Tagged: change



If you’ve been around the ed-tech universe lately, you’ve probably heard’em all:

  • it is imperative we change education from the industrial revolution paradigm to a more creative, collaborative, connected endeavour
  • digital technologies afford us to do it so easily – just look at us and so many kids doing this ‘Web Two Oh’ stuff and flourishing
  • standardised testing is cancer of education, death of learning
  • we can learn anytime, anywhere like no other time in human history
  • it’s about personalising learning, connecting, constructing together
  • we need the political will and leadership to make these changes
  • we can’t ignore the fact that kids today send bazillion text messages a minute, friend thousands and Skype their grandma across the world at the drop of a hat … but they ‘power down’ when they come to school
  • social media is the new way of communicating, learning, working together
  • creativity is the new currency and schooling kills it
  • tech is the great leveller
  • pro-ams, long tail, cognitive surplus and flat world are becoming the norm, maaan
  • so many teachers just wouldn’t listen, refuse to engage and frankly, are poor learning role models for the kids in front of them
  • add so on …

Add a few more, find a couple of nice pictures to go with it (all kosher with Creative Commons, of course) and you can charge yourself out at a nice speaking fee. Many ‘gurus’ do.

Now, I am not cynically dissing something I have been a part of for many years now. I love it. I DO think it is the way of the future and the future may be a little brighter (especially if you are with the ‘in’ crowd…).

In this discourse teachers, the much maligned and much adored creatures, favourite topic of pundits (Presidents, Prime Ministers, obscenely rich and other ‘dignitaries’ included)  are the source of inspiration and frustration. But the bulk of teachers are pretty much still plugging away as they have for the last few decades.

“Why haven’t things changed, why aren’t teachers more creative, passionate, wanting to learn about what they do?” often goes with the undertone of grinding teeth in disbelief at practice of some of our colleagues. Well, I have a hunch …

I tweeted this earlier today:

What’s holding education ‘stuck’ isn’t lack of creativity, passion or knowledge of teachers but fears. Can you name some? Thx #edfear

and got some great responses, most of them tagged (on Twitter) with #edfear hashtag :

  • Teaching stdnts wrong stuff not backed by authority. Stdnts not learning formal.critical thinking. They are my personal ones #edfear (@sirexkat)
  • 1. Fear of failure 2. Fear of job loss 3. Fear of Criticism 4. Fear of Success 5. Fear of being the only one (@weemooseus)
  • #edfear being sacked, learners with ego problems, frightened administrators, poor curricula (@philhart)
  • #edfear: fear of doing something that is too new/innovative to have any academic research to prove its worth (@malynmawby)
  • the usual fear of the unknown not all educators are adventurous and keen to dive into a new technoworld #edfear (@playnice_nz)
  • not sure the teachers with the biggest fears will be on twitter. #edfear (@kanemayhew) 🙂
  • Fear from parents that their child will be missing something essential. (@bonitadee)
  • What’s holding education ‘stuck’ …Fear of missing something…we must cover it all #edfear (@bonitadee)
  • fear of change, being ir/relevant, keeping up – infowhelm, time to maintain/update skills #edfear – see Cloudworks too (@k8tra)
  • Is the number one #edfear the loss of the self-perception as ‘giver of knowledge’? (@irasocol)
  • Is the number two #edfear the identity hit which comes from understanding that you’ve succeeded in a terrible system? (@irasocol)
  • fear of failure, change, conflict, ostracism – and all of these are from ‘the lizard brain’ (@mrwejr)
  • key fear is ‘what if it goes wrong’? Also not all leaders are creative…many just want a steady ship #edfear (@dmchugh675)
  • school leaders fear vocal parents who believe that the things that worked for them in their education should still work today.#edfear (@dmchugh675)
  • Creativity Fear – Fear that if I introduce creative activities I won’t be able to adequately compare or assess their work. #edfear (@funcreativity)
  • #edfear fear of failure? fear of wasting time? fear of inertia? (@tokyoedtech)

… and hopefully more to come. Thank you all who have replied (and if don’t follow these guys yet, a good list to connect with!)

I am not offering any definitive answers here, deliberately so. I do have a hunch (I’ve even sent a draft proposal for a PhD proposal looking at this sort of thing today, *gulp*) but I am ‘fishing for ideas’ … in a fine connected manner 😀 . So, that tweet  again:

What’s holding education ‘stuck’ isn’t lack of creativity, passion or knowledge of teachers but fears. Can you name some? Thx #edfear

I would love to hear from you, comments or @ replies (@lasic, tag #edfear) all fine. Many thanks!

Catch-A-Teacher Day

If you see an ad on top of this post – it is not my idea(l) 🙁

It’s over! Our four day school Web 2.0 Expo extravaganza over the last few days of school year was largely (and I don’t use the word lightly) adjudged as ‘a success’, ‘eye opening’, ‘interesting’, ‘informative’, ‘fun’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘a bit crazy’, ‘unusual’ by a range of people around the school (eclectic and funky as our cover clip 🙂 )

For four days, three teachers (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & myself) and about a dozen student-helpers (13 to 15 years old), put on a ’23 things’ of a kind for our school community to inform, teach and stir about ‘Web 2.0’ and its culture-changing potential that is starting to be realised in our societies yet (still) largely outside school walls.

To ‘walk the talk’, we not only set up stations, but also created the event’s wiki (largely student work!), even a Ning (well, sort of … 🙂 ), got a bunch of students to start up their blogs, Twitter, set up RSS readers, fooled around with Skype, Etherpad, Twiddla, Moodle etc.. We had a number of educators from around the world dropping in virtually via Etherpad (copy of excellent contributions here, thank you SO MUCH to all who have contributed), we had encouraging tweets from around the world … all in all, we were ‘doing’ Web 2.0.

But out of the four days of messing up, playing, teaching, learning, succeeding, working together, guessing and generally having a ball, the last day will remain seared in my mind forever.

