students for the workplace as a means of financial providing for oneself or family, what happens when the workplace becomes a choice rather than a necessity? What will schools then be preparing students for? Additionally, the rise of automation raises serious questions about the types of jobs that we are preparing students for. Not only are jobs such as truck and taxi drivers and factory workers already being replaced, but traditional while collar jobs such as doctors, lawyers and accountants are too (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012; Morgenstern, 2016). Although it is not clear what types of jobs will be demanded in future economies, current trends are suggesting that jobs with high degrees of routine are most at risk of being replaced by machines, hence the arguments from futurists, economists and educationist, alike who argue for the emphasis of soft skills such as collaboration and creativity in schools (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012; Claxton, 2013; Facer, 2011; Sardar, 2010; Wagner & Compton, 2012). Yet, currently, schools still emphasise traditional pathways of preparation for the workforce, with the supposed soft skills serving largely as an add on rather than the core business of schools. 

For much of the history of public education where a national curriculum has stipulated what children should learn, we have selected the ‘knowledge to be imparted’. Teachers have acted as the experts and so, for many generations now, students have learnt of Shakespeare, Pythagoras, Newton, and Darwin - the supposed ‘best’ of our collective human knowledge. Much educational debate has centred around the suggestion that these academic pursuits will develop the rational thinking that will see students succeed in future. However, this selection of the ‘best’ knowledge carries with it some mental constructs and paradigms that may in fact limit the thinking of our students.
 Examples of this is evident within feminist(?) research, complexity theory (Capra & Luisi, 2014) and other models of thinking that deliberately seek to create and explore knowledge from paradigms outside of the dominant social culture. Capra and Luisi (2014) provide a prime example of this when they explain the limitations of the traditional reductionist approach in scientist when dealing with quantum theory, where reducing the structures studied to smaller and smaller parts to attempt to understand the whole, fails, as some properties only emerges within the interactions between parts, rather than the parts themselves. 

Other dominant paradigms such as the belief that continued economic growth is possible (Kirk, 2015), may also dominate, yet it is this very paradigm that one can argue has contributed to the large-scale environmental destruction that has now led to the climate change concerns. As such, we can see then that the purpose of education to impart the ‘best’ of human knowledge has limitations on a global scale too, as not only do we stumble into challenges when selecting the ‘best’ of knowledge given the knowledge explosion that has accompanied the Internet, but also that by the very selection to include some knowledge, others are excluded, and by that means, we exclude knowledge that may in fact be critical for the future sustainability of the planet. 

Re-evaluating the purpose of education given postnormal contexts

As Egan (2001) explains, education is difficult and contentious precisely because at its philosophical roots, the very purposes of education are in conflict with each other. As such, in increasingly diverse communities, conflicting ideologies are always at odds with each other in education debates. Particularly as Biesta (2009) argues, because we do not explicitly call these ideologies to the forefront. Further, we can argue that extensive economic, social and environmental changes are contributing towards a radically different society from the one in which our current education system was conceived in, and as such, our current education models does not meet its purpose when evaluated for its role in postnormal society. In conclusion, we can thus argue that our current formal education model, particularly as it relates to schooling, is no longer fit for purpose, and that a radical shift is needed. 

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Three important growth mindset lessons for teachers ...from skateboarding

I imagine you would be hard-pressed to find a teacher in New Zealand who has not heard about growth versus fixed mindsets (see the video below if you haven't yet). Most of us have a poster or two about in our schools or classrooms. we have used it to encourage struggling or frustrated students. Some of us have even used the posters to remind ourselves from time to time to keep at a task when it seemed impossible, challenging or daunting.

I was reminded this weekend of a few important growth mindset lessons. I went along to my first all-girls skateboarding class today. The class is aimed at women eighteen years and over. After getting my elbow and knee pads, helmet and wrist guards on, I picked up my new skateboard and prepared for some new learning. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that I am sporty and co-ordinated. I'm not. In fact, I am all uncoordinated limbs that constantly suffer the impact of my limited spatial awareness. And this skating thing? I tried it for the first time about two years ago. So we are talking real beginner here. And on top of this, my lack of participation in a sport before this means I have few muscle memories to help ease the transition.

As I practiced my tic-tacs (turning by lifting the front of the board as shown in the gif below), it occurred to me that I had forgotten some of the important lessons about growth mindsets in the way that I was planning my lessons.

