Socialising Innovation

Featured

through the clouds

This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.
― Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

There are always questions around the purpose and function of our work. Are we innovating enough? Too much? How do we know when an idea is good? How long should we invest in it?

Some are organisational questions; what’s the best way to foster an innovation culture and spread the word of our work? Are we even in the business of innovation? Who and what drives us?

Essentially, we know good business, and good teaching practice is built on good ideas, and sharing them.

In reading Atul Gawande’s New York Times provocation, Slow Ideas, on how we spread good ideas, I was also drawn to the work of Nilofer Merchant, a social era commentator and company director, Steven Johnson, author of ‘how good ideas spread’ and Futerra, a marketing firm working with the UNEP on reshaping communication of the sustainability message. There are some key learning for the Education space, primarily in how and why our good ideas and work can gain the traction we (and others) think it deserves.

There are a few considerations around judgement of ideas: Are ideas adopted quickly necessarily good? Often this is deemed the case. Inversely, are ideas that take time, poor ideas? Often not. It is in how they gain traction that requires a rethink. A classic example is The Internet. Tim Berners Lee took 10 years and countless hours in sharing of his spark of an idea for it to truly get the public traction of the familiar scope of a World Wide Web we know today.

In an age of rapid research, communication and action, there is much complexity. This can lead to error. Essentially individuals working within organisations, teams and indeed society need to realise “We can’t know it all or do it all ourselves”. We need to view this statement with a growth mindset an opportunity to connect with others and hone expertise, not a shame and deficit mindset. Once we get to this point, we begin to operate as pitcrews, rather than cowboys. Shifting from corralling cowboys to producing pit crews—is the great task we have before us.

Teachers, like doctors famously prize their autonomy as among their highest professional values. But improved outcomes also depend on teamwork.

A strong and productive ‘system’ or organisation is a collective of diverse people who authentically work together to direct their specialised capabilities toward common goals. They are coordinated by design. They are pit crews. To function this way, however, you must cultivate certain skills, and acknowledge the strengths of individuals in the team.

There is a critical need to recognise when we’ve succeeded and when we’ve failed for the end user. People in effective systems become interested in data sets. They put effort and resources into collecting them, refining them, understanding what they say about their performance.

It’s important though to recognise that failure is not a bad thing, not because mistakes are good, but because they are critical steps that one must go through in order to create something valuable. Avoiding failure at all cost is a costly stance. Failing fast and moving on to the next thing is a much better philosophy.

Acclaimed instructional coach, Jim Knight talks about the importance of a shared discourse or common language across our education landscape. When we have a shared narrative, we have a richer ability to collaborate and make meaning of the business of schools and education; which is essentially the business of a community. This collaboration can manifest practically, for example by collecting and analysing evidence of student learning, or learning artefacts, and designing together both proactive and reactive measures that foster the kind of accountability that has real impact. We can utilise the capacity of a range of stakeholders to make sense of learning analytics and big data that is commonly underutilised in the school setting. Forming and fostering networks of interest, deepening to communities of engagement support educators and schools to focus on their core business.
Multiple studies and conversations reveal that there are three things we must accomplish if we are to enrich and deepen learning:
1. increase the quality and depth of curricular content,
2. improve teacher knowledge and ability to apply what they know, and
3. increase students’ active engagement
There continues to be so much to learn from small, innovative teams in different professional fields, from medicine to music to software development, and it is already clear that sharing knowledge must be made easier in education too. Gawande shares the concepts of Jim Knight, stressing the importance of opening professional dialogue and publicising practice for critical feedback, leading to improved outcomes and experiences for students. There are clear opportunities and emerging projects to allow for the community to truly engage in the business of education, inviting networks working on the periphery of schools to support the emerging work of teachers, school leaders and students in deepening student engagement and learning experiences. In a networked education model, the premise is clearly that “everyone’s a learner, everyone’s a teacher.” As the interest and the involvement of the wider community in schools deepens, it is clear that students will benefit the most from the increased professional collaboration and networking (social capital) and knowledge and expertise of individuals (human capital) that is built as a result.

When inventive people aren’t aware of what others are working on, the pace of innovation slows. If we had better visibility into one another’s work, one suspects, we could collaborate more effectively or work more quickly or with greater insight. – Clive Thompson

In early 2010, Nike announced a new Web-based marketplace it called the GreenXchange, where it publicly released more than 400 of its patents that involve environmentally friendly materials or technologies. The marketplace was a kind of hybrid of commercial self-interest and civic good. By making its good ideas public, Nike made it possible for outside firms to improve on those innovations, creating new value that Nike itself might ultimately be able to put to use in its own products.

Great lessons and practices in a single classroom impact the students while they are in that classroom. Systematic succession planning for outstanding teaching practice requires a network of professional learners (on different peripheries externally, and also within the education space) who share their practices with one another so that innovation, best practice and concepts of next practice can be shared widely.

Once thinking is public, connections take over. Failed networks kill ideas, but successful ones trigger them. It’s by learning from other people’s ideas, or previous ideas of our own, that we come up with new ways of seeing the world. It’s a constant connection of innovation and success. Documenting our thought process will inform the development of our ideas. Sharing this documentation could grow the concept.

Openness is powerful, even catalytic. On a personal level, it not only allows us to share, but to co-create with speed. On an organisational level, it allows for more than collaboration, it enables communities. Nilofer Merchant

Essentially, the three key authors boil it down to this;
• People talking to people is still how the world’s standards change. Slow, sustained, supportive.
• Stakeholder engagement is conversational; trust and visibility are essential elements.
• To create new norms, you have to understand people’s existing norms and barriers to change. You have to understand what’s getting in their way.
• Conversations, not evaluations. Discoveries (“I really can do this and it really works”), not prescriptions (“Do this or else”).
• Model what you value

Understanding what motivates others is the first step in knowing how to talk to them. Psychology teaches us some valuable lessons here:
People are motivated:
• To know and understand what is going on: they hate being disorientated or confused.
• To learn, discover and explore: they prefer acquiring information at their own pace and answering their own questions.
• To participate and play a role in what is going on around them: they hate feeling incompetent or helpless.

So how can good teaching ideas spread for the benefit of all learners, everywhere? Technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass and Social media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.
Steven Johnson

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

Featured

 

I have been thinking deeply about the core business. I’ve had good lessons, great lessons and some fairly unsuccessful ones too. A highlight has been Tuesday, as I work with Master of Teaching students at University of Sydney. We unpacked the concept of the instructional core, in preparation for classroom observation.

The instructional core can be interpreted as overly simplistic; Teaching of content clearly leads to learning. Or we can look at this framework as the core business, where good teachers affect learning by building relationships with their learners and a deep passion for the content. It is the teacher who makes the connections sparkle!

There is much debate over content v concepts. Howard Gardner once said that subject disciplines are some of the greatest and most significant social constructs of humankind. While I agree that PBL/ Inquiry is key to ‘education’, the joy in learning the specifics of our world and the ideas of fellow people can be equally magical; and certainly an understanding of such siloed concepts is taken higher when students are guided in inquiry and cross curricular discovery. An MTeach student was talking about her subject; Maths. She painted a beautiful picture of the instructional core; teacher, student, content.

I see myself as the conductor of a symphony when I am engaged in teaching Maths. There are kids at different levels of engagement and understanding, different parts to be learnt; algebra, trigonometry, geometry. They all come together in a crescendo of understanding, of skills mastery. When it all comes together, there is that moment when the poetry of how we can make more sense of the world and the song of patterns becomes harmonic.

Whoa. I had a sudden thirst to engage with a calculator.

It reminded me of a quote from Carmine Gallo, in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs “would Steve Jobs’ ideas have been translated into world changing innovations had it not been for his ability to persuasively communicate?”

Teaching is a specific skill. The instructional core values the role of the teacher in the ever changing educational space. There is a need to focus on good teaching, and in this comes reflection. In Australia, AITSL is working to make teachings standards actually living documents and focus points for lifting the esteem and productivity of the profession. The most important work of AITSL is their advocacy for building learning communities; teachers as learners.

