Wednesday, 12 September 2018


NO ! !  NO ! !  NO ! !  NO ! !  NO ! !  NO ! !  NO ! !

As Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want!” From my experience as a parent and as a teacher, most children take a while to understand that no means no, not maybe!

I have also observed that children feel more secure and happy when they realize that the adults caring for them are reasonable people but they are not going to ‘cave in’ under the pressure of nagging. Reasonable people mostly explain their decisions but sometimes children have to accept that parents and teachers are not in the business of justifying every decision and that they need to accept ‘no’ as meaning ‘no’! Where justification of a decision is required, keep it short and simple.

As adults we have the responsibility of building children’s ability to control their impulses and deal with disappointment. The more resilient and ‘grounded’ children are, the more likely they are to succeed. If children do not learn these lessons early in life we are setting them up for disappointment and often under achievement in their adult years.

Children want boundaries as they make them feel safe and secure.  I have met very few children who when treated with respect, fairness and kindness don’t respond well.

One clear message from all the psychologists studying children is, get it right early and set your children up for success because it isn’t going to get easier! Anyone with teenagers will relate to that.

Kia Kaha (be strong), so your children will grow up in a better position to realize their potential. Make thoughtful, reasoned decisions with the information you have to hand at the time, and stand by them.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Silence is Complicity

I recently saw another fabulous documentary on Martin Luther King’s life.  This man’s integrity and the difference he made to humanity stands out in history. He was intelligent and was able to touch people’s consciousness by his simple and clear dealing with the truth. A stinging but powerful statement was his commentary around “the appalling silence of good people.”  

To be clear he actually said,
“We will have to repent, in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.
“He went on to say,
 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
Another battle is now being fought and not before time. A significant moment came in 2017 with the ‘outing’ of Harvey Weinstein and the many other men who have used their position and power to sexually and emotionally abuse women. It started as a trickle but very quickly became a flood as more and more men were ‘exposed’ for their past bullying. Daily we read about more and more high profile men being ‘outed’.  In our own backyard the Law Society have acknowledged the problem that exists in their profession. (1)
A wide cross-section of society have joined the chorus of support for these brave women who have spoken out. Oprah Winfrey’s speech as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes was not only inspiring but pointed out the work to be done. “It's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.” (2)
We know this is only the tip of the iceberg as harassment in the workplace is unfortunately common, taking many forms and often hits hardest for those operating further down the hierarchy.
Employees’ acquiescence is usually based on fear. Fear of losing your job, fear of not being promoted and fear that further harassment will take place if you don’t bow down to the bully. These bullies usually operate ‘behind closed doors’ and are clever manipulators and often outright liars. Colleagues too often ‘run for cover’ being too afraid themselves to speak out. Their silence is demoralising and hurtful but to some degree very understandable with them having career aspirations, jobs to protect and families to feed. Unfortunately this silence adds power to the bully’s position. These people are actually the very protective enablers and their silence is in fact no more than complicity.
I have seen bullying in the workplace. It was very cleverly managed behind closed doors and extremely emotionally damaging. Unfortunately this was the leader’s modus operandi so the harassment didn’t stop there with others affected. Having watched the damage from afar and trying to intervene became a bitter and depressing experience.
I was delighted by Oprah’s message in her speech encouraging the press and all of us to uncover the truth and not turn a blind eye to corruption and injustice.

Unfortunately confronting harassment of any sort in the work place is an uphill battle for the victims. The system works against them in a number of ways. Board and senior management members often ‘dig in’ to support the regime as any admission or ‘fronting up’ is an admission of personal and collective fault. They often also perceive it is bad for business and bad for their organisation’s brand. It is easier to hire lawyers to use the power of the law to make their problem go away. It is often a ‘David v Goliath’ situation for the victim (3).

I thought Taylor Swift comments after she won the court case against a former radio host who had groped her summed the situation up rather well.

"Going to court to confront this type of behaviour is a lonely and draining experience, even when you win, even when you have the financial ability to defend yourself," Swift told Time. "Even though awareness is higher than ever about workplace sexual harassment, there are still so many people who feel victimized, afraid and silenced by their abusers and circumstances." (4)

This view point can be generalised across all types of bullying in the workplace.

As an educator, I feel a big responsibility to ensure these values around standing up for what is right is a central part of the children’s education. Having empathy for others and a social conscience is fundamental to what it is to be human. The Weinstein case has highlighted one aspect (sexual harassment) of the ‘black hole’ of injustice and although depressing, it has helped to ‘rattle a few cages’. I am hoping it will give others strength to speak out and what a difference to the world this would make.