Image result for skateboarding tick tack gif

Lesson 1: Play
How often do we give students a chance just to play? How often do we structure, scaffold and constrain students? Particularly at secondary schools? How much science is done with instructions, rather than as explorations? Yet, we know that much learning happens through play whether you are an adult or a child. In my skateboarding class this morning, I was reminded of just how different my attitude is to play than it is to work. I tried different strategies, I practiced things so that I could feel confident about moving on to try something else. I tried stuff and failed, and tried again because there was no real risk involved. How often have we wished that our students would keep trying, or would search out new strategies? Yet how often do we give them the chance to play? Perhaps if I gave my students more time to play, they might seize the reduced risk environment to fail safely and try again.

Lesson 2: Choose your level
I watched in admiration at the other women who attended the skate session with me. One of them was teaching herself to drop in from increasing heights on the ramps available. Another one was practicing getting over the lowest ramps for the first time. I was practicing turning (I am not an ambiturner yet). If I had tried the drop in on day one, things would have ended badly. I would most likely have felt terrified and not very successful. At the same time, if the more advanced skaters had to practice how to do a basic turn like I was, they would most likely have felt frustrated and bored. Chances are, all of us would have gotten distracted and off task if the learning wasn't pitched at the right level for us. This was an important reminder that often in schools we make assumptions about someone's fixed mindset when in reality it is the learning that is not pitched at the right level for the students. The emotional roller coaster of learning a brand new skill reminded me that it is time to break out my professional readings about the zone of proximal development again.

Lesson 3: If you are not falling, you are not trying hard enough
Between tangles of limbs, high speed, and attempting to lift the front of the board off the ground while turning, and staying balanced, falling is pretty much inevitable. In fact, it almost feels like you are not trying hard enough if you turn up with knee pads that are not scuffed. Also, I have yet to meet a skater who is content and isn't working on a new trick. This too had me wondering about school. Just how much is failing encouraged in your school or classroom? It seemed to me that the contrast between learning to skate and learning at school was massive. You arrive at skating expecting to fail, accepting that you won't make progress if you don't take risks. All skateboarders can regale you with tales of their injuries and epic falls. Watch any skating contest and you can see how people fall, get up, and try again. Yet, even in the most growth mindset orientated classroom or school, there are so many systems, traditions and behaviours that actively discourage the kind of risk-taking in learning that skate culture seem to be made of. I have yet to sit around with a student and compare notes about how we both failed something at school or university.

So this week as I plan my classes, I intend to include a whole lot more focus on these three lessons. To start with, we are going to play with virtual reality. No scaffolding, no tasks, just time to play. I will plan time to share and celebrate the mistakes we make and get the chocolate fish ready as rewards! I think the stop-motion films we are making about plate tectonics is a perfect context for this. And finally, I'm going to adjust my exit slips for the week to give me feedback about whether I pitched the various parts of my lesson in that sweet spot between can and can't. I think a renewed focus on differentiation is just what the doctor students ordered.

PS: If you are in Auckland, 18+ years old, and a female, feel free to join me on Sunday mornings at 11am for OnBoard Skate's all girl skate session. 

Is your #transport to work as #ecofriendly #healthylifestyle or as #fun as mine? #climatechange #longboard #girlswhoskate

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A very old bun fight. Education philosophy and current debates in New Zealand education.

If you have been following education news in New Zealand lately, then you know that debate is in the air. Perhaps you have seen the PPTA’s article called Curriculum wars: coming to Aotearoa? Or maybe you have read Elizabeth Rata's article The basic flaw in our education system. You may also have read the report from (newcomer?) Briar Lipson and the work she was involved in with the New Zealand Initiative Think Tank.

You may even have been part of the discussions on Twitter. However, before the debates get too heated, I wanted to take a moment to point out the redundancy of this supposed 'curriculum war'. You might be saying whoah! Redundancy? That’s a bold claim! Well actually...

Any ideas when the quote above was written? Or who wrote it? It seems to capture the current debates about knowledge vs skills vs competencies vs other-edu-jargon quite well don’t you think? The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) might suggest that students should learn things that will be useful in life, things that will give them jobs so that students are able to contribute to a stable economy. The United Nations might argue that a focus on virtue and character of the soul is critical if we are to maintain world peace in the face of climate change, radical inequality and the ever-increasing impact of automation. I would hazard a guess that Elizabeth Rata would be more interested in developing intellect than virtue. I suspect that Jane Gilbert possibly would have a different argument altogether. Where do you think Francis Valentine might fall? Or what about Michael Absolum and John Hattie? What about Aristotle? After all, he is the author of this quote. The very same Aristotle from 384 BC. It seems the progressives vs traditionalist bun fight stretches back a very, very long time.