When we put learning at the central point of the instructional core, and conscious observation of ‘learning’ as a common process, we build consistent dialogue and value into what we do. And what we do transcends the success of our curriculum, learning spaces (of which, I think is perhaps another part of incorporate into the IC), schools, systems; Teaching and Learning is critical at a range of scales.

It has come down to two important questions;

  • What is Learning?
  • How do we know it’s happening?

I value your thoughts.

 

Do it, Share it, Lead it

Featured

 

 

The growth of any craft depends on shared practice and honest dialogue among the people who do it. We grow by private trial and error, to be sure — but our willingness to try, and fail, as individuals is severely limited when we are not supported by a community that encourages such risks.

The Courage to Teach; Palmer, 1998, p. 144

Experience is a truly remarkable thing. It’s a gift we in essence give ourselves each day. It’s a hard teacher, and often plans lessons we don’t want to learn. But it makes us look at things differently with each turn. Experience makes us evaluate where we have been, and what we are headed into next. It makes us collaborate with others on the journey too.

In order to experience, you need to take chances and live. It’s risky, it’s terrifying, it’s pretty awesome. If we don’t experience we don’t grow. I’m reminded of the epic conversation I had with Steve Collis and Malyn Mawby last year; Teaching is Traumatic. And remember what Ben Jones added; Trauma is good for us, it helps us grow and change and get stronger.

I’m doing something pretty awesome at the moment. I returned from my time teaching and living in the USA, into working with the PLANE Project . The most terrifying part of this challenge is that it sits outside of the classroom. There are no kids around. I miss it hugely, the happy noise. But what is extraordinary is the mix of people involved in this project; from all sectors, Public, Catholic and Independent. From classroom teachers to IT professionals, teacher leaders to new scheme. It’s a brilliantly unique situation, and an outstanding concept.

Learning is not an ‘add on,’ to be done when we have some free time or at training sessions. Some of the most significant innovations have been in infrastructures and day-to-day practices, allowing teams and intact work groups to integrate working and learning.

— “The Academy As Learning Community: Contradiction in Terms or Realizable Future?” Senge, in Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs, Lucas, A. F. & Associates, 2000, pp. 280-281

So it’s a different learning I’m immersed in. It’s education professionals building something for our colleagues and friends to connect and learn together, with the clear and ultimate goal of learning being a better and more meaningful experience for kids, everywhere.  The team is cognisant of what we know works best in this learning game; curiosity and fun. Frustrations arise when we try to make big visions into production realities. That’s a pretty neat place of dissonance. Take a look at PLANE. 

What I see as being of greatest significance for a project such as this is the potential for data gathering. We speak about NAPLAN and the role it can (or cannot) play in the ‘value add’ for students.  George Couros talked about Data and the role it has in improving learning.

My mind has been racing as it seems there are amazing things happening all over the world, and in our own community, that are pushing education forward.  I see more people taking the plunge,  getting elbow deep into their own learning.  I am inspired every single day, and I am seeing some amazing connections between the work that educators are doing and the learning that is happening in the classroom.

Here is the question that keeps popping into my head though:  Where is the data that supports this progression in our own practice resulting in success in our schools?  This can be about any initiatives in schools ranging from assessment, technology integration, critical thinking, and so on.  The problem is, with many things happening in education today, they are so new that the “data” is lacking.  Sometimes even if data is there, it might not necessarily prove anything.  For example, if we say the purpose of school is to prepare our students to be happy and contributing citizens in our society, how do high standardized tests prove this?  All it really proves is that students did well on the test.

The most outstanding aspect of PLANE for educators is the sharing and collaboration of resources, stories and thoughts. I see huge potential for a repository of evidence of teaching and learning happening in Australian Schools; not of scores of NAPLAN data sets, but of examples where human stories are the key element, and we can make that brilliant teacher; experience, the most outstanding tool to support good teaching and learning. We’ve already seen examples where new scheme teachers are in virtual worlds or forums within PLANE, mentoring principals on projects or ideas. As we know, experience isn’t an age thing, or is it positional. We know learning is relational; it’s a conversation.

We are shaping a network, whereby, given time, the bank of evidence can be evaluated and read deeply. Where we can provide deep support for all educators, translating into the best learning experiences of kids. An environment that has strength online and translates offline, because it is in the organic connections and ownership of the project that people connect and share. Working with all school and learning organisations, we will have a system of reflective practitioners, who take their own learning, and the learning of others personally. An empathetic and generous learning community, empowered by their learning. A situation where practise informs evidence, and becomes the grounding for new evidence, which will inform best practise. Steve Johnson aptly said that good ideas take time and take collaboration. There is much to be said about taking the time to share what you know; simple to you extraordinary to others.

 

We need to create programs that bring us together structurally in some cases, intellectually and emotionally in others….Learning communities are one way that we may build the commonalities and connections so essential to our education and our society.

Learning Communities: Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty, and Disciplines; Gabelnick, et al., 1990 p. 92

The Education Game

Featured

Why the act of play and the mindset of playfulness matters.

 

 

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. – Plato

Here are some basic ideas of how we define Play. It’s a start, but far too shallow:

Verb:
Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
Noun:
Activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, esp. by children.
Synonyms:
verb.  perform – act – toy
noun.  game – performance – drama – sport

 

 

There’s something truly interesting about watching play. There’s obviously something magical about being involved in play, but the observing of play has been the most enlightening part of my teaching journey of the past few weeks.

To play is to be creative and relational in so many ways. It’s loaded with problem solving and leadership opportunities.

Play is resourcefulness at work. I have seen kids analyse the tools in front of them, perhaps balloons, balls, rope or bubble, match the resource with the space and the number of participants and organise a game of sorts in under 5 minutes. Free from direction or instruction. I would argue the best work of my learners has come from play, and it has been up to me to take what I have seen and fuse it into inquiry time. It’s been breathtaking if I am honest.

I have watched as one girl shows off her gymnastics prowess in a cartwheel, to the awe of her peers. I have then watched as others attempt the skill, and then over the course of a week or so, not only are the cartwheeling skills of the group significantly more refined, so is the communication skills, and leadership capacity of the starter. In fact, these are skills I dare to say we may have trouble fostering in kids any other way.

I’ve long talked about play as a vital element in our  education mix, as have many of my colleagues. But to see play and playfulness as the central focus of student body has taken my argument to a whole new level.

It is a happy talent to know how to play. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

How can we better harness or express the importance of play?

Love. Not Loss.

Featured

                                                                              Source: modernhepburn.tumblr.com via Summer on Pinterest

 

 

I remember when I first saw the IUCN’s rebranding of biodiversity; it shifted me as an educator.

Like most things that move us, they make intrinsic sense to us. We are, after all, emotional moreso than we are rational as human beings.  In a system where punishment is often used to both attempt to inspire and to chastise, we watch as an apathy builds in kids and adults alike. There is a fatigue that comes along with it; and as I have discussed at length previously, a compliance state.  Daniel Pink and Alfie Kohn have explored rewards and their impact on drive and learning at length.

Futerra have done a brilliant thing by putting this messageinto the world. They have  essentially re-branded the biodiversity message, leveraging what is the very essence of human nature and communication. We know that  Love messages trade on empathy. Their currency is awe, fascination and wonder , in the case of this campaign, for the natural world. Love messages are positive, built on adrenalin, not tears.  So how can we transfer this important and profoundly sensical concept into our classrooms? I would argue in more ways than we could ever even brainstorm.

The ‘Love’ message trumps the ‘Loss’ message for grabbing attention and inspiring action. This is key in how we communicate and surely apply curriculum and assessment. It appeals to the common sense in all of us. Inspiring people, particularly children, towards opportunity is a more powerful driver for action than scaring them away from the consequences.

 

Branding Biodiversity, Futerra’s latest report calls for ‘Love not Loss’

30 July 2010 | News story

This report argues that we need ‘Love not Loss!’ and that rather than sob stories of rainforest depletion, the most powerful agent for change will be people’s love of nature and the feeling of awe and amazement it brings.

