Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A very VERY first draft Introduction - Using complexity thinking and MOOCs to disrupt current debates on educational futures.

I am a firm believer in showing your work (Austin Kleon style). Especially when it is in the super messy, 'I just had a go just to get something written down' phase. For many of us showing the raw, vulnerable side of things is incredibly difficult, myself included. However, I have learnt that the sooner you show your work, the sooner you can get feedback to make it better. So here goes... The very, very first draft of an introduction to my thesis. I have a hunch it is not formal enough, not official enough and is probably littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. But, it does tell the very important story of #edchatNZ and why I do what I do, and that seemed worth sharing regardless of whether the words below end up in my thesis or not.

Formal education is broken, expired and fundamentally flawed. Academic experts across the world have argued that our current education system is not fit for purpose. The public mirrors their arguments too, everyone from politicians, parents, teachers and students can, and do find fault with the current system. Yet, despite these arguments, formal education has changed very little since the industrial revolution. The question then arises, if so much is wrong with education, and so many are dissatisfied, why then has there been so little change?

My personal experience as a beginning teacher also mirrored this dissatisfaction. With less than two years of experience as a classroom teacher, I had already become disillusioned with the education system.  My dissatisfaction was not just limited to the education system in New Zealand, but rather started in England where I had begun my career as a science teacher in a very low socioeconomic area. I started my career in a school that had a disproportionately large number of students in foster care, a large number of refugees and a student body that was so malnourished that school inspectors and other visitors frequently commented on the small stature of particularly the boys (Murray, 2011). Whilst working in this school, it was glaringly obvious, everyday,  that the current system was just not serving those students who were most at risk. The students were disengaged, angry and disheartened. From this very  low socio economic school in England, I moved to my next role as a science teacher in New Zealand. This new school was only eight years old with great infrastructure, had good reports from the education review office,  and was in a high socio economic area. However, here too, the students were disengaged, anxious, unhappy, and found much of their schooling experience irrelevant to their lives. If in both these polar opposite schools, the system was not serving the students, I started wondering if there was something fundamentally wrong with the entire education system.

As well as the severe disengagement of student, national and global news was and is littered with stories of university graduates who can not find jobs, who are moving back home at thirty, who can not buy homes. In addition, employers are arguing that graduates do not have the skills required to be successful in the workplace (Alton, 2016; Duronio, 2012).

Increasingly, I became dissatisfied with the status quo. It was this dissatisfaction that drove me to Twitter where many educators were convening around a range of hashtags to discuss their own frustrations with education in their context. Twitter functions through the use of a hashtag that tags words, making them searchable and filtering them to a particular stream. This means that using a hashtag, anyone can participate in the discussion about a certain topic. A number of the education chats are contextualised to location or theme for example, #dtk12chat for design thinking in K12 education or #UKedchat for United Kingdom Education. Through the public discussions of educators around hashtags such as #edchat, #PBLchat, and more, I had been exposed to a brave new world of alternate ways of thinking about education. It was through Twitter that I was first exposed to new pedagogies that attempted to reconcile some of the shortcomings of the current systems such as project based learning, bring your own technology, design thinking and more.

However, despite there being many New Zealand educators participating in these online discussions, there was not yet a hashtag that allowed a single space for New Zealand educators to discuss education in our national context.

Hence, in October 2012, in the absence of a clear New Zealand hashtag for education, I launched #edchatNZ. This was an effort to curate the New Zealand discussions of education, teacher practice and professional learning. Now more than four years down the track, this hashtag has grown beyond a bit of code, into a professional learning community. Although there is no formal membership, various educators from across the country regularly use this as a space to discuss and learn. Fortnightly Twitter chats have become supplemented by two national conferences, a podcast and a range of live webinars. #edchatNZ has also helped a number of other New Zealand based education chats get started. We have even collaborated for joint chats with #aussieED, an Australian based Twitter chat. Because the foundation of this community was around the need for change in education, all online events have remained free so that as many people as possible might engage in the discussion. Even our two conferences charged a registration fee below $30 in order to enable more people to participate since almost everyone in our community participates in their own time, through no encouragement of their school.

Although #edchatNZ started as a means to curate New Zealand education debate, conversation and learning, it has evolved immensely. The community, and the leadership thereof has evolved into a narrative of rethinking education, both at the classroom teacher and system wide level. Through the discussions of the #edchatNZ community, it appears that this community has evolved to think of themselves as the space where the movers and shakers, the lone nuts (see Derek Sivers’ TED talk, How to start a movement), and even the revolutionaries meet and discuss their ideas. It is often those people who find themselves dissatisfied with the status quo that makes their way to #edchatNZ.

The #edchatNZ community consist of a diverse group of people with a range of expertise. It is for this reason that the leadership of this community needs to examine how it brings appropriate levels of challenge for all members of its community. Additionally, Twitter limits each tweet to 140 characters, and although over a single hour of live moderated #edchatNZ conversation there are usually well over 1000 contributions, the medium is ultimately limited in depth. Hence, in pursuit of challenging this community, I began exploring alternative options to further our collective learning and resulting practice. It was through the exploration of these alternative ways that might extend the professional learning and discussion of the #edchatNZ community, that the idea of the #edchatNZ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was born.  A MOOC could still maintain the informal membership and  community aspects of #edchatNZ, whilst providing the space for extended, deeper and sustained discussion, exploration and new avenues of professional learning. The #edchatNZ MOOC, or formally called Cyborgs, Schrödinger and School – Rethinking Education for the Future, became an eleven week course that sought to challenge participants to deeply question their underlying beliefs about education, test those ideas in against current global trends, and then take action accordingly.