Until the last day, we had very few staff that came to the expo. They would bring groups of students down but then (most of them) didn’t quite engage with the expo in any way. “That’s for the kids, not for us…” was the general sentiment, with few notable exceptions. With the whole thing PRIMARILY for staff, we weren’t making the dent. The matter was raised at our regular morning ‘war briefing’. We made the decision that the last day was going to be ‘catch-a-teacher’ day.

It was pretty simple really. Student-helpers were encouraged to approach a teacher, invite them to the expo, try to work out and ask what the teacher might be interested in to learn…then demonstrate, teach and help them learn (about) a particular Web 2.0 tool and how it could be useful to them (the teacher). We also asked our student-helpers to note down on the central ‘tally’ board what teachers they taught what.

Students took up the challenge very seriously and we had them literally chasing teachers down the halls to invite, talk to, teach the teachers. With most teachers agreeing to come (even if out of courtesy if not curiosity) it was an incredible sight.

Catch-a-teacher ... live
Catch-a-teacher ... live
Catch-a-teacher ... come in
Catch-a-teacher ... come in

And this is what the tally board looked like after only a few hours!

21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!
21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!

Yes, I repeat: teachers are far less likely to say no to a student than a ‘tech integrator’ with a resonable (tech) proposition for teacher’s problem/idea in class. It just works!

Another highlight of the day was the technically so damn easy yet so profoundly different (to ‘regular school’) Skype conference of our ‘helpers’ with a good friend Ira Socol. I saw Ira tweeting, hooked up over Skype and within seconds the whole class said ‘Hello” to Ira and his dog (“with a weird name Sir…”) in Michigan. We soon shared a screen with Google Earth on it where Ira literally showed us around his neighbourhood, place he works, we zoomed out to see and learn a bit about the Great Lakes (some of the kids watching have not been further than a few blocks from their place in their life!), cracked a joke or two and after a few minutes thanked Ira for his time. After the event Ira tweeted:

Damn right!

I read the tweet aloud to claps, cheers and hollers of approval at our post-expo ice cream ‘debrief’ (yes, we did treat the awesome crew 🙂

Yum! Well deserved.
Yum! Well deserved.

The sense of community, appreciation, working together, problem solving, the JOY of learning, particularly on the last day of our Expo was palpable. Many of our student-helpers ‘got off’ on it, dare say far, far more than many a lesson in the year just finished. There it was, a working rhizome of education I dream of, where roles/status/label/credit did not matter, only what we can learn, share, help, improve. Sure, it was quite an intense day, but one where the students saw the potential of what many of us have been banging on about for … years now.

Before we took our parting group photo, I asked the student-helpers is they would like to attend a school organised and run a bit like our expo – passionate, hard-working, following people’s interests, funny, a bit messy and unexpected, unclear at times but always valuing learning of all kinds: “Yes, sure, we’d love to…” I replied with just a line: “Demand it for your own kids.”

Just imagine! Or as a colleague quoted in his farewell speech yesterday: Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you anywhere.

And since I mentioned farewell speeches – I delivered mine yesterday too (copy here). I will miss the people of Belmont City College (and my first Moodle, my baby 🙂 ). They matter.

Thank you!
Thank you!

Through Web 2.0

Today, we kicked off a Web 2.0 Expo at our school with two main aims. The first one is to make staff and students see and reflect on the changes in online world that are rapidly transforming and building communities on and offline…and all with a slightly pointy educational bend (see clip below). The second aim is to go hands on and start to dabble in or improve on ‘Web 2.0’ with a helping hand nearby – a modified “23 things” of a kind.

While the expo is the brainchild and organisational baby of ‘three amigos’ (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & yours truly), it is the students as volunteer helpers that are the real drivers and superstars.

During the first day, we had a bunch of kids creating blogs, wikis, even a newly born Ning dedicated to the expo. We had a wonderful but usually very withdrawn student, who doesn’t have Internet access at home, absolutely flourishing after setting up his Gmail account (first ever) and within 45 minutes TEACHING (!!!) five other kids how to set up RSS through iGoogle (very “hole-in-the-wall”-ish). We had teachers saying things like “wow, this Skype is really neat!”, or “do you think we could set up a Ning with our pen pals in Hawaii?” (OK, we had our share of stuff-ups too :-P)

When asked about Ning, I simply pointed my colleague who asked the question to a self-appointed ‘Ning specialist’ among our student helper crew and 30 minutes later I saw them in deep conversation about “settings and updates”.

I said it before and I repeat – magic happens when students help teachers. I have not seen a teacher who refused help with tech when a kid says “did you know Miss there’s a really good way to do … Do you want me to show you?”

If I said it, it would not stick nearly as much (if at all).

For the occasion, I made an ‘introduction’ clip about Web 2.0, based on a fantastically funky YouTube clip by Kutiman (Thru-You-01 Mother of All Funk Chords) . The wording is appropriate because it is through the changing web (shhh, don’t mention Web 3.0 yet) and through the people that I for one hope to see the changes happen. Real ones.

I hope you enjoy the re-mix, feel free to share (see CC licence). I knew we were onto a good thing with it when a Year 10 student clapped when he saw it first. Students – the yardstick that matters by far the most in things ‘educational’. (if YouTube blocked, version here)

PS. We are hoping to bumble through our next few days just as well 😛 A message to people who were happy to ‘drop in’ – look out (& pass onward if you like) for tweet(s) with a drop-in link. Sorry, but it’s a little “crazy good as we go”. Any line, sound, tweet, comment from ‘the outside world’ will be read and appreciated, thank you.

(If you see an ad on top of the post… not my idea(l) 🙁 Sorry)

Rolling up the odd sleeves

Pray to Play

‘Pray to Play’ Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannynorton/228708030/in/photostream/)

This is the second post with a particular theme in the series “Why is everyone an expert of education?“. The series is written collaboratively by Ira Socol, Dr Greg Thompson and Tomaz Lasic.

In the previous post, we have looked at the seductive, yet problematic, empirical, scientific ‘breaking down’ of actors in education. The primacy of belief that we can measure humans and then improve in a steady march of progress generates not only volumes of data, interpretations and ‘solutions’ but also has a more pernicious side to it in schools. The perceived ‘scientific’ certainty limits what students and other actors in the process of schooling are and become, it locks them into roles that are hard to escape and make meaningful change very difficult.