Meanwhile schools and families have the obligation to explicitly educate our young people with these central issues of human responsibility but most of all, ‘walk their talk’ as modelling is the most powerful weapon against the insidious nature of bullying.
 Picture: Love this

Friday, 1 June 2018

Can ‘Play’ be Seen as Work ?

Each week an email bounces into my inbox from   I often choose one of the videos to share with classes as part of my regular ‘cameo’ class visits as the videos are usually powerful and thought provoking.

Because a recent one was particularly good on so many levels, I strongly recommend you take 7 minutes and have a look at it.

The video just adds enormous weight to the growing development and recognition of Learning through Play which so many schools are investigating.
I see so many adults shudder at the thought of their children going to school to ‘play’ and not getting down to the real work. I ‘get this’ as when most of us went through school, work was work and play was for playtime.
Many parents have come through a school system based on the transmission (empty vessel) model where the teacher helped fill the student with knowledge in preparation for exam unloading of what they had learnt. With this model in mind, it would be easy to be fooled by busy work via worksheets or other low level tasks laboriously presented with beautiful handwriting, straight lines and crafted borders.
I have to admit, with what we now know about how children learn, ‘it does my head in’ to see low level busy work whether it is through the traditional classroom lens or the learning through play approach.
There has to be a meaningful purpose (learning intention) and rigour for the learning environment to be as powerful as it should be. This doesn’t mean laughter and fun has to disappear and in fact motivation theory demonstrates that when our emotions are positively engaged we are in our optimum learning ‘flow’ which means we are very ready and energised to learn.
The video I recommended you to watch shows quite explicitly the power of play.
I often think I would love to take the word play out of the education discussion as it so often produces glazed over looks from some, annoyed expressions from others and an ethereal look from the devotees.
Some years ago, a student in my school coined the phrase ‘edutainment’(1) which in his words is a series of events sneakily intertwined with education. School should be a place of education, entertainment, friendship and memories. I would like to take this word ‘edutainment’ which I love and because it sits so well with the gamification growth in the curriculum and merge it with Papert’s ‘hard fun’ expression of all those years ago. This merger gets rid of the distracting word play and gets to the heart of the matter.

A quality learning environment promotes a strong work ethic mixed with highly engaging tasks (hard fun) and inquiries where the skills of finding out and understanding (research) are incrementally scaffolded for young children. Curiosity, creativity and rigour need to be at education’s heart.
At least equally important is the E.Q (emotional intelligence) support and development in schools. Without the backbone of E.Q., IQ is undermined and meaningless. The social and emotional aspects of education are more important than ever.
I love the charts included in the appendix of this blog and subscribe to so much of what is said in the related article.
Enough from me, except to say, don’t forget to watch the video. (link repeated)
Warren Owen
Appendix: (The work place needs of the future and the relationship of play in preparing children with the key skills and competencies required)

(1) Theo MacDonald

Picture and Quote ref:

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

In the Early World --- Back to the Future

Our new Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins has set in motion a review of NZ’s education system. He has stated that NZ has as an education system to be proud of but it now needs to change to meet the needs of the 21stC.

His vision for the education portfolio is a high quality, fair, and inclusive education system that provides all New Zealanders with learning opportunities and prepares them for the future. (1) Who could argue with that!

The minister has called for submissions on what this might look like and this is my take on things.
My thinking comes from 40 years of involvement in the primary education sector. During this time I have been a passionate observer, reader and writer on education matters. Currently I am a principal of a moderately large Wellington primary school. (Waterloo School)

 I don’t claim to have it all ‘nailed’ and I recognise and delight I am still learning as I approach the receipt of my ‘gold card’. What I do know is evidence based.

There are a few key questions to what has become so obvious to even the most cynical in the last few decades. These include how do we prepare our children for a world that is beyond our imagination? How do we craft a child’s learning journey towards a job that is yet to be created?

There is a tsunami of evidence that has been exponentially building that demonstrates the world we know today will be radically different from tomorrow. “Roughly two-thirds of students entering primary schools this year will work in jobs that do not exist yet, so the ability of countries like NZ to respond as the digital revolution accelerates depends on its future ‘skills makeup’ according to Microsoft executives at their recent Education Exchange in Singapore.” (2) This might seem a rather glib approximation but the statement is supported by reality and a lot of research and modelling including an IDC study commissioned by Microsoft which has predicted digital products and services will account for 55% of NZ gross domestic product by 2021. (last year, just 6%)  (3)

A little while ago I read a New York Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman entitled, ‘Need a Job? Invent It!(4) This provocative title deeply resonated with me as it is clearly apparent that the days of assuming our young people will transition from school or university into jobs has long gone. It’s tough out there and the ‘playing field’ has changed.