This thesis explores new territory in a number of ways. Firstly, the #edchatNZ community has a fundamentally different approach towards teacher professional learning as it seeks to develop the collective intelligence of the group, rather than focussing on the individual teacher in the classroom. Additionally, this community is both dynamic and diverse, with individuals in the community stretching the span of New Zealand, from remote, suburban and urban locations. Individuals have a range of expertise from beginning teachers, all the way to veteran teachers and senior leaders. Participation in community events are highly informal and community members will opt in or out according to their schedules and their professional learning interests and needs. Hence, the community members are highly autonomous, whilst still acting together as a network.

Secondly, this thesis also explores new territory in that it attempts to bring together a theoretical framework to make sense of this diverse and dynamic community,  and the ways in which this network might be enabled to influence large scale shift in education.  The #edchatNZ MOOC was specifically designed to increased the number of interactions participants had about education futures. Hence, This thesis uses ideas from complexity thinking and adult cognitive development, to make sense of these interactions, and any potential changes in the way participants or those they have interacted with think about education futures.

This masters project intends to capture whether a MOOC might serve as a means to nudge a learning community towards rethinking education at a deeper level. Ultimately, this project is an exploration of how we might develop the collective intelligence of the lone nuts in our schools to act with greater knowledge as they challenge the status quo in a system that is no longer serving its purpose.


  • Alton, L. (2016). Millennials Are Struggling To Get Jobs - Here's Why, And What To Do About It. Forbes, 2016.
  • Duronio, B. (2012, 24 April). Bad News: Just Half Of Recent College Grads Are Landing Jobs.  Retrieved from
  • Murray, J. (2011, 27 June). New GCSE targets are a fresh blow to struggling school. The Guardian. Retrieved from

PS: The first go of planning this introduction and the literature review to follow was an explosion of post it notes. It was incredibly helpful and I really appreciate all the invaluable advice for getting started from the Patter blog, an incredibly useful blog for those doing academic research. 
The photo does make me wonder just how many steps I am of going full John Nash from A Beautiful Mind... 

Monday, December 19, 2016

The end of the lone nut?

In 2014, I opened the first #edchatNZ conference with the above talk from Derek Sivers about how to start a movement. I declared that I was a lone nut. Personally, I found the lone nut metaphor really useful, as more often than not, I found myself in schools where I was considered a bit weird, eccentric. I was an outlier, the one person dancing alone in a field. Being a bit weird and not fitting with the status quo can be isolating. However, through Twitter and #edchatNZ, I found there were others dancing with me. I was less of a lone nut, and part of a movement.

Two years down the track and there are many important lessons that I have learnt since first declaring myself a lone nut. In particular, lately, I have questioned whether it is time for a new metaphor? Perhaps the lone nut is past its used by date? Let me explain...

For many of us outliers, the lone nut metaphor is useful to make sense of our feelings as being other, of being different. We can take solace in it, when we feel like we are dancing alone in our schools, when we know our cause is worthy yet nobody seems to be listening. One of the most common themes that stand out from moderating #edchatNZ for four years now, is how often educators across the country, feel and think that they can see a better way forward for students or staff in their context, but that their thoughts and feelings are ignored. There are numerous educators in countless contexts who are eager to see improvements in everything from priority learners, student engagement, staff or student wellbeing or better preparing students for our changing world. Frequently, these same educators feel alone, that they are the only ones championing these critical causes. To return to the metaphor of the video above, many of these educators feel like they are dancing wacky in a field, but National Standards and Qualifications, senior and middle leaders, other staff and parent communities are telling them to sit down.

It seems however, that there is something we lone nuts sometimes forget, perhaps even conveniently ignore: "The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader." Without the followers, you remain a nut. Being a leader is not as simple as dancing wacky. It is not enough to shout our vision at the top of our lungs, regardless of how important, ethical or critical it might be. Our ability to build a community is key. More important than our wacky dance moves, is our ability to make connections, to listen, to show empathy, to build trust, to talk with rather than at. Standing on a soap box professing your view only helps those who are already converted to your world view feel important, it does not necessarily bring anyone new to the cause. Dancing like a whack-a-doodle, does not a leader maker. If we really believe in the causes that we champion, then we must build trust, we must build a community. It is our ability to build a community, a following, a movement, that will transform us from lone nut to leader, not the dance moves alone. We must strive to become less lone nut and more mixed nuts.

There is also a further reality that some of us lone nuts need to contend with: not all dance moves are created equal. Some dance moves are just the flavour of the moment, they might be the 'juju on that beat' of the moment (here's the link if you're not up with the latest move). Just because you have read a whole bunch of blogs and a few books about something does not elevate it from the Harlem Shake (yet another wacky dance move you may have missed) to the moon walk, it does not elevate it from the Macarena to a pirouette.

Perhaps it is time to evaluate the merit of your dance moves? Are student inquiries, design thinking, personalised learning and bring your own device just the flavour of the moment? How would you know? Are they just ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and there are bigger problems to contend with and explore? Why should your moves be prioritised over that of others who are also dancing?

As useful as the lone nut metaphor is, like all models and representations, it has its limits. Perhaps it is time that we invest more of our own efforts into these limitations. For those of us who are eager to see change in our education systems, perhaps it is time we start focussing on how we build our movements, and whether the new paradigms we are suggesting are powerful enough to withstand genuine critique and existing momentum.

It is high time we examine the limitations of the lone nut, and challenge ourselves to look and act beyond the metaphors we identify with the most. If we don't, we are doomed to remain lone nuts, and our students will most likely be worse off for it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Visit to Design39Campus

Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to visit Design39Campus, an incredible school in San Diego California. On their website, Design39Campus describes itself as:
"At Design39Campus, learning experiences are designed with the individual learner in mind. As a collaborative community, we nurture creative confidence, practice design thinking, learn through inquiry, connect globally, use technology and real world tools, and promote the courage and growth mindset necessary to change the world." - source

There are many great things that happen in a great many schools and classrooms around the world. There are a great number of people who are experimenting with rethinking education and schools and who are having, or starting to have great success at doing so. However, every now and then, a school comes along that not only rethinks and experiments with new ideas of school, but who are truly revolutionary. Although I only visited for a few hours, I suspect Design39 is more than just another school rethinking education. I think there might be something truly revolutionary taking place.