This time, we are looking at another major generator of much educational chatter. It is the idea of education as production. Here production is not meant narrowly and only as vocational preparation. There has been much excellent critique of education as an ‘industrial production line’ and its historical roots, here is but one example. We contend that there is nothing wrong with education as production, without production schools actually – do nothing!

Whether it is organisational skills or the learner’s recognition of their place in the world, schools are inextricably linked to producing ‘good citizens’. The problem is that some attributes of the ‘good citizen’ aspired to through education are becoming increasingly problematic in a changing world. No longer can we expect that the same types of good citizens historically valued in periods such as the Industrial Revolution will necessarily meet the unique challenges of the new millenia. Hence, we declare that the problem of education is not the idea of effort and production itself but rather what is valued in schools and, as a result of these values, what education is producing. Better world?

We explore this broader view in two ways. First, we look at ‘production of a better world’ through different, yet historically intertwined ideals we have inherited. These two ideals both want the same thing (better world) yet they grate against each other, frame much of the chatter and stunt deep(er) change. Secondly, we interrogate some ‘common sense’ statements we hope you will recognise as well, to demonstrate just how disconnected the endless debate is with the real problems and changes we face in the (future) world our students will grow up in.

Two fundamental views

Schools didn’t just happen. They were historically produced, and as a result, can be considered as artefacts of the distant past. In his excellent work Rethinking the School , Ian Hunter makes the case that the mass, compulsory schooling as experienced by most in the Western world (and certainly in Australia & USA) is a curious mixture of two discordant views on education – the liberal and the vocational (dialectic). While they are not reducible to the following, it may be best to think of the liberal view as the upward-looking, Christian imperative of salvation through the glory of good deeds. The vocational view is a downward-looking need to occupy the (otherwise) idle hands and minds of the ‘great unwashed’ to keep them healthy, productive and in check with industrial demands. They both genuinely aim to create a better world and they have both been occurring since the 1700s England.

One of England’s successes was the transportation, not of (so much of 🙂 ) convicts, but of schools absorbed by these competing ideals. As a result, we have inherited a schooling system that is full of paradoxes and contradictions. For example, we discipline the child as if they were an autonomous chooser (“choose your actions and their consequences”) yet we deny them much real choice in the ways they are educated. We see schools and education as the way to arrest poverty and disadvantage, yet we work within a school system that actively encourages secondary schools in lower socioeconomic status (SES) areas to offer vocational courses that deny young people the opportunity to be educated as their peers in wealthier areas. In short, the system operates on the notion of saving young people, either from their circumstances (if they are poor [vocational]), or from their hubris (if they are rich [liberal]), yet is organised in such a way as to enshrine privilege and maintain disadvantage. This is not new, it is a particularly persistent hangover of the past that will not seem to go away.

Schools invented childhood (maybe an exaggeration, but they are certainly the chief protagonists) and then imbued childhood with the paradoxes and contradictions of salvation versus vocation. Ever seen a teacher, parent, administrator, even a student (again, particularly in low SES areas) who wants to ‘save the kids’ and ‘open their eyes’ but also want and teach them how to comply and work hard? Ever heard a dispute between a teacher who thinks students should be treated gently as respected, autonomous individuals, allowing for them to flourish, and the rule-worshipping, no-bull, ‘school-nazi’ teacher who gets the kids to work and ‘gets the work done’? Ever read about a dispute between teacher unions and curricular bodies about grading practices or reasons for (not) publishing league tables? Then you know what this paradox sounds like…

The trouble is that over the years, the alignment of schools along the salvation/vocation ideals has gotten out of whack. As a result, schools, particularly those in the lower SES areas, now present these paradoxes as the same thing – saving children through jobs. Religious-like morality through economic utility. The “future will be peachy if we just roll up our sleeves and go harder at it”. Seductive at first, this has some particularly unpleasant implications.

Rather than going too theoretical at this point, let’s look answer some of the common questions and statements about ‘education as production’ we often hear around the place. This is to demonstrate how and why so many educators remain largely trapped in the increasingly irrelevant, inequitable and unhelpful ideals of the past, despite the enormous good will and effort of thousands.

“Education is the great leveller, the kids have the same chance and learn the same stuff, so if they work hard they’ll reap the rewards, won’t they?”

Let’s get back to the salvation/vocation (mis)alignment. Interestingly, it does not seem to happen at the elite schools, dominated by the Christian liberal tradition of ‘salvation’. If asked why they go to school, students at elite schools are probably more likely to say things like “to make a better world”. Majority of them then all trot off to uni to become (powerful) lawyers, doctors, politicians, executives etc. They do so while enshrining their privilege and ‘saving’ themselves and those below (many of whom may not exactly appreciate being ‘saved’!).

However, when students in non-elite, working-class, lower socio-economic status (SES) schools are asked the same question, their most frequent response is “to get a job (many of them add  “so I’m not a bum and live on the dole”). In these schools, we are seeing the rise and rise of the vocational imperative. Consider a comment by a principal of a working-class, vocational-oriented school about offering a particular course with a non-vocational, liberal bend: “Our kids wouldn’t be suited for it.

Both of these ideals are failing the needs of our society at an alarming rate, particularly among the lower SES students.

But just why is this a failure? Doesn’t someone have to sweep the streets? You gotta have top and bottom, right? After all, they do have the same opportunity!

Volumes of educational critical literature from the 1970s onwards stress (and disagree with) the idea that schools existed as a form of social role selection – that they sorted young people into vocational streams that led to them assuming life opportunities commensurate with their roles. In this sense, schools sorted menial labourers from scientists, laywers from tradespeople, and artists from the “no-hopers”.

This stratified society was easier to manage, and it perpetuated itself many times over. In fact, it is still doing the same today. In Australia, the 1970s were a halcyon day for alternative schooling, but the impetus quickly stalled, to be replaced by neo-conservative imperatives. The shift went from “de-schooling” to “re-schooling” in less that a decade, till we end up in the current situation where schools are businesses, they are managed, teachers are technicians and students are commodities. The backlash of the 1970s is an uberconservative schooling structure that has reestablished its control. In some ways, we are now more traditional than the past!