Friedman quotes an executive he interviewed as saying, “We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think-to ask the right questions-and to take initiative.”

Many of the answers to how can we prepare our children for our rapidly changing world have been proffered by some of the world’s best education minds including Sir Ken Robinson.
Despite the huge goodwill, energy and resources that have gone into New Zealand’s education system over the last few decades, many of our education outcomes have been progressively falling. (5)
We are not alone in failed approaches.  Professor Guy Claxton from Kings College, London listed the following international failures.   (6)

These countries’ visions use similar words describing the desired skills and attributes needing to be promoted in their students. Words such as ‘creative’, ‘confident’, ‘flexible’, ‘curious’, ‘independent’ and ‘collaborative’ abound. These key skills and dispositions are widely recognised as being central and critical to preparing our young for the wild ride ahead.

Claxton and others asks, ‘So what goes wrong’? (6a) Why aren’t these dispositions imbedded in our education system after so many years of talk? Never before has it been so easy to access research and best practice pedagogy via the world’s experts so what gets in the way of achieving better outcomes for children?

I believe there are two related barriers which get in the way of comprehensive and meaningful implementation.

Firstly, fear gets in the way. Everyone involved including the politicians set out to do the right thing based on the best practice but often the desire to improve learning outcomes is accidentally sabotaged and confused by each level of the education hierarchy setting out to justify their existence.

I say fear because so called ‘accountability’ has too often got in the way. A classic example of this which has been widely acknowledged in NZ has been the obsession with national standards data gathering which has driven schools inwards so their lens focussed on the traditional 3 Rs. This is a generalisation but unfortunately the fear of allowing ‘standards’ to fall and / or a poor ERO review caused many schools (BOT and Principals) to exhaust their staff with endless paperwork and reviews leaving minimal reflection time for teachers to see the ‘woods for the trees’.
We have a great opportunity to make change now but we have to be fearless.

Many well-meaning people worry about falling standards and the importance of the basics in education.  However what has to be realised and understood is of course we can’t underestimate the importance of the basic skills and dispositions that empower communication and knowledge building.  These skills will always be fundamental and need to be fostered with rigour wherever possible using authentic and meaningful contexts. It is not the ‘content’ of these fundamental skills that needs changing but the ‘how’ they are taught and scaffolded which is crucial.  Essentially we need a school system that values the developmental nature of learning. Young children don’t and can’t jump the same hurdles all at the same time, but we can engage their minds and capture their unique ideas and thinking. Get this right and you build real learning power, confidence and aspiration.
We need to value questions above answers and creativity over fact regurgitation with an overlay of high aspirations for all.

People like the world renowned ‘thinking’ guru, Dr Edward de Bono have always believed thinking and creativity are skills that can be taught and learnt! The exponential change our children will face, demands that thinking skills should have the same focus and currency as the core skills of numeracy and literacy.

What is exciting, is that once this is recognised, across the board academic outcomes trend upwards.
According to Friedman, Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready’. They learn concepts and creativity more than facts.” Intelligence is not enough. Creativity, or the ability to think divergently, can be developed and improved. It’s a learnable process. 

What are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power? The answer to this question has been written and spoken about for years and years.
Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, collaboration, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as a mind gym v an assembly line. (7)  The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing.
Seymour Papert said, “Learning should be hard fun” (8)   where there is engagement, passion and purpose.

Alongside ‘fear’, the other key barrier which gets in the way of successful implementation of New Zealand’s vision for education is we haven’t unpacked what the key skills and dispositions actually mean and look like for our teachers. Many teachers do not consider themselves as creative and they need support to demystify ‘creativity’.
The word creativity is bandied about quite often in education circles but what does it actually mean? Do some have it and some not? It is a widely misunderstood word.
Creativity is not a magical quality that some have and some don’t! We have to ensure creativity and thinking skill development is a dominant part of the curriculum. Not only should it be totally integrated in the curriculum ensuring the learning tasks engage higher order thinking and age and stage appropriate ‘hard fun’, but right from pre-school, children need to explicitly know that their thinking and ideas have merit and value.  Take a subject like art as it is a prime example. Traditionally most children have received implicit and explicit feedback about their art related to how it looks and in many cases how it mirrors realism. Art is an expression of a child’s thinking and this is where the value should be put.

Part and parcel of promoting creativity and thinking is treating these skills as natural and important aspects of learning with children. Discussing these attributes and providing skill development and understanding adds enormous uplift in confidence and indirectly demonstrates to children that their thinking has merit and it is an important aspect of their development. 