The communications group, Futerra, is making extinction messages extinct with its latest piece of thought leadership on communicating biodiversity.

Branding Biodiversity is a practical guide to effectively communicating biodiversity to business, governments and the public in a way that will change behaviours and policies.

The report argues that we need ‘Love not Loss!’ and that rather than sob stories of rainforest depletion, the most powerful agent for change will be people’s love of nature and the feeling of awe and amazement it brings.

Biodiversity messages are divided into 4 categories; loss, love, need, and action. Branding Biodiversity provides communicators with an effective formula to use in their own messaging

 

This is a significant shift in building empathy over apathy; simply the core of what we try to do in schools, essentially.

You can’t get more powerful than awe, wonder and joy. I was recently at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and it quite literally blew my mind. I also had the profound delight of  sharing the experience with my friend’s daughter. I don’t know what I enjoyed more; soaking in my own first experience of seeing real dinosaur bones, or seeing her awe and wonder as she touched, explored and connected with that of which was in front of her. It was a sensory experience. I don’t know how many times I heard her say ‘wow, come over here, have a look at this!’. The real Aha moment came after she played in Mars Sand; “why can’t school be like this?”. Indeed.

exploration is tactile, it requires time and touch.

I watched with such intent when we came across the live archeology demonstration. I took some time to sit and talk with the man intricately wearing millions of years of rock and dirt away from bones of a critter long extinct. I was fascinated. It occurred to me that my daily life may not have been altered because of this discovery, or this small bone, or perhaps even by the long ago existence of the small dinosaur. But it was in the awe and wonder, that this man followed his life’s dream not only to find and explore such artifacts, but to volunteer his time to share this process and love with people; mainly children in his work with the museum.

A live archeology exhibition. This moment blew my mind.

I know others are exploring the very same notion, and I look forward to reading their thoughts on this. But I fear there is not enough awe and wonder. It’s where passion, curiosity and drive come from. It’s how we learn and grow and become self-assured. It’s how we communicate and connect with others. It’s flat out underestimated. How can we flip the deficit messages or undertones in education?

This skull was found in Denver city in 2003. It ignited my curiosity with time and place

Managing Freedom

Featured

 

 

How do you manage your freedom? How do we manage our Freedom? What, in fact, is Freedom?

As I have spent time in the land of the free, and working in an environment with no bells, no timetable and an agile approach to learning, these are some questions I have been pondering myself, and exploring with my learners; in fact underpinning our inquiry to start the school year.

These seem like fairly simple questions, but if we reflect deeply, freedom is a very complex concept, heavily weighted, often taken for granted, and largely misunderstood.

Freedom is not recklessness; it’s not lawlessness, it’s not anarchy. Or it shouldn’t be. Freedom is not a total lack of accountability or a restriction-free way of being. Freedom is loaded with responsibility. In fact, it needs responsibility to survive. There is accountability to freedom.

It’s possibly the most difficult gift in our lives (should we be fortuitous enough to experience it) to take charge of and manage. It needs careful consideration.

We can apply the concept of freedom in a myriad of ways.

I have firmly come to believe that managing your freedom means being fully alive, and completely cognisant of not only where you are going and what you are doing, but of others sharing the path with you. Freedom is a partnership, a collaboration between situations, ideas, beliefs, resources and people.

We struggle and fight when our ‘freedom’ is restricted, when we know we could be living better. I think a lot about this in the context of assessment and curriculum. We know how learning happens; it’s happened for centuries. I’m very much into the work of the organisation Born To Learn and their ideas around why adolescence is an opportunity and not a problem. Should we restrict freedom; creativity, or even physical movement, we run the risk of compliance…a dangerously numb state for learners and young people to find themselves in.

 

How we learn is often not aligned with how we assess or the learning situations created in school. There is so much merit in the gathering of data, so long as it is process and evaluated, and part of a journey and conversation. There is also much to be said of robust learning; that of which is uncomfortable, complicated and leads to skill building in communication, questioning, confidence and resilience. The role of the teacher becomes a mentor and a coach, guiding the  questioning, helping to source the information, connecting the learning space to the world, and evaluating the progress of the whole child.

I believe in school, you can have your cake and eat it too. An environment where space encourages movement and choice. Where students can make their learning visible and track their own process and make adjustment, so assessment is learning, not of learning. A place where freedom is understood and not manifested as mindless busy work, or free range, but  as a concept where negotiation and respect is paramount, and choice in the context of progress is valued most.

Learning real, difficult, meaningful things, in collaboration with others, with some responsibility for determining how they go about it; this is exactly what young people themselves say they want.- Guy Claxton

In the findings of Joan Rudduck, A Cambridge University Professor, let’s think about the provision of the Rs and Cs for our students; Responsibility, Respect, Real and Choice, Challenge and Collaboration.

I value your thoughts around, essentially, freedom in school.

 

Dear Year 8 self…

Featured

 

“Be kind to yourself. You’re a much better person than you think you are right now. Teenage years are the best time of your life, do not rush  through them. You get to be a grown up for the rest of your life, be young while you are young. Dance. Don’t suffer in silence always talk through any issues with someone you can trust! Get a part time job and save a little bit each week. It will add up by the time you are 29.
Don’t get a credit card and most importantly if something makes you happy do it. If something makes you unhappy eliminate it. Wear Sunscreen. Yes you are exceptional. Remember that those around you are exceptional as well. Your friends now are wonderful. Cherish them. At the same time, there are extra wonderful people waiting to meet you in your future. Don’t rush, just enjoy each step. One day you will look back from where I am now and realize that the people who matter don’t mind if you regularly make a goose of yourself and the people who do mind won’t matter to you! Be yourself and make the most of your life because you only get one shot at it. Everyone else is just as scared and confused as you are, stop stressing, you will figure it out along the way. Be true to yourself. Be nicer to everyone, they are mostly all good people and deserve to be given a break. Because you are you, you are enough.”

A few days ago, I set my status Facebook as ‘Complete this statement….Dear Year 8 Self…’ Friends from around the world, some close friends, some old friends, some friends I didn’t know were still on Facebook! From Sydney, to Perth, Port Villa to Colorado, all had a connection. They were once in Year 8. And they talked. It was awesome. These were their words to you.

I started this speech by putting my glasses on. One, so I can see you all, and two, so you are reminded about frames of reference. Everyone views things through their own life perspective. Girls, everyone in this room was once a young woman your age. We all try to bring our story to your life, and we do it because simply. You are loved. I know it’s frustrating at times, but let us…please! You see…I’ve never been a sister, an aunty, godmother or mother but I have been a teenage girl and I am a daughter.

The most important thing in life is your family. There are days you love them, and others when they drive you mad, but in the end they’re the people you always come home to. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.  Our Year 8 family are a bunch of stunning musicians, dazzling dancers, passionate horse lovers, super swimmers, fantastic athletes, wonderful writers, singers,

actors, scientists, poets, artists, geographers, and all round awesome girls. Each girl brings something wonderful and dynamic to our group that warms and energises the soul. I know you are proud of your girl, and I am too. Your daughter is also busy growing into a wonderful young lady, laughing with and caring for her friends as well as dealing with the tricky stage they are in…and doing it well.

I often contemplate what our core business is as teachers. Here at Ravo, we strive for excellence. I like that. It’s a good, solid attribute to aim for.
But let’s unpack it. Excellence in academics, in sport, performing arts, but really, excellence in being the very best people we can be; both adults and students. I believe to get to excellence, we must have empathy. And ‘teaching’ empathy is about the hardest thing you can possibly try to do.