With so many opinions in the air, it is easy for debates to become polarising (especially when they are made out to be 'wars'). The cognitive dissonance sets in and before you know it, nobody is learning anything because we are too busy defending our position. And at the end of the day, the heart of the matter remains unaddressed - the fact that we cannot seem to agree what should be learnt at school.

To understand why we are plagued with this never-ending debate, one needs to understand the three philosophical purposes of education, socialisation, qualification and subjectification. (See a more detailed infographic here, or my post, Education's great wicked problem for more in-depth explanations about these).

While most of us can find some agreement with each of the three purposes of education, philosophically these ideas are “fundamentally irresolvable” (Biesta, 2009; Egan, 2001). This means that our entire education system is built on conflicting ideas that are constantly in the midst of a tug of war. This means that debates about the success of the education system are incapable of reaching a consensus, as different parties inevitably prioritise different purposes of education (Kieran Egan does a marvellous job of explaining these ideological conflicts).

Despite these conflicting ideas underpinning most, if not all debates about educational success, they are rarely acknowledged, and so the bun fight has continued for literally centuries. You will possibly recognise these debates in your context too, play (socialisation) vs literacy and numeracy (qualification, or exams (qualification) vs inquiry-based learning (subjectification), etc.

So if the debate about what we should be teaching our students is old and philosophically unresolvable, then what is the point of debating this at all?!

I don't have a whole lot of answers to offer you. Instead, I will conclude with a few questions that I would like to see debated...
  • How useful is it to publish articles titled curriculum wars in these debates about the future of our schools? Does calling it a war (rather than a debate or discussion) polarise, and thereby fuel the bun fight?
  • What does helpful debate and discussion look like (as compared to unhelpful, polarising debate)?
  • How can one school or one teacher serve our super diverse communities when each of us cuts the socialisation/subjectification/qualification pie so differently?
  • Should socialisation, subjectification and qualification all be the responsibility of school? And if yes/no, what should we do about it?
  • How different might our debates in education be if we were all more explicit about which purpose we align ourselves with?
  • If we developed an alternate purpose for education, what would it be?
  • What if the 'educational experience' was completely redesigned, from the bottom up? What if we changed the time, the place, the content, the funding, the ratios, the jobs, everything? And where would one even begin?
  • Would our schools and classrooms be any different if all teachers and school leaders had a richer understanding of philosophy? 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Culturing culturally responsive pedagogy

Honouring New Zealand's bicultural partnership is important, but how do you find a way to include it authentically in the senior science classroom? I am sure that many science teachers would agree that it can be difficult to do this, and make their way through all the content and assessments. I know that I have certainly struggled! Many of us make small efforts, we might include a few token te reo words in our lessons like "e tū" and "tumeke". If you're lucky, you might see the Māori names for tripod or bunsen burners up around the room. But usually we get straight back to talking about old white men, Darwin, Newton, Rutherford, Mendel and Mendeleev.

Of course for many of us, our classrooms have become increasingly diverse too. In just one of my classes this year, I have students from China, Korea, Japan, Samoa, Phillipines, Indonesia, Samoa and Australia. There are also students born in New Zealand however many of their parents were born in other countries, so they bring cultural mixes like Italian, English, German and Turkish to the mix too. So while I am trying to honour New Zealand's bicultural partnership, I am also trying to accommodate a huge variety of cultural diversity in the classroom. And then, we haven't even talked about diversity and learning needs yet!

The challenge is of course not easily solved. While many schools have International days with cultural performances and students in their national costumes, this is not enough to help our young people feel that their cultures are valued at school. We have to shift from accommodating and tolerating cultural diversity (if we even do that...), to making this a critical resource for success in academic contexts. How else can you show that cultural knowledge matters?

Now, I am no expert where culturally responsive pedagogy is concerned. But, I have been thinking really hard about how I can design academic courses that create the space for students to leverage their cultural knowledge to improve their academic success. I have also thought carefully about "demonstrating a commitment to tangata whenuatanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership in the learning environment" (from the new Practicing Teacher Criteria). I have thought about this carefully not because I am obliged to as a professional, but because I believe it is necessary if I truly wish to see success for all my students.