I took eleven pages of notes and many photographs, I have pages of questions and have wondered aloud about much of what I saw at this school. The following are a few of the key things that really stood out for me from my visit.

One of the things that I genuinely believe is critical to the future success of both our education systems and of society is an increased need for collaboration. If we are unable to truly collaborate, if we are unable to learn and think together, our impact will always be limited. If we are not collaborative, we will always be limited to our own perspectives, trapped in our own eco-chambers, and we will be unable to use the diversity in our teams to solve complex problems.

Many schools make claims to being collaborative. Many schools are genuinely collaborative, where teams work together to solve problems. However, in many other schools, we often talk about how we need more collaboration. The question then becomes, why don't we see more collaboration in schools? What stops us?

One of the things that made Design39 so revolutionary in my opinion, is their attitude towards collaboration between their teachers. The school recognises that collaboration is not easy, that it takes time. However, not only do they value collaboration and recognise its challenges, but they have made significant commitments towards ensuring that it can happen. Design39 have been bold enough and committed enough to create the space and time for collaboration. Teachers at Design39 meet every morning before school for an hour to collaborate in various teams. Additionally, the teachers in the school are also relieved every few weeks for entire days to work collaboratively.

How many of us are willing to really commit to collaboration? Are we really willing to accept how much time it takes and how challenging it can be? How many of our schools are willing to make this much of a commitment towards collaboration. And if more of our schools did, how would education be different?

Refusing to accept the status quo
I bet as some of you read about the extra time commitment towards collaboration, you already started thinking that it's just not possible in your context.

One of the major aspects about why I feel that Design39 is not just innovative, but revolutionary, are the barriers that they have overcome in realising their vision. For many of us, we encounter obstacles and might find ways to work around them. Sometimes, we even let obstacles stop us. As you can imagine, the enormous commitment towards collaboration from the school has encountered a number of obstacles. One of those, is the teacher union. However, after years of negotiation, the school now have a memorandum of understanding with the teacher union that allows for their collaborative vision.

I feel this memorandum of understanding is hugely significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, how many of us are willing to defy the status quo when it might involve taking on a teacher union? What about a government organisation? The Design39 story suggests that if we want to see genuine shift in education, then we will need to take on more that just our parent communities and our professional learning structures. We will need to take on the institutions and systems that might contribute towards keep our education systems stagnant and slow to adapt.

I also want to emphasise the 'understanding' part of the above. I believe this memorandum of understanding is significant because it shows not just a school that was willing to challenge the status quo, but rather, it shows a school and union who found a new way to define their relationship and conditions. If a collective agreement from the union, standardised rules and even the way stipends are paid does not allow enough flexibility to reimagine school, perhaps they need to be renegotiated? I commend both the school and union for taking on this challenge!

Elephants in the room
One of the elements that also appears to be key in what makes Design39 so special is their approach to mistakes, failures and uncertainty. On the tour, principal Joe Erpelding was unbelievable frank about what the school is still struggling with. This frankness seems to permeate the school in many of the systems and structures in the school including the use of Design Thinking to problem solve, action learning groups and even the use of elements such as the Brain Trust.

Action Research from Joe Erpelding on Vimeo.

Public acknowledgement of our mistakes and our failures is in my opinion one of the most fundamental things that we must do if we hope to redefine schools and our classrooms. Unless we are able to identify those elephants in the room, we are unable to address them. And education is full of elephants that need addressing.

Of course there is a whole host of other things I enjoyed about the school. The enormously respectful way the students and teachers spoke to each other, the clear presence of some of Jo Boaler's mathematical mindsets thinking, the students sitting in small groups have discussions and recording the video for their teachers to monitor the discussion and more. I also genuinely love (and I use the word love very deliberately here), that their school vision is not just about the individual, but also focussed on how they might enable their students to make the world a better place. Over the next few weeks as I settle in back home I will make sure to share some of what I saw at this incredible school. In the meantime, make sure you follow the great stories, thinking and people from Design39campus and also the great collection of videos about the school.

Finally, a huge thank you to principal Joe Erpelding for hosting me and Grant Lichtman for recommending the school and helping me set up the visit. A massive thank you to all the team at Design39 too, for their hospitality, but more importantly, for their bravery, hard work and collaboration in rethinking education.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The pedagogy of ice cream, skateboards and diversity.

Throughout the past three years, I have become reacquainted with the concept of diversity. I knew the definition of diversity, I knew that it was one of the major strands of the practicing teacher criteria. However, working at Hobsonville Point Secondary School has helped me convert my textbook understanding, to one of the heart. Not only do I now have a Pepeha that I have said proudly in front of hundreds of people, I genuinely know what it means and why I say it. And what's more, I want to say it, I don't just do it because I have to. That said, I am only at the start of this journey...

As well as cultural diversity, I have also developed a genuine appreciation for the role of diversity in other spaces too. Largely through my masters studies, I have become exposed to ideas such as those from David Weinberger in Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room (I also had the awesome privilege of interviewing him earlier this year, see here). 

They way I see it, there is so much knowledge in the world, (actually, I mean Knowledge with a capital K. I don't mean the meaningless shallow drivel or the endless information that clogs up the internet) that one person can not know it all. If we are dealing with complexity, uncertainty, volatility and so forth in our world, it becomes rather critical that we diversify because we don't know what knowledge, skills, expertise or capabilities we will need. Hence, making all learners learn the same thing seems silly, if not dangerous. It seems foolish removing all the redundancy from the system by making everyone learn the same thing and think in the same way? Hence, it becomes critical that we allow individuals to pursue their personal interests and passions. Perhaps we need to encourage diversity, not just acknowledge or manage it. This idea is also echoed in one of my current favourite readings from Keri Facer. Keri also argues for possibilities, rather than pushing all our students into STEM. Pushing all our students in one direction also removes redundancy from the system.