Schools are working well at social role selection. For all those that claim otherwise and tout ‘better opportunity’, we would invite them to spend some time in traditionally structured schools in lower SES areas. If these schools have changed so much, why is it that children from low SES still tend to be denied educational opportunities, philosophies and structural access of the elite? It follows that if schools are not involved in deep change, they simply reinforce disadvantage. If nothing changes, nothing changes… but we do talk about it a lot. Changes in curriculum, grading practices etc are simply superficial.

So just what is wrong then with a compliant, obedient, uncritical workforce?

Nothing. It’s just that they are unemployed or lowly paid at best…

“Look, in the past education served the society better. It produced kids who were more mature and responsible than these guys today.”

Through their historically valued policies and practices, informed by the (mixture of) the two aforementioned ideals, mainstream schooling has been producing certain types of individuals. The trouble is, these types are increasingly shaky, untenable, even damaging in the contemporary world.

One such type is a quiet, conforming individual. “Nothing wrong” you may think, we want our “trains to run on time” don’t we? Consider the (very real!) case of a principal who came into a tough, inner city school that was having money thrown at it from various government agencies to ‘fix’ the problem of low student retention and ‘poor’ academic achievement. You know the story – short term, limited funding that does little to address deep problems but does a lot of rearranging of deckchairs. He said:

I dismantled some programmes that were meant to be for academic extension and when we looked at them the kind of kids who were in there – it was all wrong! The kids were not being chosen for the real capacity to achieve. But those kids were predominantly female, white, quiet, conformist.

So, in this sense, the school is valuing those students because of primarily how they behave and comply, never mind their creative and other potential. That OK with you? Entirely or just a little bit?

Another prized type is a highly individualised, competitive student who is great at amassing personal rewards and benefits (wealth!?). The capacity to identify with realities beyond their personal ambitions, needs and wants is secondary or even further down the track of priorities. Don’t believe so? Ask for a choice between being ‘top of the class’ and being kind, thoughtful, willing to share, think critically and differently … you know those slippery things you can’t really test and don’t REALLY matter . How do we rank on those internationally again?

The lofty school mottos, various graduate or vision statements are often couched in the liberal imperative terms (Bold, Caring, Creative or For Others and the likes). Paradoxically, the reality is so often the opposite of what is espoused – highly individualistic programs and policies that communicate the ideas of individual, competitive success and hierarchy very early on. These idea(l)s of schooling stick and stay with young people long after they leave school and, if nothing else, continue to frame and with it perpetuate the understanding of ‘school’. Just ask a parent of your student next time: “What was the most important thing by the school for you to do”?

“Why don’t we just go back to basics? We used to do stuff that kids these days would not have a clue today!”

This is the ‘back in the good old days’, halcyon view of education, usually followed by the phrases like ‘dumbing down’ and the likes. Whenever I hear people who hark back I wonder: Is our current situation really that bad or were the past times really that good? And then the old, wobbly straw man comes out.

Consider this classic, peddled around by the ‘dumbing down’ brigade. The useful commentary merely begins to break down their weak yet dangerous argument.

Is this ‘1895 exam type’ the sort of thing we want to go back to? Isn’t this largely where we are now at too, we have just changed the content and sophisticated a method of delivery (eg. regurgitation online is still regurgitation)? We now argue about some minor technical point like ‘cut off scores’ instead of asking ourselves larger, fundamental questions about what do students of tomorrow, not perhaps teachers of yesterday, really need. Is it ethical to ask first what systems of yesterday need before asking what students of tomorrow need?

Consider a quip by a colleague: “Never ask a question you can google up.” Back in say 1940s there was hardly a need for a rigorous ‘filter’ of information. These days, not having a solid, critical, informed personal filter  and foregoing development of thinking, questioning, collaboration and creativity at the expense of remembering easily searchable data and performing to a narrow, pre-established, systemic set of ‘indicators’ to reach a reward is becoming increasingly untenable. Before it was points and right answers, now it is increasingly about seeing the patterns and dealing with change.

And on the skills front, I wonder how the 1895 students would go with a basic internet search these days, perhaps sending a text message. In 1895, students had to know about the environment for their exam, kids today are working out how to stop ourselves from killing it for themselves and their children. For starters…

Beware well-meaning people in their 25+ years starting a sentence with “When I was at school…”

“But look at the ways schools, methods and curriculum(s) are constantly changing! We haven’t exactly stood still…”

They may have new buildings, better equipment, better teaching practices and so on but schools have not really deeply changed in any meaningful way over more than 250 years. This is mainly because they have taught us and controlled the ways that we see and understand the school.

The chief tool of maintaining and controlling this paradoxical, yet historically incredibly persistent understanding of the school (again, see the mix of liberal/vocational imperatives) has been the incessant debate dominated by mere variations on the theme.

For example, in Australia at the moment we are experiencing a debate on education particularly through the issue of literacy. On the one hand, many stakeholders in education are up in arms at the perceived lack of literacy in our schools. The answer often generated requires a return to the 3Rs, or a vision of literacy as a functional, transactional set of processes that employees need to get jobs (and through this employment, to lead a successful life) – the vocational imperative. On the other side of the debate, many educationalists advocate for lifelong learning and rich, deep understandings of texts as a means to create individuals who are able to critically ‘read’ their worlds – the liberal view of the empowerment of the individual as a means to lead a successful life. This debate is becoming increasingly vitriolic and is becoming (mis)managed in the guise of state versus federal approaches to curriculum, phonics versus whole language, standards and grades versus outcomes and the likes. This fervour is dominated by individuals and organisations maintaining and vigorously defending their ‘take’ on education – the experts we spoke about in our first post and throughout the series.

The real problem with this is that change, when it occurs, is focused at the what of teaching (the curriculum), even sometimes the how (methods) but not the why. And it is at that ‘why’ level that the deep change has a chance to occur. Continuing in the present see-sawing debate will solve none of the problems, but will enhance the status of the “educrats” who justify their exstence through creating conflict that is not resolved. (For a scathing critique of the bureaucratisation of our world check out John Raulston Saul’s works The Unconscious Civilisation or Voltaire’s Bastards.)