I talk with many of you, and in my best moments as Year Coordinator, I try to help parents understand who their children are today and see that person they are today as part of the journey through Rites of Passage, from birth to adulthood. I help parents see that children take what they need of their parent’s dreams, add to them, change them to build their own.  In these best moments, that’s when empathy building happens. This, here, right now, is one of those best moments, when I can tell you that these girls here today have got it. As a teacher, I’ve not encountered such a deep concerns for others than I have in these girls. I just don’t buy into the idea that this is ‘the lost generation’  What I am deeply grateful for is the time I get to spend with your daughter and her friends everyday, and I am blissfully happy that these girls get to make decisions for this country and this world. I want to give you an example. Last week, when discussing their global inequality Geography task, the girls said the most jaw-droppingly amazing things. I told them they blew me away, and you will be too. I quote ‘I was ashamed of my ignorance towards the plight of others’  “I had such a range of emotions when exploring the research” and just yesterday “why is it that on the news everyday, they start by saying ‘good evening’ and then proceed to tell us exactly why it isn’t?” . Your daughter thinks broadly, feels deeply and cares strongly.  And that’s the Paradox of adolescence. She’s also hilarious. Only yesterday when I was setting this room up for this morning, I heard shrieks of ‘come quickly, it’s hurt” and we gathered around the poor little bird, (I was  thinking, oh no, what are we going to do here) and the girls gathered, speculating over the ailment of the poor thing, then as it broke free of my hold, and a scarf, and flew away, each girl ran off screaming in disbelief that this bird tricked us, fits of laughter and shrieking ensued for at least the next 5 minutes… This is why I walk around all day with a smile on my face and usually my head shaking in utter disbelief and awe of these girls! I believe that kids do more for us as educators than we do for them. This is a firm belief held by my close network of educators from around the world. It’s a good time to thank each and every one of you, girls for being you. Never underestimate the capacity you have to make everyone around you, young and old, smile.  It’s the only superpower you’ll ever need.

Girls, I know, we know, growing up is hard, but people do it every day. All we want is for you to be good at being you, be true to yourself and grow into someone you can be proud of. My mum told me when I was your age…mostly nice yet often moody; ‘I have always wanted you to have choices. I want you to be able to be yourself in the world without dumbing down, settling for less or being afraid speak your mind. She said ‘there is much confusion in your life right now, but make no confusion of this. I love you. I will always love you so much that it hurts. And I am here.’
Girls, I don’t know much about being a mum, but I know this. You are loved, and being here this morning is a pretty great place to be.  I also know this to be true; ‘You never know who will end up being your family, or where you’ll find them’.

And remember mums, your daughter is going to grow up….in spite of you! Some things I learnt about being a good daughter from my little girl, Tiffany (ok, so she is a sausage dog, but still…). When loved ones come home, run to greet them. When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience. Be loyal and never pretend to be something you’re not. Oh, and don’t ruin your mum’s shoes…

 

I believe that to be involved with the life of your child is to be involved with everything you believe and understand about life. A daughter is the happy memories of the past, the joyful moments of the present, and the hope and promise of the future.

Pedagogy and People over Places and Spaces

Featured

The impact of flexible learning spaces on student learning and achievement in a school-based setting;

A snapshot of the discourse

 

 

Studies about student academic achievement and building condition conclude that the quality of the physical environment significantly affects student achievement. ‘There is sufficient research to state without equivocation that the building in which students spends a good deal of their time learning does in fact influence how well they learn’ (VIT 2009 p1). Forward-thinking educators are suggesting that the reform of learning spaces is over. It’s time for transformation, to rethink technology and media, pedagogy, and the physical environment.

As evidenced by the varied and detailed body of research and professional discussion via means such as Twitter, society has a more positive and democratic view of children as capable, responsible individuals. The core of this lies in the fact that we have a greater depth of understanding of how children learn and we don’t believe that all students learn best sitting behind a desk listening to a teacher. There is more widespread interest in problem based learning (PBL) and pedagogies with focus on problem solving, creativity and communication; These primarily being collaboarative and constructivist theories of education. These are important considerations for designers of learning spaces.

Although the vast majority of learning environments in an average school remains the same as 50 years ago, we have reached a tipping point, particularly in the last three years (according to David Cummings[1]) as we have reached a point where this has changed, the catalyst being digital technology. As schools, students and education move away from a didactic approach to e-learning and ’technology’, these ’e-spaces’  serve to highlight the student-driven, flexible learning that can be the focus of learning into the future. I am reluctant to utilise the term ’21st Century’ in this paper, as I feel that not only are we 10 years into this timeframe, but it also limits the scope of the discussion of the future of learning. I strongly believe we also need to not only be too future focussed, but on learning, now.

So it is a shift in the technological landscape , the sociological landscape and the architectural landscape that have seemingly connected to push a shift in the educational landscape, although these factors could be placed on a continuum to all push change within each other. Nevertheless, it is these four facets of society that were strong pillars in the literature and discourse.

Methodological approaches

A broad variety of methodologies, both qualitative and qualitative have been explored, to mirror the variety of approaches to the discourse around this topic. This paper in its tone and essence reflects that. I have read widely and sourced ideas from a great many places to shape my own discourse around the subject of spaces for learning. I have leveraged an extensive network on Twitter to gather the scope of reference for the topic, as well as a range of resources to review. Social media is important in an area of educational development such as learning space and pedagogy, as many practitioners and experts, such as Ewan McIntosh[2], David Cummings, Stephen Heppell[3],
Tom Barrett[4] and Fiona Young[5] share experience and expertise via personal discussion, blogs and outlets including Twitter and YouTube. Much of the investigation has been personally rich in the gathering of data and ideas, and I have enjoyed being consultative with experts and colleagues. This is also true of the annotated bibliography, which has been completed using Diigo. I have been able to share this collection of research with other practitioners, and I look forward to continuing my online bookmarking as my interest in this field continues to grow. As this is by no means an extensive review of the literature, and in my research journey, I have encountered several reviews of the literature associated with this topic. Therefore, I have taken the direction to showcase the best examples of research and discourse around the topic, and evaluate areas needed for further investigation. In this way, it has become a personal learning journey of which I have actioned in my own classroom setting and professional conversations.

Key concepts I have aimed toexplore:

This snapshot of the discourse aims to explore the research and conversation around practices that have been adopted by schools and teachers to improve student learning outcomes and achievement. There is a strong link with best pedagogy and leading practice which refers to proven, sustainable and adaptable practice leading to improved outcomes, validated by research.

  1. The Environment has a physiological impact on learning. For example, students with limited classroom daylight are outperformed by those with the most natural light by 20% in maths and 26% on reading tests. (The Third Teacher, pg 27)
  2. Form need to follow function; Teaching and learning should shape the  building, not the other way around.- Dieter Rams, The Third Teacher, pg69
  3. Significance of incidental learning– making school infrastructure transparent brings about a community sense, and teaches young people the workings of the real world.
  4. Technology connects learners with each other, information and the outside world. Connectivity, makes learning visible and meaningful. The importance of connectivity cannot be underestimated, as it shapes where learners will position themselves and how flexible they will make themselves.

 

Scope of the review

The most central piece of literature to the review is the 2010 Collaborative project; The Third Teacher, which looks to form a framework of concepts for design to transform teaching and learning. This book lends on some arts-based methodologies, incorporating quotes, observations, photographs and a companion website. It has pointed me towards other avenues of investigation, most successfully a personal conversation around spaces as a global connector of learners with Prof Stephen Heppell. As organisations such as CEFPI (Council of Educational Facilities Planners International) continue to deliver contemporary research in my field of investigation, and more contacts are made globally through my extensive Twitter network join my discourse around Learning Spaces and Student Achievement, I have seen the need to cap the scope of the research. Since much of the research development has been born of personal conversations with educators teaching in innovative spaces, and my own anecdotal observations from teaching in Sydney’s newest architecturally designed future focused learning space at Ravenswood School for Girls, and as a student in Macquarie University’s Library space, I have further made the choice to limit the research to literature produced in the past 10 years. I have also limited the literature to English language references.