It was in 2014 that I read Key Competencies for the Future where I stumbled upon the idea of not just valuing diversity in the classroom, but rather making it a necessary component for success. This idea stuck and in 2016, it informed one of my professional learning goals for the year; How might I develop my and my students' capacity to leverage diversity for more effective problem solving? In 2016, I wanted to help my students view diversity as a critical resource, a strength. I wanted my students to seek out diversity rather than avoid it. I wanted them to recognise that there are challenges when working with diverse groups, but we learn to manage these in order to collaborate. 

So what does this look like? A whole bunch of experiments really...
Winning groups. Visit Wendy's Supa Sundaes in January to
try some of the products these students inspired!
  • In one of my classes, Yu Ting my co-teacher and I made the students write CVs. We then chose team leaders who were put in a separate room. They worked through the class CVs to pick their teams. Each team had to recruit a design officer, human relations manager and a finance officer. Each team also had to contain at least one boy and girl. The teams then had to design a product for Wendy's Supa Sundaes, design the marketing campaign and calculate food costs. They also had to present these ideas on the last day of term to the brand manager of Wendy's. This particular experiment culminated with Wendy's acknowledging the winning teams on stage last week. I was stoked, because the incredibly diverse range of students being acknowledged on stage was incredible. There were a number of students who I had never seen on stage before. Additionally, the products inspired by these students will be available across the country in January!
  • In another module, I collaborated with Tome my co-teacher, and OnBoard Skate to run a
    Showing my growth mindset in action.
    Learning to skate!
    module called Heaven is a Halfpipe. Often in schools, we see the same students shinning in multiple contexts. This module however saw some new students step into the foreground. Many of our students who are sometimes disengaged were suddenly the stars in the class. It's amazing what a change in attitude happens when individuals feel valued and like they have something to contribute. It has really made me wonder about whether the disengaged students in our school systems really feel valued and like they have something to contribute. 

The thing with diversity however, is that I am only at the very beginning of this journey. I have found that more and more, I see how we unconsciously discriminate against diversity. Even in #edchatNZ, diversity topics are usually the ones not picked. At our most recent conference, it was the strand with the fewest workshops proposals submitted. Even school uniforms discourage diversity. They often blatantly suggests that students should leave their culture, personality and gender at the door. If we do not differentiate or personalise in our lessons, what implicit messages do we send about diversity?

I believe that a good professional learning goal should lead on to a few paradigm shifts, some good books, trying new and different practices in my teaching that improve outcomes for students, and should lead to me becoming more aware of all that I don't know. I think my goal this year has certainly ticked that box...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Self doubt and juggling plates

As I got home tonight, I couldn't pull myself away from watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It's the show I watch when I'm feeling mentally paralysed by exhaustion and stress. And yes, I know it's only day three of term. I know the show so well that I can watch it with my eyes closed, hence why it's the perfect show for this kind of mood. It's a combination of stress relief, denial, comic relief, great movie and music references, and more.

What had me so stressed you might wonder? It might have something to do with the fact that I am a mega edu-busybody. Right now I am juggling my full time job as e-SCT and Learning Community Leader at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, my masters project and finding participants to interview and time to read and write literature reviews, and the upcoming #edchatNZ conference, and our #edchatNZ chat nights, and some involvement with the Education Startup Weekend happening in Auckland in November. Ridiculous right? No wonder I am feeling stressed!

This year's #edchatNZ conference is only a few weeks away. Like most people, I have a thousand swirling questions, doubts and fears in my head. What if nobody turns up? What if we disappoint people? It's already a zero profit conference (on purpose) so negative money comes out of my bank account... What if the Waikato doesn't care enough to actually get themselves to the conference? What if? What if? What if? What if it's a failure?

Yes, despite a previous successful conference, many a successful #edchatNZ nights, a MOOC, podcasts and more, this does not mean that I don't feel the fear and the self doubt. Yes indeed, I, like probably the rest of you, am completely and utterly human and doubt both myself and my ideas.

Sometimes however, we have to take action despite the fear and self doubt, and do things simply because it is the right thing to do. Moral courage and all that. You see, I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our schools are no longer adequate (despite the best efforts of many teachers and school leaders). This might seem harsh, but bare with me. I think that as long as I believe in the egalitarian purpose of school (believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities), I cannot accept that there are large groups of students for whom our schools just do not work. There are students who are unhappy, students who feel undervalued, and students who are ultimately set up from primary school to think of themselves as failures or below the standard because they don't fit into the moulds of our standardised system dating from the 1800s. Then I haven't even started to talk about the implicit and explicit messages we send around competition over collaboration, getting back to work (and not learning), you should study and work harder because... (insert doom and gloom message laden with threats about not getting a job).

Hence, if I believe that things need to change, I need to actually do something about that change. Even if we sometimes are juggling bundles of self doubt alongside our hopes and dreams.

Cue the 2016 #edchatNZ conference... A future focussed education conference.

To start with, I believe that future focussed means sustainability. If we are truly future focussed, then we should be thinking really hard about the genuine reality of environmental degradation and climate change, and the impact this will have on the lives of the learners in our schools and their communities. Hence, this year's #edchatNZ conference is as eco-friendly as we can possible make it. We are aiming to reduce waste, no paper flyers, no disposable coffee cups. The caters were asked to serve meals using biodegradable materials and that meat and eggs should be free range. There is certainly a lot more that we could do to make this conference even more eco-friendly, but we have to start somewhere.