Final words…

At the end, we repeat that we are not against effort and production in schools. But we argue that as a society, we need to think more carefully and clearly about what schools produce and why. The question we want to keep in mind is whether the historically valued types of citizens, no matter how useful in the particular past periods, will be capable of meeting the pressing shifts and problems of the future, near and far. You know the obvious ones – environmental destruction, terrorism, eruption of technology and social media, changing roles of women in societies, shifting employment practices, crossing and changing old class divides, global trade and crises of all kinds…the list is long. Dealing with any of these effectively and justly does not really call for the type of student a ‘traditional’ school has been producing. A range of declining environmental, economic, social and other indicators paint the picture so let’s not pretend that ‘schooling as usual’ (oops, just ‘harder’!) is going to somehow reverse the trends.

Do you want to live in a world full of docile, easily managed consumers, uncritically bent on amassing wealth and lacking the capacity to perceive reality beyond the personal ambition “as long as they are OK”, the kind produced by schooling and rewards of (primarily) individual effort? We can’t value highly individualised effort and rewards (hey, the government wants me to rank students!) then, confusingly, expect the kids to be highly ‘collaborative’. Sadly, the latter begins to sound like a buzzword! For now, schools largely still want students (AND teachers) to cooperate rather than collaborate. There is an important difference between the two. Cooperation means working together to achieve what you are required or told to do. Collaboration is a shared effort of a group of people working towards shared goals and using method they choose and agree on.

Today’s kids will have (to start) to give a damn about the issues that affect us across the geographical, cultural, racial, class, gender and other divides. But because we are so mired in the thinking and answers of the schools in 1700 England (one or the other or the mixture of the two types mentioned), we can’t move education beyond the superficial chatter while the world around us changes fundamentally and much faster than before in our shared history.

Education can be productive in good ways but it’s not being used in good ways to change the society. Yet?

PS Just as I finished typing these words I came across a very recent speech (5 Nov 2009) on education reform by Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education The Hon. Julia Gillard. I invite you to crack a beer or have a cup of tea and read what she said, then go and make a few circles around the points we have collectively worked hard to get across to you today (we may not be celebrities like Sir Ken Robinson, but it is interesting to read what he says too in his remarks after his signature TED talk too).

As always, YOUR comments are most welcome! 🙂

Social notwork

Source: http://www.personalizemedia.com/garys-social-media-count/

There is a frivolous and a serious side to this title.

A few days ago, I came across the story titled “Teachers banned from contacting students on social networking sites“. It was an unnerving read about a knee-jerk reaction by Education Queensland over several incidents involving contacts between teachers and students by way of online social networking (SN). Unnerving because I have been successfully using social networking tools to connect with a number of current and former students over the past year.

My first reaction was – this stinks! The reaction of several of my (ex)students on Twitter and in class was – this stinks! The fury of fellow ed-tech folk was palpable on Twitter and in the blogosphere, the phrase “21st century” got mentioned a lot. The comments on the story’s website were an expectedly polarised mixture of “about bloody time” (mostly from people who don’t REALLY understand the methods, let alone the principles of social networking online) and “outrage” by people who have actually used social networking with students and benefited from it.

I didn’t leave a comment on the story but chose to sit on it for a few days, thinking.

Firstly, while the ban and particularly the lunacy of keeping teachers websites “private and appropriate” is unenlightened at best, I am sure that Education Queensland had the best interest of kids in mind, no matter how misguided the edu-crats may be. There clearly had been some breaches of trust and some inappropriate behaviour (I don’t condone it but then the number is relatively low considering probably tens of thousands of such ‘communications’).

As I reflect on this debate, I think this matter goes beyond the domain of education and a “few bad apples” causing others who use SN responsibly to suffer. It is a matter of divorcing education from the culture and society in which it is embedded into a kind of narrow technical pursuit by ‘experts who know’ (more on that in our ‘Why is everyone an expert on education?’ series, next installment close to publishing).

For better or worse, we are swimming in social media (see the stats above), it is a growing part of our cultural, social, political, economic and with it (why not?) educational life. Unless we make some enlightened and wise choices, decisions on such awesome tools of (ab)use will continue to be made by educators who have increasingly little power in the broader culture but fear losing their modest power in the educational establishment. To put it simply with a question: Ban it? Until when exactly?

How about leave it to the teachers and students? By all means, provide guidelines and warnings on content with sexualised nature, innuendo and stupidities like that. Social networking tools do make abuse easier to commit and distribute in time and space by people bent on abusing children or plain idiots. They can also be a wonderful way to connect, extend, humanise our teaching and learning in ways consistent with the century we live in. On the abuse prevention flipside, because these networks ARE social, they can quickly spot, even track and police (potential) offences. After all, friends are still one of the best weapons against bullying and abuse, aren’t they? Let’s talk with the kids (not AT them) and become wise TOGETHER about online behaviour, what is appropriate and why so. The idea that you control the mouse but don’t control the signal still needs to be bedded down in minds of kids, parents and educators (and politicians, obviously).

So is student-teacher social networking all good then? Not so fast, not just yet …

Online predators and abusers are a real problem. But let’s not make a leap that every teacher online is a predator or at least has stupid, if at least unsavoury intentions. If anything, it is the students that are probably more likely to be predatory and abusive. Don’t believe it? Just wait till a disgruntled teenager unleashes an MSN fury about you being a ‘crap teacher’ because she failed that test by 2%, and which you marked with utmost professional integrity.

Another issue is one of time. For all its benefits, social networking can become quite taxing on teachers’ time. Teaching is a caring profession, one where  relationships do and should matter. Caring for too many students online, usually as a supplement to face-to-face contact, could spread one’s teaching resources thinly. It could even breed misguided resentment “he doesn’t ever reply to our posts, he doesn’t care” or “he doesn’t want to be friends on Facebook, he is not friendly” etc. There is also a danger that because of the ‘always on call’ attitude, students will come and ask questions and seek help for problems they could be better off solving and struggling with themselves. And they will do that at often inappropriate, inconvenient times. Being a node, to use connectivist lingo, is OK but being a hub with the approval switch for all traffic would probably often work against the independent learning of students, something social networking tools have such a wonderful potential to support and sustain when used wisely.