So after all this thinking, what have I actually come up with? Well... A fermented food shared lunch. Let me explain...

I am teaching a microbiology course this semester. We kicked off the year by asking each student to write a report on a fermented food from a cultural heritage they identify with (task sheet). In a fortnight's time, they would then have to bring the food to our class fermented foods shared lunch.
Many students were really unsure about the cultural aspect on day one, so I encouraged them to talk to their families. A number of students called their grandparents to talk about their cultural heritages, while others called an aunt, uncle or parent. And incase you are wondering, yes I did let them make phone calls in class. Some students even arranged to go and visit grandparents so that they can learn how to make their fermented food.

Rewena bread -  traditional Māori sourdough potato bread (and absolutely DELICIOUS).

On the day of the shared lunch, each student had to make a name tag to accompany their food. This included details about country of origin, microbes used to produce the food, and allergy information (see template). They also had a task sheet to fill in as they tried the wild assortment of food we had.

We really had quite the selection!

The task sheet required them to try at least five foods, and to describe each one (see task sheet here). Finally, the students had to pair up with someone who focussed on a different microbe than the one their food was made from, and then had to complete a compare and contrast thinking map (see the template on the second part of the task sheet).

I asked a student what she thought about my rather crazy fermented foods party idea after our lunch. Her response: "I understood more about my culture and it made me understand more about my class". Others commented that they had "connected" with their culture.

As for me... I was really excited to see students using their cultural knowledge to access the science knowledge and vica versa. I was excited that students were not just learning from me, but that the knowledge from their families had a place in our classroom too. Of course, I am a huge foodie so I was excited about all the new foods I got to try too, but more importantly, we all got to share a little bit of our cultures with each other too.

While today may have been full of warm fuzzies as we talked about our families and food, there is an important question now circling in head. What next? Because a few thoughtfully designed lessons at the start of year is not enough to be culturally responsive.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Smog, whispers and mystics

I started this post a week or two ago. There were just so many thoughts flying around my head that it took some time before they all made sense enough to share...

Today was one of those once in a lifetime, take your breath away kind of days. It was full of elation, endorphins and adrenaline. We started the day at 4:30am where we saw a sunrise over Annapurna in the Himalayas (if you're not familiar, this includes the tenth highest peak in the world). At first, only the very tips of the peaks began to glow. As the sun rose, the whole valley lit up. I have only experienced one other moment like this, an experience that words don't begin to describe, cameras can't capture and even your emotions don't feel sufficient. This was that kind of sun rise.  
Sunrise view of Anapurna

Following on from this stunning sunrise, I went paragliding for the first time. Today I literally soared with the birds over the Himalayas. 

Paragliding over the Himalayas 

In the afternoon we were rowed across the lake in Pokhara. From here we climbed many steps to a Buddhist peace pagoda where we saw the sunset over the Himalayas. The peaks of Annapurna were again highlighted in beautiful shades of pink. 

View of the lake in Pokhara

View from the peace pagoda in Pokhara

I also spent 90% of this incredible day in silence. On the first day of this fellowship we each had the opportunity to write down a pledge. My pledge was that I wanted to listen more and talk less. In a place filled with so much spirituality, watching the sun set while standing at the peace pagoda, overlooking the glowing Himalayas, it would have been easy to interpret losing my voice as something mystical. The explanation is actually far more sinister...

For two whole days I completely lost my voice due to a bad chest infection I picked up in Kathmandu. Chest infections are very common in Kathmandu because of the extreme levels of pollution. Many of the teachers we worked with were surprised that some of our fellows were over sixty. They explained that the extremely high levels of pollution here means that not many people live past sixty. While we were in Kathmandu, almost every day the smog levels were classified as dangerously high. A number of factors contribute to these incredibly high pollution levels. For example, Kathmandu is located between the mountains. On winter mornings, a thick layer of morning fog traps the smog inside the city. This is aggravated by the many brick factories that surround Kathmandu, and the incredibly high levels of fossil fuels that are burnt here on a daily basis. Public transport is extremely limited, many people use fossil fuels for cooking, and cars are badly maintained. 
The smog over Kathmandu
Rice paddy in Pokhara