Most creative achievements have come about through dogged determination. Without going into the detail there are some common ways to improve creativity in all of us and thus it makes enormous sense for schools to make time to teach these skills and dispositions. Ideally schools will have an active programme teaching thinking strategies and infusing creativity and higher order thinking into every aspect of school life.

But it isn’t going to happen by osmosis. Schools and teachers need support, the mandate and the expectation that the culture of their school needs to live and breathe these dispositions.
We need this education change not only because it has been proven without doubt that children will benefit in all manner of means (not only academically but holistically) but also for survival. The world is facing unprecedented challenges such as population explosion, significant climate change, significant human conflict via religion, politics and greed and of course our growing resistance to anti biotics and the threat of super bugs. It is a no brainer if for nothing more than making schools a place of true learning where young people are set up wanting to learn and create for the rest of their life.
It is time to focus on learning and not schooling. Education should not be seen as something that starts at kindergarten and finishes at university. Even from a practical point of view, a university degree is no passport guarantee for a job anymore. The 19th and 20thC roadmap for success has been disrupted by exponential change, much of which has been brought about by technology.
This of course applies to us as educators. We must not be swayed by fads or pressure to do things for the wrong reasons but follow what our hearts, experience and quality research is telling us. Data is so important!  Good teachers are natural ‘inquirers’ constantly gathering important qualitative and quantitative data because they know this will provide rich information so they can provide the best programme possible. They are not driven by top down expectations unless of course it makes good sense. 
Sir Ken Robinson gets it big time when he said, Of course technology is important as is science, maths, engineering (STEM) but they are not enough! STEM is at risk of becoming a fad and a diversion away from the heart of the matter. Students need equal doses of the arts, the humanities, physical exercise and play. But more important than any subject content is school culture. (9)

So enough talk! Why would any country ignore what all the research is showing and in particular the common view points of the best education minds in the world? Why ignore the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, our own John Hattie, Professor Guy Claxton, David Perkins, Art Costa, Sugata Mitra et al.
A central part of this ‘culture’ is recognising the immense importance of teacher connection and building self-belief in students (relationships), combined with fostering an exciting and rigorous thinking philosophy where ideas are celebrated and questions valued over answers. The role of the teacher is more complex and demanding than any time in history. The walls of the class room have to be metaphorically and in some ways literally broken down.

Interestingly enough there is nothing ‘earth shatteringly new’ with what we know about how children learn and thrive. From 1949 to 1962 Elwyn Richardson at Oruaiti School with the blessing of the then and now famous Director of Education, Clarence Beeby,   discarded the official syllabus and turned to the children’s lives and immediate environment for the basis of his curriculum. Using the children’s natural curiosity and interest, Richardson taught them how to observe closely the world around them and to record their new discoveries and their own responses to these. From here, he developed a school programme that was anchored in the children’s surroundings and real lives. Through environmental study the children learned the basis of scientific method, and brought these skills to bear on studies that spanned all subjects. His method was a revolt away from science as a separate subject to an integrated programme of arts and science. Richardson wrote In The Early World (10) at Oruaiti School published by The New Zealand Council for Educational Research NZCER in 1964. The book tells the story of how Richardson’s students became increasingly aware of their own capacity for personal expression, while collectively establishing a shared understanding of aesthetic values.

Richardson’s holistic philosophy capturing the children’s thinking and creativity has stood the test of time and is an inspiring story. The aesthetics and the power of nature holding the secrets of so much are as relevant today as ever.  Our best internationally acclaimed educationalists continue to champion such beliefs. For most children up to the 1960s their world was their neighbourhood but now technology has shown us a global neighbourhood which our young people are embracing. It is time to thread this holistic and constructivist philosophy through our schools leveraging and integrating the powerful digital tools of the 21stC. How exciting would that be!

Let’s get on with it with rigour, high aspirations and passion. Let’s really create a nation of curious and creative minds combined with empathy and good will. (E.Q.)  Let’s be fearless in the pursuit of what we have known for a long time.

How do we do this? It won’t happen overnight and I have already said enough but our biggest focus needs to be Whole School Professional Learning building the capacity of our current cohort of teachers to take on this exciting challenge of building a ‘thinking culture’ in schools.  Let’s find the people who already exist in our school system who deeply understand these dispositions and use them to work with schools to support them to providing transformational education that will not only excite students but set them alight to achieve more than they thought possible.

Warren Owen

(2)    Adele Redmond, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, DomPost 31/3/2018
(5)    NZ Principal March 2018 pp33-34
(6)    (+6a) Professor Guy Claxton, Kings College, London, U.K.
(7)    Professor Guy Claxton, Kings College, London, U.K.
(9)    Sir Ken Robinson, p19
(10) Elwyn Richardson, In the Early World,  

Picture Art by Olivier Tallec from This Is a Poem That Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre SimeĆ³n

Friday, 2 March 2018

Is Your Child Gifted ?