 “The child
starting kindergarten this year will graduate in the third decade of the 21st
Century. All we know about the world she will step into this that it will have challenges
and opportunities beyond what we can imagine today, problems and possibilities
that will require creativity and ingenuity, responsibility and compassion.
Whether this year’s kindergarten student will merely survive or positively
thrive in the decades to come depends in large measure on the experiences she
has at school. Those experiences will be shaped by adults, by peers, and
ultimately by places; by the physical environments where she does her learning.”-
(The Third Teacher)

Research and actioning of the relationship between the educational and architectural design features and principles when planning new learning environments for increased student engagement and achievement has escalated in the last five years, particularly in the Australian educational setting. The Federal Government’s Education Revolution, although an important exercise in resourcing schools, placed schools under an incredibly tight deadline for essentially spending the money allocated.  While a great majority of schools were resourced with new buildings, the much needed discussion around the associated pedagogies and achievement strategies were lacking. Ewan McIntosh and David Cummings agree, Spaces need to the thoughtfully engineered for learning, and it is good practice, not good buildings that lead to improved learning experiences. In fact, anecdotal observations[i] strongly suggest that even the most grand on building design will not transform teacher practice and learning in any measurable way if reflection and discussion around pedagogy does not occur. Conversely, the Victorian Department of Education and Training, which according to the literature is leading the way in thoughtful school design in Australia (Fisher, 2005) conducted a study examining pedagogy-space performance measures. This preceded a major injection of capital investment into school infrastructure for K-12 schools delivered through the Leading Schools Fund (LSF). This concept was designed to pilot innovative pedagogies across 80 schools. Schools had to ‘bid’ for funding based on pedagogical, curriculum, professional development, technology and learning environment design strategies. The study developed planning and design principles to assist facility managers, school councils, principals, teachers and architects to design new learning environments for new or best pedagogies. These planning and design guidelines were based on international and national case studies and required an evidence-based business case for Treasury to approve the financial strategy prior to implementation (Fisher 2005 p5). This points not only to the significance of research, discourse and intent around provision of buildings for purposeful learning, but also the need to work together as a local, national and international community of learners and consultants. Globally, it has been shown that visits by staff to other institutions that are in the same thought/building process have proved beneficial in supporting change. Organisation such as SCIL[6] make sharing this research and their experience a two-way Professional Learning experience, sending staff to a range of benchmark locations around the world, and inviting practitioners and researchers into their space. Written Research surrounding this practice, is however limited.

The old adage “If you build it, they will come” is not living in schools. These discussions, even post building or fit-out are critical for the longevity of the success of the organisation and its stakeholders.  Education and school buildings have a resource (human, environmental and fiscal) need to be durable and aesthetically pleasing, but they also need to be functional and fit for purpose. This is critical for the sustainability of often limited resources available systematically. Some of these resources to keep in mind are financial, human, and physical space.

Nevertheless, there is a rise in the provision of flexible and innovative spaces for learning in school-based setting across the world, and in Australia. This trend is underpinned by an emerging body of unique research; which still remains seemingly anecdotal in its basis. This can lead to a significant opportunity for practice to inform evidence at a tertiary research level. The available and most contemporary research, associated focuses on the way in which schools have used resources for time, space and information communication technologies (ICT) to change teacher practice, and increase student engagement and achievement. There is a strong discourse, albeit informal, that I have engaged in around the ability to employ best practice existing pedagogies and evolve them into new directions in teaching and
learning informed by the potential of flexible learning spaces currently operating in NSW and international schools. This discourse has served to inform the literature I have started to engage with in the area of learning and contemporary space.

There is a critical need to look at ways of designing inspiring learning/school buildings that can adapt to educational and technological change. ICT is a vital component and can give schools the option of teaching children as individuals, in small groups and in large groups, and can should facilitate connections with other schools, facilities and experts locally and from around the world. This is equally as important for students and teachers to instill a community of learning. That will not happen if design spaces in schools are not flexible and facilitate various patterns of group dynamics and learning styles. Flexibility is paramount, because whatever vision of education buildings are designed around, they will need to perform in a very different way in a few years’ time; this is at the core of the success of the space- sustainability.

A rigid posture is
manageable for a short time, a
an excessively static posture leads to mental and physical impairment due to
poor
oxygen supply causing what is often called ‘the school headache’
– pg 79 The
Third Teacher

Well-designed learning spaces have a motivational effect. Learning areas infused with natural light provide an environment that is easy and pleasurable to work in. Wireless connectivity within a brightly lit atrium, learning café or open-plan social area will encourage engagement in learning, and instil a desire to continue activities beyond timetabled classes.  The majority of the research encountered was based in the tertiary setting. The higher education sector in Australia has recognised that the physical learning environment has a significant impact upon learning and the student university experience. Although academic excellence has long been seen as the drawcard for universities, the focus is now shifting to include the physical elements on offer, and new learning spaces are a major player in attracting and retaining student interest (Radcliffe et al 2008 p11). This notion however can be easily transferred into the secondary school setting and is in-fact evident in the marketing material of many schools, advertising their physical spaces as drawcards for enrolment.

Space is motivating and warm environments assist educators to conduct the activities of teaching and learning.  Students are more interactive in welcoming, where students can manage and shape their own working area. Students reflect on the interactive and connected capabilities of well-designed space both within the classroom community and beyond the realms of the physical space. This is a significant theme in the literature encountered; the ability of the space to work outside of itself. The teacher and students both recognise that reconfigurable learning spaces engage different kinds of learners and teachers, as evidenced by Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. Class spaces need to be agile. In the case of secondary schools, new facilities excite the interest of students. Our librarians at Ravenswood School for Girls reviewed the mandatory sign in records from the old library to the new LRC space, noting not only an increase in the time students on average spend in the new space,
but the increase in the number of students who had not previously stayed at school after hours. There is undeniably a close correlation between the quality of the facilities and a sense that education is important, and that students are being valued by the organisation.  When observing and operating in my current school over the past 24 months, it can be seen that the adverse effect of building disruption on morale has been vastly outweighed by the pride in the new facilities of the school community and in some examples (particularly personally) the effect this has had on the ability to deliver a programme of teaching in a style considered to be contemporary and meaningful. Fisher (2005, p4) suggests the common finding to be that new buildings allows staff to change the way in which subjects are taught.
While there is certainly greater opportunity for change in pedagogical approach, Cummings argues this is rarely translated without seriously reflection, discourse and time allowances.

 

“Spaces should add value to learning and act as a teaching assistant to learning activities. School buildings need to be viewed as influencers of future practice, not responsive to existing practice of teaching and learning.”- Ewan McIntosh. However, most discussion is suggesting, interestingly, that a range of outstanding architectural buildings have been designed and delivered to schools around Australia and the world, but the true potential in terms of their ability to act as a third teacher is underutilised in real terms, and in this way, there appears to be a clear disconnect between literature and practice, which the scope of this investigation will continue to unpack further[ii]. The review continues to reveals gaps in the research, in that most research on learning spaces focuses on the design phase, rather than on the later phases or on the people that use the space – practitioners and learners. A discussion with David Cummings on this subject revealed an important concept; it is not architecture that liberates learning, it is practise. This argument is well articulated by the leader in the field of this work, Ewan McIntosh;

“We’ve been making this point about new buildings: they do not, in themselves, change anything. We’re working round on changing ideas and notions around teaching and learning first, so that the students’ and teachers’ capacity for ‘suspending belief’ around what a building should be can be harnessed by the architects. However, what’s also useful is undertaking the same design thinking process with an existing building to see what opportunities are / are not being explored, everything from timetabling changes to small (but important) changes in teaching and learning approaches.” Ewan McIntosh on ‘Spaces to Learn, Learning about Spaces’ www.summercharlesworth.com

 

From all of the reading and discussion, this has been the most critical and salient point. The first consideration when planning how to use the learning space in the classroom is to have a clear idea what the purpose of each learning activity is going to be.  Fisher (2005 p 1) opens the research by noting that the evaluation of school learning environments has for decades traditionally focused on the technical performance of the facilities with little attention being paid to their pedagogical performance or
effectiveness. This is highly problematic and has been discussed previously.  I echo Fisher’s point, suggesting that although there are a number of studies which explore the links between pedagogy and the design of the learning environment, these are worth examining in more depth including thinking closely about problem-based learning.