The view over Annapurna was breathtaking, figuratively and literally. Climbing to the peace pagoda whilst still having a chest infection was quite the challenge. I literally had to rest every ten steps, my chest ached, my throat hurt, there may have been the occasional dizzy spell and some nausea. I got to the top though, and the view was 100% worth it. While these sights were breathtaking and awe inspiring, this was mirrored by an intense sadness. While most likely these were once in a lifetime experiences for me, I was reminded of just how accurate this statement is. Our guide explained that in the twenty years that he has been working as a guide and sherpa, the glaciers have been reduced to half their original size. While I may come back to Nepal some time in the distant future, chances are that the glaciers will have shrunk even more as we continue to burn fossil fuels and an alarming pace. Sooner than we care to admit, there may be no more snow capped peaks in the Himalayas. 

In New Zealand classrooms, we learn about pollution and climate change. In Nepal, this is already their lived reality. While we argue about whether petrol should include additional taxes to pay for public transport, fossil fuels are literally reducing the lifespan of the people in Nepal. While we enjoy our steaks and lamb roasts (and probably complain about the price), the people in Nepal are already suffering because changing climate has already impacted the production of their food crops - frequently their only supply of food and income. While we are arguing about what 'cleaning up our rivers' actually means in New Zealand, the streets in Nepal are filled with water trucks that use fossil fuels to carry drinking water to the people. A great many number of people still have no running water. And of course, tap water is certainly not drinkable.
There is no shortage of ways that our quality of life in New Zealand (and many other Western countries) leaves Kathmandu in the dust (pun unintended). We have everything from high levels of female literacy, a stable democracy, power, water, food, social benefits, good medical care and toilets. What is alarming however is that much of what we take for granted in New Zealand, actually contributes to the reduced quality of life for those people in countries like Nepal. We drive our excessively big cars to the supermarket to buy food that wasn't produced in New Zealand. We keep on eating meat, we keep on buying things we don't need. We keep burning fossil fuels because it is convenient, while more and more people around the world will suffer and struggle as climate change affects their critical food production. A critical lesson about climate change that we often forget is that it is not the most affluent of us that will be most affected. It is those communities already struggling for survival. 

As my fellowship here in Nepal draws to a close, I hope that I carry the extreme contrast of Kathmandu with me forever. While New Zealand students are learning about dystopian futures, in many places around the world this is their every day lived reality. I hope that at every moment I remember the enormous privileges and opportunities we are afforded in New Zealand, particularly in our schools. I hope that in 2018 and beyond, I not only appreciate these privileges and opportunities, but that I seize these to make a difference where I can. 

*All photos my yours truly (and the paraglider instructor). Please do not reproduce without attribution.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

New friends and lifelong memories.

We have now completed our first teacher conference here in Kathmandu. The four days working with one group of Nepali teachers was pretty spectacular. We started on day one with a quiet group who did not know each other. However, over the four days of the conference, together we discussed openly and honestly the challenges that we all face as teachers. As a result, we all learnt so much from each other. While the entire conference was great, there were definitely a few highlights for me.

We had a great afternoon going over 'relaxed vigilance' strategies for behaviour management. We really got into it with some role play where the teachers pretended to be naughty students for each other so that they could practice these new strategies. Our group was so keen to learn more, that they decided not to have afternoon tea but to keep learning about restorative justice instead.

Another huge highlight was seeing one of our teachers who was super quiet on the first day, really participate, discuss, laugh and ask lots of questions by the last day. I felt humbled and honoured by the honest sharing and the risk taking from this teacher. I am sure that they will be in my memories for a long long time. I was also honoured by the kind words from one of our students who was asked to make a speech to the whole conference.

We finished the first conference with a very long closing ceremony that involved many long winded speeches (at least, this was the 'translation' from one of the Nepali teachers). However, following this our group of eight teachers borrowed some official banners (without permission), and pulled us back into our classroom to have our very own ceremony for handing over their certificates. We laughed and clapped an took many photos. After this, our students sat us down and handed us each a wrapped package. They had  printed a photo of our group and framed it in a traditional Nepali window frame. Anna, Steph and I were truly touched by their thoughtful gift. Even more exciting, this amazing group of teachers have decided that they will continue to meet after the conference to support each other in implementing the new strategies they had learnt. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best possible outcome from this conference; building a sustainable professional support network for the passionate teachers of Nepal.