This blog entry builds on an earlier one on G.A.T.E. children. Firstly I quickly repeat the need to ensure our gifted and talented children have their needs met at school every day by experiencing a ‘rich’ and ‘relevant’ curriculum and secondly, the blog looks into the incredible damage that can be done by labelling children as gifted and talented. If you are short on time, jump down to the video link and see this ‘must see’ short video which just might surprise you.

Historically schools have supported students with remedial learning needs. Sadly many students who have special needs at the other end of the scale have often not had their needs met. Some of these ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’ students (known as G.A.T.E. children) become behavioural problems as they struggle to overcome boredom and frustration.

The good news is that in recent times greater education policy requirements have been placed on schools to address the needs of these students. However it is one thing to make policy but many schools find it difficult to find the expertise and resources to ‘walk the talk’.

In their bid to fulfil their responsibilities, many schools provide ‘pull out’ programmes grouping students together for a few hours each week providing some ‘one off’ stimulating activities that excite these very capable students. One positive spin off from this approach is G.A.T.E. students get the chance to engage with like minds. Sometimes these students are put up a class level. It works for some but it is socially very risky. There are various ‘one day’ fee paying G.A.T.E. schools operating and some schools recommend parents enroll their gifted child(ren) into one of these.

However these options do not deal with the fundamental issue. Like all students, G.A.T.E. students deserve to have their educational needs, including social needs met every day. Their minds need to be challenged and engaged throughout their school life! 

This is not a tall order when the curriculum is well understood, planned and differentiated appropriately. Schools must build on the interests of all students providing them with the skills so they have more control over the topic or content they wish to pursue allowing the opportunity for individual and independent study. The exciting 21stC education technology rich paradigm supports and further empowers the learner. This interactive and blended approach encourages creativity, deep flexible thinking and access to a broader range of higher level resources.

It is an exciting time in education providing schools take up the opportunities available to unleash their students’ motivation and potential.

However it is with a huge cautionary note I share Jo Boaler’s work around giftedness. Jo is a highly regarded Professor of Mathematics at Standford University. Her research and work is highly respected internationally. I highly recommend you watching this short video.

Jo decided to make this short film after many years of my being a professor at Stanford and hearing from students about the labels they had received growing up.
She said, “Many of the students had been labelled as “gifted” or “smart,” when they were in school, and these labels, intended to be positive, had given them learning challenges later in life. Most people realize that it is harmful to not be labelled as gifted when others are. The labelling of some students sends negative messages about potential, that are out of synch with important knowledge of neuroplasticity showing that everyone’s brains can grow and change. But few people realize that those labels are damaging for those who receive them too. At Stanford many students were labelled as gifted in Kindergarten or 1st grade and received special advantages from that point on, raising many questions about equity in schools. But labels and ideas of smartness and giftedness carry with them fixed ideas about ability, suggesting to students that they are born with a gift or a special brain. When students are led to believe they are gifted, or they have a “math brain” or they are “smart” and later struggle, that struggle is absolutely devastating. Students who grow up thinking that they have a special brain often drop out of STEM subjects when they struggle. At that time students start to believe they were not, after all, gifted, or that the gift has “run out” as one of the students in our film reflects.
In the above film, which I really recommend that you watch, we also hear from students from a local elementary school who shared their experiences of learning without labels. Their school does not give students the idea that some students are smart or gifted and has instead shared our youcubed messages and videos about the high potential of all students to grow and change their brains. Their math community values all kinds of learners and communicates that all students have interesting and unique ideas to share. The teachers know that careful problem-solving takes time, conversation, and lots of questions from everyone. The fourth graders who are interviewed illustrate the different ideas students can develop when they are given messages of brain growth and high academic potential for everyone, rather than messages of high academic potential for only some students.
Both labels and dichotomies are damaging in education. Instead of deciding some students are “smart” or “gifted” we should acknowledge that everyone is on a growth journey and we should celebrate the growth potential of all students. “
Jo’s work is very powerful and really challenges much of the traditional thinking around many schools’ approach to providing for our gifted and talented children. Her last point in bold is very relevant. All children deserve to be challenged appropriately with the right amount of ‘stretch and tension’ to create a curriculum implementation that is built on ‘hard fun’. We must continue to pursue the aspirational goal of personalised learning for all without putting inhibiting labels on children.

Prof. Jo Boaler  Standford University.
(head image source unknown)