I also believe that future focussed means diversity. Diversity in people, places and more. It seems thats Auckland dominates the spotlight in many conversations these days. Property, grammar zones, traffic, etc. But, what about the many other great places and spaces, towns and communities in New Zealand? I am happy that this year's conference has moved out of Auckland in order to celebrate a different part of New Zealand and give a different group of people easier access to the learning. I am excited that Hamilton will be stealing the spotlight! Additionally, on my very first visit to Rototuna Junior High School in Hamilton, this year's conference venue, Deputy Principal Mel Moore talked about the huge cultural significance of the land on which the school was built. Even though it seems that it is MUCH tougher getting people, particularly Aucklanders, to Hamilton, I feel that it is important that I make the effort to celebrate this great place, and the great people in it. I believe that truly valuing diversity in place and space is one of the keys to helping unlock many of the sticky wicked problems that New Zealand and the world is facing. After all, it's divergent, not convergent thinking that leads to creativity...

I also believe in equity and accessibility. So this year's conference is again, dirt cheap. For only $30, delegates get to experience an incredible two days learning from some incredible people! As you can imagine, it takes some hard, creative and time consuming thinking and work to make this a reality. But again, if I really believe that equity and accessibility is important, my actions and the things I can control must reflect this. Great learning to empower the passionate educators across our country should never be hard to come by if we want the best for our learners.

Finally, I also believe in the power of people. The #edchatNZ conference, and all of it's other projects and events is entirely organised by volunteers. I do not have the words to express the gratitude that I have for the people who have made me feel that a future so bright that we can hardly imagine it, is truly within our reach. Philippa Antipas, Mel Moore, Jane Gilbert, Megan Peterson, Steve Mouldey, Bryce Clapham, Claire Amos, Maurie Abraham, Pete Hall and a whole bunch of other people not only help me believe, but they help me keep faith in myself and help me to juggle the many plates I am spinning. They also show me everyday, that it is not by doing everything myself that great things happen, it is when we draw on the diverse strengths of each of us that we truly make a difference. And on top of this, I am grateful to the #edchatNZ crowd who have been turning up for nearly four years now to learn and think together, because they genuinely care about their students, as well as their students' futures and communities. We are also lucky to have huge support in an assortment of education companies including Core Education, Evaluation Associates, N4L and more.

I am sure that in the weeks leading up to the conference I will have more self doubt, nightmares that nobody will turn up, or feelings that I forgot to do something important. I will feel like I just don't know how to do something and that I don't know how to solve a problem. The moral of the story is to feel the fear and do it anyways if you know that it is the right thing to do. And that when you put your heart on the line, and you genuinely embrace the diverse skills and expertise of those around you, both physically and in vision, that great things can be done. So please, take a moment to write some personal emails to a few of your contacts, inviting and encouraging them to become part of this incredible community. It will be great for them I promise, but also it would really help me sleep at night!

The other moral is that the first week of term is a bad time to quit eating so much sugar. I worked out that actually it's the absence of sugar that is leading to my levels of exhaustion and agitation. I believe they call it withdrawals...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

All this reading is making me wonder...


Behind the scenes of all things #edchatNZ, my teaching, learning and leading within my school, and my masters, I have been reading like crazy, watching videos and curating content. The more I read, explore, make sense, listen, the more I wonder...

  • How 'future ready' are New Zealand teachers really? In fact, are New Zealand teachers even coping with today? I just think about my unruly and out of control inbox, as well as the mental aerobics and resilience it has taken to reimagine learning at my school.
  • What kind of future are we heading towards if we retain our current mindsets? What kind of a future might we head towards with a shift in mindset? I worry about the paradigm of growth that appears to dominate everything from economics to education in our society. 10% increase here, new target there...
  • How do New Zealand teachers and schools cope with complexity, rapid change, radical change? What about our schools and their policies and procedures? I think about how challenging it is to navigate the space where my students' lives are overlaid by a digital parallel universe, where their alternate selves are roaming far beyond the walls of the school and classroom.
  • How do we know if we are coping? How do we know if we are thriving in complexity? Just because it feels like we are thriving or doing well, doesn't mean we are. It is easy lulling myself into a false sense of security as I go about my comfortable daily life, forgetting the impact of the bottle of water I bought because I forgot my own, forgetting that the cheap T-shirt I got on special was probably made by an underpaid child in a developing country somewhere. Surely thriving doesn't mean that I am happy and comfortable at the expense of others? 
I am not alone in wondering about all these things. In fact, a research study from the Auckland University of Technology is doing exactly this - wondering about teachers and how 'future ready' they might be. 

"The last two decades have seen a paradigm shift in international thinking about education. Driven by an awareness of the massive social, economic, and technological changes taking place in the world outside education, there is now a questioning of the role and purpose of “traditional” forms of schooling. The literature in this area argues that today’s learners need knowledge and skills that are qualitatively different from those the current system was set up to provide. But more importantly, if they are to thrive in today’s world, learners need new ways of knowing. They need new and different “dispositions” towards knowledge, thinking, learning, and work. 
There is now a large literature on how we might go about developing these dispositions in students, but very little work on how these dispositions might best be fostered in teachers. While there is a great deal of New Zealand-based research on teacher professional learning, much of this is oriented towards “improvement” or “best practice”, not “transformation”. Research investigating the demands “future-oriented” education makes on teachers’ thinking, learning, and ways of knowing is, as yet, in its infancy."

The survey takes a while to complete. It's thorough, so rather than wondering about the future, future readiness, complexity, etc, I am now going to take the time to actually do the survey... I know that the team behind the survey would greatly appreciate if you could take the time to do the survey, but also to share it with your colleagues. The more people that do the survey, the better. Even better, the more diverse the groups of teachers who do the survey, the better.