The prevailing pedagogic approach has swung towards active and collaborative learning, but even in the most contemporary spaces, room design and staff skills sets do not always reflect this. Agility it the key, and certainly time and energy spent in defining the strategic teaching and learning directions of organisations prior to building or retro-fitting spaces. To determine the best way forward for the organisation, effective dialogues are needed to establish what will be required from the spaces, what changes in pedagogic approach are needed. Investment in developing the skills of staff also needs to be matched by fostering their ownership of the proposed changes. Involving learners (both students and teachers) in aspects of the design is important. This signals that they can have a measure of control over the learning environment and over their own learning. Creativity often comes with ownership, and it is in the ownership of the conversations that true utilisation of spaces, matched with pedagogy and ultimately resulting in improved student outcomes and learning.

Well-designed learning spaces are also in essence social spaces and are likely to increase students’ motivation and may even have an impact on ability to learn. High-quality space for informal learning enhances the profile of the organisation. Research further indicates that classroom climate is determined by the organisation of learning space, learner involvement, in collaborative and autonomous learning which simultaneously assists in developing a sense of belonging and community. This culture of trust, respect and ownership leads to more respect for the appearance and mainatainence of the learning environment itself. The climate of a classroom can foster resilience or become a risk factor in the lives of people who work or learn in a place called school (Chrisenduth, 2006 p5).

The motivation of learners is the ultimate end product. Achieving spaces that foster effective learning will require a holistic approach, including a dialogue with all key stakeholders. A cross-institutional management group is at the core of the success of the space in serving a function towards student achievement and strong learning outcomes. Furthermore, this promotes a strong sense of community, able to be enriched and enhanced in the collective and collaborating nature of the spaces in which are under management. Most importantly, as evidenced by a range of conversations as literature, (current topical discourse), is a new and purposeful vision for learning and teaching and learning space design which requires a strong narrative of the organisation and collaboration with consultants to articulate its aims and oversee its functioning
and development. This clearly needs to be an ongoing process. In conversation with BVN Architect and CEFPI Chair, Fiona Young, and echoed by the sentiments of Ewan McIntosh, crucially, the views of learners should also underpin the development of strategies for teaching and learning, and learning space design and functioning. In this consultation, a learning community is strengthened (or formed) and clearly, designs of physical spaces are linked to the institution’s strategic vision for teaching and learning, and that this is articulated in every detail of the design and shared with all stakeholders, at the apex; learners. What emerges is a set of clear technical recommendations on the best ways of improving the learning landscape in different learning settings, as guided by pedagogy.

 

In conclusion…

The most salient of the findings and research around this topic came from discussions with networks of teachers, researchers and architects immersed in finding new ways to utilise their new spaces, researching future spaces for their organisations or currently working in the field. Much of the evidence, while sound and useful is largely anecdotal.  Further data-driven research is needed on the uses of spaces in supporting learning and achievement, and how they may be most effectively provided in the secondary educational setting. The role that space plays in the dynamics of creating productive education, in most contexts and communities is not well understood, and needs further study. A methodological study should be carried out to consider how the effects of space on learning may be rigorously evaluated; this is certainly the element of any discourse around the topic that is lacking significantly. Efforts should be made to conduct evaluations andaction-research in the learning context that provide guidance is to the learning benefits, and the financial and other costs, of emerging, and contemporary learning spaces. Teacher Professional Development in utilising
space as an important factor in the learning continuum is virtually non-existent. This is problematic in my view. It may be loosely disguised as ‘classroom management’ however we find that the majority of pre-service teachers entering schools have little understanding of the environment as the third teacher, and are even reluctant to shift the layout of learning spaces to match their desired pedagogies. This phenomenon alone warrants further research and examination.  Sustainability and ‘future proofing’ of contemporary learning spaces can best be achieved by providing comfortable, welcoming spaces that can be adjusted and adapted to a range of learning situations, as informed by latest pedagogical trends and research.

In examining the literature in this area it can be said that there is insufficient qualitative/deep research on the relationship between pedagogy and design of learning environments. The OECD recommends that research should follow five key steps:

1. What student abilities do we want to achieve?

2. How can we assess these attributes?

3. What pedagogies should be used to achieve these desired learning outcomes?

4.What learning environments should be developed to fit these pedagogies?

5.How can we develop a pilot program and evaluate it?

Furthermore any such research needs to be developed with classroom teachers to ensure its relevance to learning and central focus on building positive learning communities.

I welcome your thoughts.

 

Playing in public

Featured

There’s so much buzz around the notion of play at the moment. I know for sure that when my students play, they get lost in the activity and find that the learning the seamless. There’s informal and formal play as I am seeing it, with some fantastic game-play models and concepts offered by
Minecraft and Quest Atlantis, to name a few. I have been particularly interested in what the gaming element of play can offer my learners, and I am looking forward to continuing my exploration with Bron Stucky, Ben Jones and Adrian Camm.

Play is possibly more of an attitude than an activity. With playfulness comes a sense of light-heartedness, a time to make memories and a critical element of flow. Imagination and creativity are fundamental outcomes of play.

So it’s a great day when playfulness is at the core of business. At yesterday’s TeachMeet, we had a shift in the way presenters used their 7 or 3 minutes spots. This began with Lou and Channie dressing as mad professors and talking about play in science. Their observations cemented wheat we know; when kids are playing, they are creating, they are learning and they are happy. Isn’t this fundamentally why we teach? To help kids be happy in their learning. Chris then modelled basic song creation using the iPad, which, in his words ‘is just lots of fun to use’. Chris has so much fun playing with the iPad, he encouraged us to play, and then see how we can share this fun with learners. Chris then modelled this favourite tool by ‘playing in public’ as we live-created a silly and fun tune, while the #tmSydney audience (and livestream no doubt) were in hysterics!

What’s interesting is that this notion of play got the audience thinking about how they could use this tool in their learning. The play modelled the tool, made the static dynamic, built a connection with other people and lightened the tone of the learning session. A great outcome indeed!

Claire Price offered the room paper and pencils for her session ‘drawing as a thinking tool’. Claire is an advocate for using sketch and drawing to bring about creativity and communication. What I saw was a lot of people sharing and talking as they were asked to trace their hand, and then elaborate on the details of the person’s hand next to them. What came out of this playful activity was a lot of connections between people. Some of the sketches were simple, but as others commented and elaborated, confidence was built, and people started drawing what they could see ‘into’ rather than what was at face value.  I have added a simple GIFvid; Hands to the Playing In Public (Art) PLN Challenge. What can you contribute?

So to play in public is actually a really significant thing to do. It’s a critical thing to do. If the outcomes show us that people are more connected, confident, relaxed and happy in play, and learning happens in the best possible way; deep, collaborative and memorable, then why don’t we value play as much as we should?

A Letter to Middle School Parents

Featured

 

Pre-pubescent, pre-teen or early teen, pre- adolescent. These very terms used to describe the period that your child is in suggest these years are merely a prelude to something else not worthy of focusing on for too long. Yet this phase of life entails changes as dramatic and significant as the toddler years. Gianetti has coined the term ‘middlers’ in her book ‘The Roller Coaster Years;  raising your child through the maddening yet magical middle school years’. This term emphasises the unique developmental tasks and situations that emerge during these years. This is a tricky age. Here are just a few of the frustrations they must contend with:

·         They yearn for independence when they are still being told what to do by their parents, teachers, and older siblings.

·         They are the target of many advertising campaigns, yet have little disposable income of their own.

·         They worry about their appearance while nature is wreaking havoc with their bodies.

·         They long for peer acceptance while some of those same peers make life miserable for them.

·         They worry about doing well in school while their workload and responsibilities increase.

·         They are on the brink of adulthood, yet have trouble controlling childlike impulses.