And let’s not forget that old nut… While privacy is a button to click and filter to turn on in this hyper-connected world, it should not be dismissed lightly either. Invoking the platinum rule (“Treat others the way they want to be treated”) could be increasingly important or the SN tools may deliver disappointment and, at worst, abuse.

Final thoughts

This reflection began with the question “should teachers be allowed to connect with students over SN?” This is an edu-technical issue – ban or not ban. At a much deeper level, SN is about the potential to rock the boat of the restrictive, binary teacher – student divide we are so comfortable with and used to. For now, we (can) run projects and tinker on the edges with SN occasionally bridging that divide. However, it can be very taxing and quite possibly (un)helpful in many ways to be a (traditional) teacher, connector, assessor, judge, evaluator, crying shoulder, confidante, ‘buddy’ and many other things to cohorts of students 24/7 online and face-to-face. Context rules – let’s have a mature conversation about it.

But if we genuinely open up spaces where these roles are re-defined, re-imagined, in some cases even completely reversed, social networking could be an incredibly useful, perhaps essential tool in fundamentally re-shaping education towards a (post-industrial) model of cross-generational mentorship. I am passionate about working towards it but I’d continue to wisen up on social networks and by all means use them with students and colleagues … judiciously.

‘Judiciously’ not because I don’t use, like or trust my social networks (I love them!) but because the ‘bleeding edge’ we are at sometimes requires its pint of blood I’d rather donate than have it drawn without my approval.

And the punsy title?

What else is education other than a social network, seemingly supressed, blocked and banned in its 21st century incarnation. Not work? You be the judge…

Still waiting for Eureka: the problem with schools as a science

Image source: http://blog.scs.sk.ca/tado/vschools/archives/GroeningCartoon.jpg
Image source: http://blog.scs.sk.ca/tado/vschools/archives/GroeningCartoon.jpg

This is the first post with a particular theme in the series “Why is everyone an expert of education?“. The series is written collaboratively by Ira Socol, Dr Greg Thompson and Tomaz Lasic.

Science is an awesome, admirable pursuit of measurable, testable, replicable truth. It is a pursuit of certainty that something has, does and will work as we imagine it. We want to be certain that a medicine we give to our child has been tested and declared safe, a bridge we drive across stable enough to carry us. Data and methods we use give us control to predict, improve, avoid. That’s all fine when dealing with inanimate objects. Yet ask an engineer and they will tell you that even concrete and steel could behave unpredictably, hence the overdesign and consideration of safety margins. Enter humans.

Data and scientific methods give us the delirious joy of thinking that things are repeatable and replicable with human beings too. Because something works/does not work in one context, we assume that that must be the case for all contexts. This applies to curriculum, to standards, to teaching strategies, to discipline and management strategies, to educational psychology, to the very organisation of schooling.

Scientifically observing and measuring actors in schools fools us into believing we are capable of absolute knowledge, absolute categories, and once we got those right – absolute solutions. Fools us? Just look at performance pay for teachers debate, curriculum wars, ad absurdum arguments over accuracy of assessment, validity and usefulness of standardised, statewide literacy and numeracy testing and more. In all these we want to measure so we can be ‘certain’, to establish norms and through them (as the term suggests) normalise people and put them in brackets. Once they are in boxes, brackets and percentages, we can apply the right dose of whatever it is we have come up with as the solution.

Now please – categorisation is a perfectly human thing and helps us live our daily lives, no doubt. But when categorisation becomes unexamined, unquestioned purpose of what we do with human beings in education, then we have a few problems. Or put bluntly: It is rubbish, and it bewilders and alienates students (and with it many teachers, parents and others).

When seeing education as a science, we tend to break it down to its elements, particularly those we are familiar with. Instead of having a more holistic view of an actor in the process of schooling, we prefer a cleaner, reductionist, building-block view. We build walls around and guard our areas of expertise. There we propose solutions to fix things we are certain of. And when we want to justify, we look for figures. In this need, the efficient simplicity of “68% on the test” becomes very seductive. We are insecure in trusting the ‘soft’, slippery immeasurables like intuition, freedom or hope etc. so we invent ever more complex, ‘hard’ systems of quantifying people to cling to and value: “Is this a 72% or 74% answer?” Sounds like “is this Class B or Class C concrete”? But hey, “it has worked for me at school so why not for these kids too, they should be motivated by it.”

So, apart from all having a lot to say and guard as ‘experts’ – where does this lead us?

The problem with education as a science is amplified by the centralised nature of most school systems, where control is exerted from a distance. If you remove relationships from schooling (let’s face it, the majority of system administrators/policy makers spend very little time dealing with relationships in schools), what is left is the idea that schools are largely the same, and therefore, the same tests should elicit the same responses. If they don’t there must be something wrong – and the finger is normally pointed at teachers!

In Australia, USA at least, and we imagine many other countries, the people making decisions on education have probably not done more than tour a school in the last twenty years, yet they still are able to provide ‘expert’ commentary. A few problems rise immediately from this.

First is the modernist view of scientific solution – a belief in the inevitability of human progress through science. These decision-makers enter the debate with a belief that each adaptation in the educational system has been “progressive,” and thus that the education system which they succeeded in was “near perfect” – the result of centuries of continuous improvement. A bit of “tinkering”  (Tyack & Cuban, Tyack & Hansot) will thus result in “perfection.”  Their authority flows from certainty and the promise of being led to such perfection. The second problem is the idea that success is quantifiable and that the idea of it applies to all of us equally. The third problem is the leaders presuming that their framing of experiences is both correct and applicable universally.