You can access the survey here

PS: I completed the survey, it didn't take me nearly as long as they said. There were some pretty fascinating questions in there too! 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Diversity, power and the mess in the middle.

DISCLAIMER: I want to be clear that I am not talking about anyone in particular, but rather that I am talking about things that I have seen and heard many, many times. 

My first teaching job was in a very poor socio-economic area in England. You can read more about the school during the time I worked there in The Guardian article that was written at the time. However, just to help you set the scene, the article talks about the the small stature of the children at the school: "One of the most striking things about the children is their stature. Many of them – the boys in particular – seem small for their age, and underweight. It's something other visitors, and even Ofsted, have commented on, Black tells me, and it is undoubtedly down to poor nutrition." It also talks about "the disproportionate number of looked-after children", the school has large numbers of students in foster care. I remember my first day (first day ever as a teacher by myself in the classroom) where a year eleven student picked up another much smaller one and shook him by the collar with a look off pure rage on his face. I later learnt that the angry boy was a refugee who had experienced his own father's execution. The young man he was shaking had insulted his mother. The article talks about this too, saying "An increasing number of pupils, particularly Afghan boys, are arriving at the school illiterate in their own language. "We have children arriving with no teeth, with horrific injuries sustained on their journeys to the UK. They often suffer emotional difficulties as a result."

From here, I continued on to New Zealand schools. The schools that I have worked at in New Zealand were considered to be of high socio-economic status (decile ten). Yet, the issues that I saw in my school in England, plagued these schools too. In all the schools, there have been hoards of disengaged students. Often, because there was no connection between what they are supposed to learn in school, and what is often a brutal fight for survival outside of school. There are kids everywhere dealing with abusive situations as a result of the adults in their lives. Those are just the parents and family situations. It does not even begin to talk about the adults in schools. Just recently in the news there have again been articles of teachers having inappropriate relationships and sexually abusing students. And then, we haven't even talked about the adults who stood by and did not speak up...

The above are more extreme situations of the adults in children's' lives, in my opinion, failing the children they should be taking care of. As an adult, leaving an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult. Years of abuse often leads people to feel too disempowered to break out of their difficult situation. What then of the children with no knowledge of how the world works, not old enough to get a job, etc? It frustrates, angers and terrifies me that so many of the students who are in abusive situations, are both emotionally and physically stuck.

Often, for students who are unhappy, stuck, being emotionally and physically abused, we do not intervene until things are really bad. When a story breaks in the paper, we ask about why more wasn't done? Why didn't anyone notice? Why didn't anyone do anything? I know I have asked those questions many times. Increasingly though, I have realised that to some extent, almost all of us are guilty of propagating the culture that leads to the situations above. I better explain...

Reading Keri Facer's Learning Futures book, this particular section really struck me:
"New stories were told about childhood as a time of vulnerability, a time of innocence, a time of a new generational contract dependence. And reciprocally, these stories about childhood also produced particular stories about adulthood as a time of labour, of secure identity and of expertise. In this story, adulthood became the ‘end point’ to which childhood aspired. The institutions and the narratives of childhood therefore became mutually reinforcing. Such a model of adult–child relations brings risks to children – their rights can be overlooked as they are seen as less than fully formed humans; but also benefits – children are invested in, protected, cared for." - Page 30
I have increasingly noticed in schools situations that may be interpreted as the embodiment of children being treated as "less than fully formed humans". And I worry that I am guilty of them all...
  • There are and have been many students that have been unhappy with their relationship with a particular teacher. It may be as as simple as they feel that the teacher does not help them when they ask. It may be as complex as they feel that the teacher picks on them. They may dislike the way the teacher teaches. When the student speaks up about this, we often expect them to just tough it out. We ask them how they are to blame for the situation. How often do we automatically side with the teacher? If this is our reflex, then how often do we continue to feed into a culture where students who speak up with concerns that may well be very serious, are not heard? And to what extent might we be contributing to a culture in this way where the we blame the victims?
  • source
  • When talking about what students should learn at school, we assume that we, the adults, with all our worldly experience, degrees and other qualifications know what is best for the student to learn. We say things like "you don't know what you don't know" and use this as an excuse to make students learn subjects that they do not show interest in. For this one, it is easy to say 'yes, but...' and you could make some great arguments. The problem remains that as adults we often assume that we know what is best for the students and then act accordingly. However, by assuming, concluding, inferring, whatever you want to call it that we know best, are we again proliferating the attitude that adult's have more say, more opinion, and that their opinions matter more? I do not question that as an adult, we often have powerful experiences and knowledge that our students do not have. The question however, is whether when we engage with our students in those situations, do we approach them as equals with different perspectives and knowledge, or, do we inadvertently suggest that our opinions, perspectives and knowledge matters more? How different would these conversations be if students were automatically treated as equals, rather than the less informed party?
  • How often have teachers yelled at students but will lose their marbles if a student yells at them? This is holding the students to a different standard, saying that what applies for the adults does not apply for the students. We do not always hold children and adults to the same standards. How might we contributing to a culture of prioritising the adult's rights over that of the child's in this situation? 

An Auckland high school recently informed some of their female students that their skirts were too short. The news website reports that a "female teacher explained their skirts were a distraction for both boy students and that the school needed to create a good work environment for male teachers." I wonder, what kind of message does this send? Female sexuality is not okay but males sexuality is? Is this promoting a culture of "slut shaming"? Or even worse, rape culture with the all too familiar phrase "she was asking for it"? It isn't too much of stretch of the imagination to see how the males and females are not held to an equal standard here. In fact, pop star Ariana Grande recently made the news for calling out a fan on exactly this sort of behaviour.