·         They are eager to voice their opinions, but they still have difficulty formulating coherent arguments.

·         They maintain a hectic schedule-between school, sports, social events, and extracurricular activities-at a time when their physical development demands they sleep more.

There is scientific data to prove that these children, because of better nutrition, are reaching puberty at an earlier age. But in many ways, the intellectual and emotional maturity of these children has not caught up.

The Life of a Ten- to Fifteen-Year-Old

For a moment, imagine what your life would be like if you encountered some of the same difficulties in your own life as those being endured by your child:

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted, moved up another step on the ladder. Initially, you’re euphoric, expecting you can now operate with more freedom. It doesn’t take long, however, for you to see that there are many negatives and few positives resulting from your new position. Your workload has doubled. Your added responsibilities now require you to toil at home an hour or more every evening on projects you regard as little more than busywork. And your boss doesn’t seem to trust you. He is constantly second-guessing you, listening in on your phone calls, going through your papers when you’re not looking. Nothing seems to please him. Yesterday he reprimanded you because your desk was untidy!

Your co-workers aren’t much help. There is an in-group and you are decidedly on the outs. No matter what you wear or how you comb your hair, someone manages to make a snide remark. Would it be paranoid to say that they are out to get you? The other day, one of them criticized your proposal in a meeting, embarrassing you in front of the client. Work is difficult enough without having to worry about being sabotaged by your peers.

On top of everything else, you feel lousy these days. Maybe it’s the flu that’s making you so tired. You can’t seem to get out of bed in the morning. And your appearance! Your face has broken out and nothing seems to help. You’ve put on maybe two kilos since the holidays, all in the wrong places. You looked in the mirror this morning and couldn’t believe what you saw. Too many sweets, no doubt. Nothing in your closet fits. Time to diet again.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Welcome to your child’s world! These young people are living life in a pressure cooker. Is it any wonder they occasionally explode?

But I’m keen to talk to you about the good news, what I see every day. For me, the very best thing about your child is they make me laugh! You see, Middlers are funny and I have giggly, funny, sparky kids to greet me each day. These are the years when you child will acquire a more sophisticated sense of humour.  I am in a profession where I get paid for having fun. Everyday, Middle School is all about corny jokes and uncontrolled laughter. I walk into  class to find the kids in fit of laughter; it’s normal and fabulous!

In the same lesson, about Polar Bears, these students expressed not only a vast amount of prior knowledge about Polar Bears, indicating they really engage with the media around them, but also were thinking in abstract, very adult ways. When making comparisons between polar bear habitats and those of orang-utans one girl stated the following;

“I was on the couch with my sister eating TV snacks chocolate biscuits the other night, when I looked at the box and saw an ingredient is Palm Oil “(as a side note, the orang-utans are losing their habitat of the rainforest as palm oil plantations are taking over) Anyway, she continued by saying “ and when I saw that I felt sick thinking that I was contributing to the slaughter of orang-utans (middlers are also very dramatic) so I stopped eating them, but my sister kept eating them, and so I’m not talking to my sister anymore, because she is an orang-utan killer!”. Wow! (ps, I hope that geography lessons are not tearing family’s apart!) Your child is beginning to develop sophisticated reasoning powers. They are fascinated with the outside world and how it affects them. They still seek out the approval of adults. They are developing their own set of personal values, based on yours and other significant adults in their lives. Middlers believe they can make a difference, and they can if we let them. They are a wonderful blend of naïveté and budding sophistication.   Did you know that a recent survey found that 93% of students in this age group consider being part of a loving family to be much more important than owning material things?  88% also credit family as their greatest source of self-esteem.

The National Middle Schooling Association of America surveyed a vast amount of middle schoolers, just like your daughter. Apart from the usual body and friendship issues, the results found that middlers worry intensely about the future. 67% worry about getting a good job. 62% are concerned about making enough money to sustain the lifestyle they have become used to. They worry about finding their place in the world, and they worry about you. One thirteen year old responded ‘I worry about my parents getting sick. Of 8000 students surveyed 47% confessed to this worry. Although we think childhood stress is an oxymoron, it’s not and we need to make sure we properly address their anxieties, often by trying to manage our own.

10 -15 year olds are the most vulnerable age group in society. They are struggling with identity issues and cannot help but be swayed by what they see, hear and read. Technology is moving at such pace and now dictates how we learn, communicate and entertain ourselves.  Middle schooling has encouraged the use of ICT into the curriculum.

You will see a change from when you were in Middle School; many tasks and assignments require the use of IT, whether it be in research or presentation. I was (or so I thought) introducing my Year 8 class to the idea of blogs to undertake long term group work, getting them to really think and reflect on their work and processes.  Your polite daughters let me show them short ‘how to’ clips from you tube, model how to access and build a wordpress page and show examples of great blogs in progress. I was very pleased to (again, or so I thought) have a technological one-up on year 8. This was of course until one girl walked up to the smart board, typed in a few words and said ‘is this the sort of thing you want us to do?’ revealing her already polished, analytical website about global citizenship and inequalities based on class work. I don’t want to harp too much on the ills of social networking tonight, we know the perils of that domain and will certainly be addressing this later in the year, but perhaps rather than always assuming the internet = bad news for your daughter, have a look at the amazing ways she is also using it.

I want to thank you for entrusting your most precious asset to me and others in the middle school pastoral team. I really want to you get a good sense of what she does during our 8 or so hours together each day. Enjoy your experiences with your bright, entertaining and energetic child, I sure do!

The “F” word…in public

Source: imgfave.com via Summer on Pinterest

 

 

I secretly wanted to call this post “Why I make my Facebook Public”, but ‘Why and How’ posts aren’t my vibe.

I recently revisited my last post “The Year that Was” where I talked openly about how Facebook has evolved into a rich tapestry of the story of Summer. Photos of wonderful times, stories of great events, check-ins to interesting places, links to things I find interesting. It’s the story of me.

I talk with lots of teachers and students about social media, and the “F” word always comes up, as if it is somehow dirty or criminal. I don’t think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc are problematic, it’s in the use. We know this…this is not a new statement.

I love Facebook. There. I said it. I connect with friends I see very little of across the world, it has saved me from the awkwardness that is a school reunion, helped me plan social events, keep up with friends and their babies…all good things. But recently, a discussion with a teacher around how she ‘locks down’ her profile got me thinking about my Social Media portfolio, and use of all spaces online. There’s no doubt I leverage different spaces in different ways; we all should, and we connect with different people in these spaces. I’ve seen over the past 18 months or so, the lines of my Twitter and Facebook blurring as I share more educational stuff on Facebook, and more social things on Twitter; the same people are generally in both spaces in a lot of situations. I connect with people on Pinterest, as I build a picture of my aesthetic. Over on Instagram, I’m finding kids I teach following me, another extension of my story. I think photography is a great way to build empathy and a good way to take a little longer to appreciate a moment. A photo tells a story, and it another way we can connect with others. I’ve been involved in some productive ‘coaching’ of kids in this space regarding their online image. While chatting about Instagram, have a look at how this class uses this social media space to make their learning public.

Kids do understand why, but I think they often don’t understand how. Isn’t it up to us as teachers to show them the way? We can also write amazing resumes for ourselves, but I’ve come to learn that being authentic in life, and online is far more organic and simple. If it’s not the right thing to do, don’t do it. If you don’t want people to know about something, don’t post it online. Here’s my rule; if I put it online, I want you to know about it.

A young man recently said to me “You know your Facebook is open? You know I can see all of your Tweets? You know I found you on Instagram? I can see your resume on LinkedIn

“So how do you feel about that?”

“You’re the same online as you are in real life”

He then went on to tell me how much more connected and respectful he felt, knowing more about me. He actually shared with me how much he enjoyed seeing me reflecting on and discussing “all of that nerd teacher stuff”.  A pretty proud and humbling moment actually.

It’s about who I am, and showing kids what it means to have a digital footprint. There are things online I can’t have control over and mistakes will be made…such as life itself. But I have firmly decided to show what we expect kids to know, and try to model it well.