This all adds up to create an understanding of education as a science where results are replicable and reliable. We call this phenomena “white coat replicability”. Governments, the media, and bureaucracies deal in white coat replicability when they talk about effective schools and teachers, about ranking schools based largely on benchmark testing.We are hearing a lot in the media at the moment about Joel Klein and New York public schools. Consider this article which talks about the ways that data collected can be misused and misrepresented.

Today, schools are dominated by externally developed testing, reporting on student achievement that uses mandatory standards and systems, and continual reform. What is this doing to students? Do we think that schools cater more or less for student difference and uniqueness now than they used to? After years of education as a science, the system is at least as discriminatory as ever. We think that we collect and control so much information now, it is slowly paralysing us from dealing in intangibles such as freedom and hope.

The interaction between students and teachers is becoming less relational and more normalised, where outputs are measured and teachers and students are measured and measure each other. The problem with this is that the measurement fixes students as good/bad, successful/unsuccessful, likeable/unlikeable and students increasingly live/perform these measurements. Ever wonder why there are groups of students who are Rebels in every school regardless of context? Schools need rebels to show students who not to be.

This fixing of students into neat packages are things that schools do all the time. After all you can measure deviance/compliance can’t you? Students find these packages very hard to change. We are indebted to the work of Stephen Ball from the University of London and the notion of performativity.

To put it simply, students and teachers are trapped in their performances as a result of the ways they are measured and organised within education as a science. The trick of performativity seems to be that individuals come to see themselves in terms of the data collected. They perform as they feel they should be expected to/come to expect themselves. For example, a “dumb” student may hardly try to do well in a test because he does not see himself smart – and the grades simply confirm it. The data assigns the well-known and well-rehearsed roles. These roles are so reified by repetition that even altering the performance to accommodate (a change in) their self-image becomes unacceptable, much like when one actor discomforts audiences if he/she replaces another in a television series. When students act out of their accepted role (for example, “good” girls getting drunk), they experience negative feedback, often from students as well as teachers. Ontologically, schools teach students to limit their being – limit who they are and can be. Change anyone?

You can’t collect all this data and employ these evaluators in schools without people performing their results (positionality). Want to know why many students feel alienated from schools? One of the key factors is that they are continually judged as being less or even non-successful. The same is true for teachers! Who hasn’t felt despondent when the school they are working in has performed at unacceptable levels in their subject through something like NAPLAN (Australia’s nationwide literacy and numeracy testing)? One of our colleagues had this experience and the school spent the next 6 months ‘diagnosing’ the problem, counselling the subject teachers, exhorting the students to do more, aim higher etc. The end result? Teachers were forced to run after school study classes, they began to ‘teach for the test’ and the school results stayed the same. The drop in teacher morale was curiously never measured, or seen as significant. We don’t think that the educational experiences of the students would have improved as a result either – teaching for the test negates most of what is wonderful in the relationships between teachers and students and the richness of student learning.

So what is being learnt when education is run and organised as a science? That your performances measure you – that you are quantifiable. You learn how to see yourself as a particular type of student/teacher, and grow to see this as ‘normal’ – the business of schools becomes normative measuring and pedagogy becomes sterile, limited, controlling and superficial. But gee it looks clean!

Why is everyone an expert on education?

politics of ed

Image Source: Tyack, David (1974). The One Best System. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Page 286 (Thank you Jon Becker!)

Everyone is an expert on education and its particular, dominant subset – school. Everyone who has either attended school, taught at school, had their kids at school, managed school, funded school, even avoided school knows what school does. Unlike any other public institution, we can quickly produce an opinion on what schools should and shouldn’t do. Scores of politicians, business leaders or (other) powerful pundits who arrive on the scene claim the credential of knowing how to run schools. Many of these self-proclaimed experts are widely interviewed and financially supported, many more ignored beyond their personal sphere of influence.

But just why are we all ‘experts’ with a more or less considerate opinion on how things should be with schools and education?

Short answer: If we presume we are constituted, built of what we ‘know’, then we don’t only KNOW a lot about school, we ARE school. School is not (just) an institution, it is a particular way of thinking and knowing we are attached to. And because we can’t imagine anything different, we get cornered into dead-ends of ‘solutions’ that substantially change – very little.

Now for the long answer and explanation… Continue reading

Evaluate that reality

Tomorrow marks a year since publishing My f*#!%ing goosebump story – the post I still consider my “best ever” (drumroll…ta-daaa!). It has reality, expletives and a message of hope – that one always dies last. As if to mark the occasion, I was involved in a similar incident yesterday. Less violent, more accidental but I did end up on the floor through an action by a Year 9 student in my ‘at-risk’ class (ah, the euphemisms).  Not bad for 198cm [6ft6in] and 100+ kg teacher hey? The student stormed out of class afterwards, staff were sent to look for him, I got checked by admin etc etc. But that is not what is remarkable about this story…

This morning, the student and his classmate partly responsible for the incident, came to our office 10 minutes before the first bell to see me. They looked me in the eye and simply apologised for their actions. Very sincerely and in hushed tones. Nobody sent them to apologise – they came completely on their own steam. For a 14 year old ADHD-diagnosed boy that is huge. The matter ended right there, no further procedures, charges etc. but the feeling of trust between us leapt up a couple of storeys – right there.

The media, politicians and pundits will have you thinking that education is all about ‘improved performance’. One we can declare ‘important’ and measurable. But how do you measure things I have just described above? Things that truly matter to me as a teacher and the student as a growing young man. Will he remember the (failed) test or birth/growth of respect by and for adults in his life?

I sent out a tweet this morning about this little teaching vignette and the response was wonderful. My dear transoceanic colleague Ira Socol (my [co]nspirator in promoting the phrase Evaluate that! – see why) and I simultaneously had an idea – let’s start collecting REAL, insightful moments of teaching and learning NOT measured (even measurable) by school. I started the Twitter tag #evaluatethat , sent out an invitation and provided a few starting examples.

Within just a few minutes, we had half a dozen insightful snaps of reality that make teaching such a human and unbelievably important task! And they keep coming…

Evaluate that 1

And here it is to you, dear reader, and those who you know:

Whether you are a teacher, student, parent, administrator… tell us, in a brief sentence or two, YOUR moments of teaching or learning (yours or someone else’s) that was never formally measured but made an impression on you. These ‘bites’ of reality do not have to be all gloriously positive, the only criteria – true, real and not measured (no hypotheticals please).