The teacher who explained that the skirts were a distraction for the boys, the adults who abuse children, the teachers who are not held to the same standard as the students... They all have a common thread for me - power imbalance. When we are charged with the care of someone, how often do we act from a position of power rather than care? How often does the way we communicate suggest that the opinions, views or feelings of others are more important, simply because they are adult/male/female/the boss/the teacher? When we are dealing with diversity, how often do we act in such a way to establish power rather than understanding, even as we pay lip service to equality and equity?

I wonder why adults make so many decisions for students, even when they are able to think for themselves far better than the adults? I wonder why ill informed, corrupt, ignorant adults can vote, but thoughtful, empathetic seventeen year olds can not? I wonder why sexuality is a public debate? I wonder why we still have racism, sexism and all the other isms... And I wonder how we inadvertently promote racism, sexism, ageism, elitism without even realising it?

Where there is an age difference, culture difference, gender difference, it seems that we are still struggling to really treat 'other' as 'equal'... It seems to me that more often than not, we treat difference as a power struggle, rather than a collaboration. Perhaps, if we got better at engaging with diversity, with difference, we might get better at dealing with the abuse and inequality in society? Perhaps the real question is why it is that we still struggle with diversity so much?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why I'm breaking up with SMART goals

SMART goals are: source 

I'm breaking up with SMART goals. Over time, our relationship has become increasingly strained, officially reaching breaking point over the past week. Let me explain...

Specific: Ask a room of professional adults whether their job has become increasingly complex over the past fifteen years and the majority will put up their hands. Many academics, consultants and more agree that this is the case - Jennifer Garvey BurgerZiauddin SardarDave Snowden are just some of my favourites. The thing about complexity though, is that it is unpredictable, what worked today will not necessarily work tomorrow, and there is no linear cause and effect (if you haven't yet, I highly recommend digging into complexity theory and thinking). Sean Snyder captures the idea of complexity with some simple examples in his OECD paper - The Simple, the Complicated, and the Complex: Educational Reform Through the Lens of Complexity Theory.
Comparing the simple, complicated and complex: source
So then, if my goal falls in the complex realm where expertise is neither necessary nor sufficient for success, where there is no linear cause and effect, where unpredictability is the status quo, then how am I supposed to set a 'specific' goal? It seems to me that the specific goals should be reserved for the realm of the technical challenge, not for the lofty aspiration I have have for myself. Because as we can probably all agree, the really big goals in our life ignore our plans, change their focus and more often than not evolve and morph past the original goal posts we set.
Cynefin Framework: source

Measurable: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts" - William Bruce Cameron. Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that can be measured, should. The thing about measurement is that it first requires a standardised measure. For distance it might be centimetres or kilometre. For economics, it's money, GDP. For education, it's usually achievement data - national standards and NCEA targets. And of course, we measure so that we can determine growth, in fact, we live in a world obsessed with growth, despite it's limitations as Martin Kirk explains in his article for Aeon; "The problem is, GDP doesn’t care about the environment or human suffering; they are irrelevant ‘externalities’. In fact, GDP actively rewards destruction of the environment, which by short extensions produces, rather than eliminates, poverty, especially for those already impoverished or at risk of so being"

What might my goals look like if I stopped thinking in terms of growth, but rather thought about transformation? Can I even think my way out of the the mindset where everything is about growth? After all, I've been socialised into this growth mindset...

Attainable: If we only set out to achieve 'attainable' goals, what does that do for those people in the world who are already disempowered? Will they continue to have low expectations of themselves? But also, if we only ever set attainable goals, would Steve Jobs have set out to "make a dent in the universe"? Would we have Richard Bransons, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King? To quote Nelson Madela - “It always seems impossible until it’s done.

In setting goals, we often filter out, intentionally and unintentionally, those things that do not help us attain our goals. But, how many opportunities pass us by because we have set our filters too small? What if opportunity allows us to surpass our attainable goal but we don't see that opportunity because our filters are set on what we perceive as attainable?

Realistic and sometimes Relevant: I think we have established how I feel about realistic... But lets tackle relevant. Relevant is often associated with questions such as whether a goal ties into my key responsibilities, whether it ties in with my long term plans, or whether a goal is consistent with my other goals. Frankly, I feel that relevant seems to take all the play, and hence all the fun, out of goals. And then, as if the fun hasn't been squished enough, we then throw in that 'responsibilities' word! Why must my goals be tied to my responsibilities only? I suspect Google's 20% time laughs in the face of the relevant - sometimes a project starts as irrelevant and becomes relevant as we learn more.

Of course, we could also add the complexity lens to this. What if I work in a space where the future is genuinely unknown? How can I know what my long term goals might be? Or where my responsibilities are not clear, either because I'm in one of those 'evolving' roles, because I'm starting a new role from scratch, or because I have decided, even though it's not officially my responsibility, to take on an objective? Having KiwiFoo at the top of my mind from last weekend, I think about all those people tackling immense problems in the world, outside of their job/work, not because it is their responsibility, but simply because they care.

Time bound: Well... Obviously we have a problem here. How often has life gotten in the way of your plans? How often have you had to extend the timeline on a goal? By setting a goal that is time bound, does that set us up to fail from the word go? And also, further to my point about play and fun, time bound suggests that I need a schedule, and that doesn't do a whole lot of good to the fun sucking image of the SMART goal.

Of course, a truly aspirational, ambitious goal might also have a timeline that dwindles into the complex space of the unknown. I wonder if Ghandi set a goal like on this date, by this year, we will have... Of course, there is also the idea of the Red Queen to throw in here; "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" - Lewis Caroll. If we have a goal like future focussed education, we can not just have a deadline, because as soon as we have arrived, we will have been left behind.

So what? 

Forbes magazine suggests that only 8% of people achieve their new years resolutions. Perhaps, it is the way that we set our goals that makes them unattainable? Perhaps, because we drain the play, the spontaneity, the pie in the sky dreams out of them, that we lose interest and motivation? If we teach children to have SMART goals, what beliefs about goals take shape as a result? That they have to be attainable? That they need a timeline? That they have to be measured? Are we socialising our children to think in attainable, measurable steps? Where are we teaching our children in as explicit a means that we need to dream big, and pursue those big dreams?