I welcome your thoughts.

 

The year that was.

Source: flickr.com via Summer on Pinterest

 

Things fall apart so that other things can fall together.

In one of my favourite posts of 2012, my dear buddy George Couros wrote such words of reflection that really connected with me “I have also learned about the importance of those closest to me and how I need to appreciate them more”. I remember reading this post and coming to tears. A few times.

You see, in a similar vein, I want to take some time to open up and reflect upon the year that was. The vibe of my blog is in the process of a transformation; as am I. I’m on the cusp of some great things, ideas of which I am profoundly proud of, experiences of which scare me, but essentially are rooted in the currents of my bliss. I will unpack more of this as the new year ticks over.

But as for closing off 2012, here goes…

If anyone took me aside and told in a fairly black/white line, what would unfold this year, as the clock turned midnight 2011…it is safe to say I would have headed straight to bed with the cookie dough ice-cream and sought haven in the safety of my doona for twelve months.

People talked of 2012….of the year the world was going to end. In so many ways it did.  But in so many ways, this was a year of newness and growth. Out of  fear and failure, of loss and paralysing hurt, success came packaged in lessons of how I, alone, dealt with each and every situation. Gifts were bestowed in the rekindling of brilliant friendships, of time with my wonderful family and in the joy of shared experiences. It became so clear, not only does Life Go On, but life is indeed what you make it.

I lost my old life this year. There is intense grief in that. And choice. I made a choice for this not to make be bitter, but to make me better. To not let heartbreak and hardship harden me, but to stay soft and always believe that this world is a very extraordinary place. I became so much for cognisant of the blessing that abound me. And a heck load more impressed with the person I am and the things I am capable of.

So without over simplifying this, I offer these ‘lessons’, I’ve reflected deeply, and I know more will come to me.

* People want to help you. They want to share their story with you. Let them. At the end of the day, it’s all we’ve got; our story.

* Be kind, everyone is fighting a tough battle

* You’ll be ok. But you have to want to be.

* Be open and curious. Be ready for cool things to happen.

* You know what’s going on. Trust your instinct. Everything you need is already right there within you.

* Never pass up time with friends

* You have to show and guide people in how you need to be treated or reacted to. When you have experienced something that others only can imagine, they often don’t know how to approach you. Show them. I learned a lot about my own leadership capabilities here.

* Take a chance. If you don’t like your situation, change it. You aren’t a tree.

 

I’ve cemented friendships with good people who have been with me through thick and thin. Who pick me up when I’m down, or lie next to me when it’s just too much to stand. They have in the end, essentially danced with me in the rain. And for that, I cannot express how eternally grateful I am. We have perhaps lost sight of the utter brilliance this year has ended up being about, though. I saw this when a new friend recently told me that he was wowed by my Facebook. That it looks like I have had an amazing year, full of fantastic events and good people. That was profound for me to realise. So I looked back over the 12 months of Facebook, and it really is a legacy of people, events, thoughts and experiences that I have enjoyed…Facebook has been a brilliant reflection tool for me. Things fell apart, but I didn’t. Things changed, and so have I. I think it’s good to be changed by such life events; it’s important. In the process of loss, I found much more, and I am better for it.

So perhaps over and above the 13 years of school, 8 years of university and all the conferences in between, this year has been my year of learning. The year is sending as it should. My tribe of friends and family, my PLN, and me… I’m settled and have all I need.

Looking ahead to a brilliant year, knowing that we are strong, smart and brave.

Onward.

 

This is a safety announcement…

 

If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.

 

I’ve been travelling quite a lot over the past year. There is no doubt it is the most amazing thing any human can do; travel, see other parts of the world, and meet new people. With the excitement comes the exhaustion. Not only have I travelled for work, I have also moved my life to, quite possibly literally the other side of the world…and then packed up and travelled back again. What an utterly extraordinary year.

My whole perspective on teaching, and of life, has been moved this year. What a gift. Cementing ties with brilliant minds from my local PLN, thinking deeply about what it is I value in education, and getting to know my own strengths (and weaknesses) much better.

Here’s my big take away; nobody will look after you if you don’t give yourself that respect.

As educators, and leaders, we always are on the lookout for others; the kids in our care, our valued PLN, our family. But at the end of the day, how can we look after others if we don’t first look after ourself?

I’m so proud to be part of this profession of people who give their whole guts and soul to others. Everyday, I am overwhelmed by the love and generosity of gifted professionals, and preservice teachers eager to do the very best they can for kids.

I have had the immense delight of hanging out with Dan Haesler, wellbeing guru in my current role at PLANE. Dan speaks of student wellbeing and the need for us to put the concept of ‘wellness’ at the forefront, if it is excellence in schools we are after. It’s quite simple when we get to the core of it. Maslow built this into the hierarchy of needs; we need to be well before be can be brilliant.

So why do we push through? Why do teachers wait for school holidays to visit the doctor? Why do we unrealistically put everyone and everything before our own health? I see too many teachers give up their own wellbeing, like a candle lit at both ends.

We need to stop the glorification of busy, and model what being well means for our young people. Perhaps it’s the time I have taken out this term to essentially stop and reflect, or maybe it’s listening to well over 20 aircraft safety briefings; all reminding me that in order to be of any use to others in a crisis, I need to make sure I have taken care of myself first.

 

A Life More Ordinary

Source: via Elsielynn on Pinterest

 

I’m in pursuit of the ordinary. It may sound pesimisic, defeatist, bland. It’s not. Far from it actually. It’s a heartfelt, overly difficult thing to focus on for the rest of the year. It’s a challenge.

Talking through this idea with my friend and trusted colleague, Ben Jones, we came to the firm conclusion that going in search and perfecting the ordinary is something most of us have left behind in place of the hard fought battle to be exceptional. Make no mistake, doing amazing things is a noble cause; but if everyone did this, then really, would things be so amazing?

There’s no question; this has been a tough year. And there’s still a solid 4 months to go of 2012. I’ll take this opportunity to share with you; I’m back in Australia. Life happens and choices need to be made. Hard choices, but in the end the right ones. If nothing else, I can say that I have perfected the art of choice making this year, and while things have fallen apart, good things have come together. And good things have in turn fallen apart. Life has happened thick and fast in 2012. A friend said to me recently, that people are so interested in my life, because somehow in the pursuit of a simple, ordinary existence, I find myself in extraordinary situations. This is so true; and it got me pondering…

Make no mistake, this isn’t an invite to a pity party, nor is this post trying to ‘make sense’ of my life. Far from it. I’m quite cognisant of the process and open to the learning that continues to throw itself in my path each day. Everything happens for a reason. This post is simply a digestion of a multitude of conversations with Mr Jones that seem to make sense.

I’ve done some amazing things. I’m proud that I can firmly identify with what I do and the passion and drive I have in my field. But does this mean that every move need be outstanding, noteworthy, awe-inspiring? Isn’t there so much grace in perfecting and spending time in the less breathtaking? There’s no doubt here; the ordinary can be awesome, and perhaps that the real challenge here. I mean, to put in in Ben’s words ‘There’s pizza, and there’s pizza, right?”

SO what is ordinary, and how can you make it count? I can think of many examples in school and education, and in fact, it is in the perfection of the ordinary, that extraordinary and the most meaningful things can take place. I will leave you to list them off, but it’s safe to say that is is all about soaking in the simple interaction with people, listening to their story and sharing memories…this isn’t the stuff of legend, but it is the stuff of life.

 

I’m looking forward to finding my way back, again, to the core of that matters to me, and generally, getting back to me. I’ve got my health, good friends, and the love of my family, with a passion and fire that still burns strong in me and the pursuit of always wanting to know and learn more about education; particularly furthering the cause for middle schoolers and driving innovation in learning spaces. This makes me happy.

What is the ordinary we should focus on in schools and in education? Are we missing ‘it’ by always wanting to do the ‘undone’ thing?

I welcome your thoughts.