We are collecting these via Twitter by using #evaluatethat hashtag in each relevant tweet. This will ensure all of these are kept in one place and can be easily seen by all.

What if I don’t have or want a Twitter account?

That’s fine. If you want one, here is a well-received Twitter Handbook for Teachers that has all you need to get started. If you don’t want to bother with Twitter, just leave a comment below.

Passing this on will make the collection richer for things that matter the most, but you know that already…

To watch a child grow – privilege of a parent. To watch a class grow – privilege of a teacher.

REAL, insightful moments of teaching practice NOT measured by school

We want what?

Shopping List

The tipping point for this post comes from tonight’s episode of Insight (SBS Television) titled “Worst and Best Schools”. I provide the link and let you decide on the value of punditry (and some valuable insights, to be fair) on display.

The inspiration for the list below is (ret) Judge Dennis Chaleen’s 8-point reflection on the effects of imprisonment (some uncanny similarities there with schooling). In a few brief points, he sums up society’s addiction to prison and reasons for lack of change in our views and practices. I’ll try to follow his ascerbic style.

I am no retired judge, only a classroom teacher of nearly a decade in mainstream schooling … but here is my list of the baffling inconsistencies:

* We want STUDENTS to have self-worth, so we care most about the winners.

* We want them to be responsible, so we make tests the most important things in their life.

* We want them to take control of their lives and own their problems, so we spoonfeed them with correct answers.

* We want them to be prepared for the future, so we teach like 200 years ago.

* We want them to be non-violent, so we blame.

* We want them to learn new things, so we discard educational research.

* We want them to listen, so we don’t give them a real voice.

* We want them to be trustworthy, so we trace their every move.

* We want them to be independent, critical, imaginative thinkers, so we measure (mostly ) recall.

* We want them to stop hanging around ‘losers’, so we ‘stream’ all the ‘losers’ in one place.

* We want them to be kind and loving people, so we promote zero-sum competition.

* We want them to be a part of community, so we block and control them becoming a community.

* We want to educate the whole person, so we test academic skills.

* We want them to learn, so we equate it with the “necessary pain of work ‘in the real world’ “.

* We want to prepare them for the ‘real world’, so we ban some the most common means of communication in it.

What about the teachers? A couple of quick ones…

* We want teachers to lead, so we tell them to follow.

* We want teachers to teach deep and with passion, so we give them a strict syllabus  and a deadline to follow.

Is this what we REALLY want?

Merit or demerit?

Fixing the Money Pipeline

There are some teachers who are just better than others. In many ways, with many people, many colleagues. No secret really, observed many times. So why should they (not) be paid more?

There are many cases of (failed) merit pay schemes for teachers around the world. They pretty much show that merit pay for teachers, based fundamentally on extrinsic rewards for, in most cases, intrinsically rewarding job of a teacher as a ‘service to public’ … simply does not work. So why should we pay teachers differently, ‘on merit’ then?

Volumes have been written on this topic from the opposite ‘camps’. Can we have both (sounds like a politician’s wet dream)?

For the record, I would not dismiss the idea of rewarding good teachers. Let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. But if we as a society (or rather our elected representatives we always deserve) think teachers will ‘lift their game’ so they can get paid a few bucks more – very few will do so and not necessarily in the neat accounting brackets either (“extra 10% in pay will result in 10% better student results” – oh, come on!).

Here is a late night cobble of few ideas on how we could perhaps keep the baby in and change the water. Just ideas, with all their faults and crazy options…

  • Build and reward positive interdependence and pay for success of the team. Good teachers do it in class and often when a group effort is called for. The synergy of a well thought-out team will outweigh any individual scheme anytime plus have a range of positive side-effects. The one that first springs to mind is the growth of a culture of innovation and collaboration in a workplace. Of course, the trick is in the leadership, getting it right and spreading the rewards (the equity or equality argument) but if we can do it with students – why not with teachers too?
  • Pay a decent base rate pay, then pay extra amounts to those who mentor and/or support colleagues (particularly those in need). Young or old, regardless of years spent teaching. In other words – pay more to leaders, not merely non-leavers. While excellence and experience are often related, there are some very important differences between the two and they definitely should not be used interchangeably by default (when found, will link to an excellent paper I had come across on this … 😛 ). Some teachers will do it (mostly) for the money, most will do it for passion, interest, recognition … and maybe a little extra cash will be nice, yes.
  • Every 3 to 5 years, give teachers a few months to upskill, mentor, study, research, publish etc with less pressure of the constant class-related rush… a ‘classroom sabbatical’, not a holiday. Getting out of class sometimes, even if for a couple of terms to recharge and refresh batteries would surely be well received. This would be an opportunity to get a better, deeper outlook on things and, importantly, (re)discover the value of learning and the business we are in. Are you thinking ‘retention of teaching workforce’? I am.
  • Re-brand ‘teacher’ as a learning professional. Make the university undergraduate course very challenging, including lots of practical work and forms of ‘internships’, but knowing that once declared ‘a teacher’ (or learning professional or whatever the title), the person would have a set of skills, knowledge and flexibility to work in virtually any environment that requires (re)learning. This would include theories and approaches to learning, communication skills, use of technology and similar. The up and coming Gen X (often dubbed the ‘options generation’) as power-brokers and the subsequent “Gens” would certainly appreciate the range of options available.
  • I don’t know about you but some of the best teachers in my life were not even remotely teachers by profession! Let’s involve the community. It is amazing how many passionate, talented and keen people in the community are able and willing to contribute, help and (mostly unknowingly) inspire. And many of these people who could teach parts (or the whole) and work with students on something they and/or the students are passionate about probably live in the community just around the corner from where the kids live and school is placed in.. Sounds crazy? Ask Dave Eggers (one of the best TED talks I have seen!) and his Once upon a school project.

How does this sound to you? Any others you can think of or expand on? Feel free to (comment) …