Perhaps I have made some faulty assumptions about SMART. Perhaps SMART goals are for managing technical difficulties in life, things that are specific, do work within the cause and effect realms of the world. Those things in the simple and even the complicated space. Perhaps SMART goals, much like many other buzz words in society, have exploded beyond it's original context, and have turned into a ghost of its former self. Perhaps, SMART goals were only ever intended for the technical challenges in our lives, rather than the adaptive or emergent. Maybe there is a key critical distinction to make; SMART goals are for the simple, maybe even complicated problems. They are not however for the complex. 

I wanted to say that it's official, I am breaking up with SMART goals, however, it seems that our relationship has headed into the complicated. The space of best practice, and expertise, where I draw on the SMART goal with careful consideration of both it's strengths and limitations.  All in all, a much more comfortable place to be.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why have an online home for your class?

In an effort to remind myself why I believe in e-learning tools, as we as to encourage others to do the same, I have created a summary that might be useful. Feel free to share and distribute. You can access the Google Drive drawing here for editing and easy sharing purposes.

I would love your feedback on this, as always!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Don't just own your learning, write your own story!

Reflections are often one of those words that are touted around as a good thing for students and teachers to do. But why? Although I am sure that there are likely many great psychological, scientific and other reasons, my own experience has led me to believe that without deep critical reflection, one keeps making the same mistakes. Without deep reflection, we can not hope to challenge our assumptions, perspectives and hidden commitments. Without reflection, we can not take ownership of our lives and its direction.

The reality however, despite my love of reflections, student (and sometimes teacher) reflections are often shallow, and as a result, have little benefit. So when does reflecting have the greatest value? At what point does it actually become worth the investment in both effort and time?

With the above in mind, I have been doing some reading about adult cognitive development (the things one has time for over the holidays...). Using the ideas from experts such as Robert Kegan and Marcia Baxter Macgolda, I then set about developing some sort of a guide that might help me to generate deeper, more purposeful reflections - and hopefully my students too! The idea is to move through increased levels of complexity towards greater ownership of my experiences, perspectives, assumptions, commitments, relationships etc. in order to make better decisions around the course of action I will take in being the author of my life story. So basically, I'm hoping to take the "learner agency" buzzword to the next level - don't just own your learning, write your own story!

Click here to download

I have been grappling with how to scaffold students towards more depth in their thinking for some time. Below is a resource I produced last year. Students were asked to draw two cards from the pile. They would have to address the question in their reflection. I have also used these cards in discussions to generate more depth. During the discussion, you have to 'play' your card by asking the question at a relevant moment. This is great for a staff discussion to move beyond the day to day! I've also made two levels of cards to provide reflectees (see what I did there?) a choice as to their level of challenge.

Level 1 questions: Click here to download
Level 2 questions: Click here to download

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Digital Citizenship for Adults

There are lots of things out there for kids right now regarding digital citizenship. But I bet sometimes your colleagues' digital etiquette leaves much to be desired too. I've put together a very basic guide with a hint of humour. Feel free to share this office etiquette guide with your colleagues - or print a copy for the office wall

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How do you know if you are a fruit loop or a lone nut?

Fruit loop: "A mad or a crazy person"Lone nut: "The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire. The 2nd follower is a turning point: it's proof the first has done well. Now it's not a lone nut, and it's not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news." 
There are many great TED talks, but the Derek Sivers: How to start a movement talk remains one of my favourites. It speaks to my inner aspirational innovator, leader and dreamer. And as I have come to learn over the past four years on Twitter, I am not alone. Across the country, and across the world, there are many teachers testing and trying new things in their practice to better meet the needs of their learners. Yet, these same teachers, despite their passionate investment in their learners, are often left feeling isolated, rebellious or disillusioned. They remain lone nuts in their contexts.

Yet, in the online Twitter world many of us have found our tribe.
"Connecting with people who share our same passions and commitment helps in developing our Element. This is our tribe. “Often we need other people to help us recognise our real talents. Often we can help other people to discover theirs.” - Ken Robinson source
It is in the online world of Twitter chats and Google+ communities that many of us have found validation for our ideas, transforming us from lone nuts in our contexts, to be part of a movement, a community. And what a phenomenal feeling this can be! It speaks to our ancient human need for connection. I know that moving from a lone nut interested in and experimenting with project based learning to being part of #PBLchat was a huge turning point in my career, as was finding and leading #edchatNZ.

However lately I have been wondering... How do I know that I am a lone nut, an innovator, a leader, rather than a fruit loop? The internet in its epic democratic nature allows equal air time to the lone nuts and the fruit loops, I am equally likely to find a tribe of nuts or loops. On the internet, the Pope, Kim Kardashian, Obama and David Attenborough all have a voice, and democracy determines the reach. And on top of this, there is the fact that we become socialised into the groups we are part of, thinking, without realising, that they way we act, and the things we think, are the norm.

As I experiment alongside educators across the globe in our classrooms with design thinking, modern learning practice, maker education, robotics, coding, 3D printing, project based learning, literacy and numeracy interventions, STEM, STEAM, collaboration, bring your own technology, Google Apps for Education and Office 365, and whatever else you can think of, I am left wondering, how do I judge the merit of my ideas? I no longer subscribe to standard measures of success, they are too often Eurocentric, anti-feminist, outdated, disillusioned, depersonalised, etc. As a result, I need to find validation and measures of success for my ideas and my questions in new ways, because I do not think exams results alone are a measure of success.

So, if I can't count on my internet tribe, despite the genuine appreciation I have for their unrelenting support, and I can't count on exams, how do I know that I am not a fruit loop?