Friday, 9 December 2016

Schools Need to Be Fearless

Image result for pictures assessment

There are many conflicting pressures that need consideration when trying to establish and maintain a rich learning culture.
I was taken by what Iain Taylor (President, NZ Principals’ Federation) wrote in this week’s Principal’s Matter column.

“We want to develop kids who have ambition and acceptance of diversity and are disruptive thinkers, so we have to advocate for policies that enable those things to happen. If I have learned one thing this year, it is that we really do need to stop the over-emphasis on assessment and data and take control ourselves, in each of our schools, to ensure we give kids full access to a broad and exciting curriculum. We can and should be doing this. We are preparing kids for an uncertain future. Endless data gathering won't enable our teachers to be the dynamic teachers we need to help our kids be the disruptive thinkers and questioners our world requires!”

Over the last 5-10 years there has been an enormous amount of hype in the business and education world around the pace of change and what this means for our young people.
Questions such as:  How do we prepare our young people for a world beyond our imagination? How do we craft a student’s learning journey towards a job that has not yet been created?
So what are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power?

They are a collection of attitudes and behaviours. Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, abstract thinking, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as mind gym v an assembly line. The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing. This is not about getting rid of content but going deeper and providing a broader utility.

We want to prepare our children to become brave new explorers in this exciting fast paced world. A few years ago an old boy of a school I was at, won a scholarship to study in the USA for his masters in political theory.  Before he left I got him in to speak to a group of 11 year olds. He spoke about what he valued most when he was at school which was being taught to always ask questions, to be curious. He talked about his love of sport but most of all his love of art where he was encouraged to explore and create and to be fearless.

He said, “I’m extremely excited to live in one of the world’s greatest cities. (New York) And I’m confident I can foot it there. And a lot of that is because of what I learned at school, and in particular there is no such thing as a bad idea, and what I think matters. I believe what you guys think, matters too. So I say be fearless. Whatever you do, do it fearlessly.”

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.

However if data is just gathered to meet managerial expectations it becomes a ‘box ticking’ exercise stealing precious time , energy and motivation from already over stretched teachers trying to provide a future focussed curriculum. Any assessment and related data gathering has to be for the right reasons. So I really do relate to what Iain Taylor has said and encourage all of us to ‘be fearless’ and allow experience, best practice and common sense drive the learning programmes in schools.

Friday, 21 October 2016

'Need a job? Invent it!’

A little while ago an old student of mine sent me a New York Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman entitled, ‘Need a Job? Invent It!’ 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.”

People like Edward de Bono have always believed thinking and creativity are skills that can be taught and learnt! This is very evident to us as well and we believe the exponential change our children will face, demands that these skills have the same focus and currency as the core skills of numeracy and literacy.

After saying that, we can’t underestimate the importance of the basic skills and these need to be fostered with rigour drawing on the best practice available. We need a school system that values questions above answers, creativity over fact regurgitation and excellence above mediocrity.

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. 

Good questions to ask ourselves as educators are: How do we prepare our young people for a world beyond our imagination? How do we craft a student’s learning journey towards a job that has not yet been created?  What are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power?

We believe they are a collection of attitudes and behaviours. Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, abstract thinking, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as a mind gym v an assembly line. The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing. This is not about getting rid of content but going deeper and providing a broader utility.

We want to prepare our children to become brave new explorers in this exciting fast paced world. The learning to learn skill set described so far are not new features of ‘best practice’ education but they do need ongoing honing and consideration on the best way to facilitate them to our children.

Learning should be ‘hard fun’ where there is engagement, passion and purpose.

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Arts Traverse Many Boundaries

For many the arts are just a frivolous add on to the more important core curriculum of numeracy and literacy. However in reality, the arts play a powerful part in a child’s education. Richard Florida, the famous USA economist and author said, “The arts provide a conduit to the academics.” Integrating the arts into school life expands possibilities for learning and provides opportunities for problem solving, perceptual development, lateral thinking and imaginative action.  For many of us, our strongest positive memories of school are those provided by the arts (music, dance, drama, school productions, visual arts) and sport.  All these pursuits provide contexts where students need to cooperate as a team and where socializing is important.  Both are major sources of joy and achievement, providing valuable opportunities to develop leadership skills, self-esteem and cooperation which are all necessary life and workplace competencies.

The Arts also preserve the spirit of a culture.  They can inspire, comfort and enrich an experience. George Bernard Shaw, the great Irish playwright said, “The mirror to see our face, the arts to see our soul.”
Picasso had it right when he said, "Every child is an artist", but he also added, "The problem is how to remain an artist once (s)he grows up!" As I said, for some, the visual arts (and the performing arts) have been viewed as an easy alternative to the core curriculum.  What many do not consider is that the visual arts not only offer a rich opportunity to engage children in higher order thinking but are also an opportunity of teaching children to look closely to see their world. To analyse, synthesise and to create a representation that is personal, creative and expressive. The challenge is to give children the confidence to believe in their creative talent and to honour their own and others' work. Also to allow their ideas to flow freely and not allow the filters of doubt to enter their head. One only has to observe a 5 year old painting to see a truly untainted take on the world. Art naturally links so well with all aspects of the curriculum, particularly science.

In our vastly complex world, it is important we develop the capacities of our children to live meaningful lives, providing experiences which draw out intellectual capacity, emotional response, aesthetic appreciation and social responsibility.  The arts do this so well.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Hard Fun

Over my many years in education I have had the pleasure to work with some very special teachers. These teachers had two qualities that can’t really be taught: one was an intrinsic desire to seek out ‘best practice’ and the other quality was the ability to connect with children so they were fully engaged with their learning. I could go on but the point of this entry is to unpack the second quality a little more and drill down to an essential point.

The ability of a teacher to create an ‘on task’ working atmosphere used to be one of the key indicators of good classroom practice. But, as thinking and experienced educators know, ‘on task’ behaviour does not necessarily mean that the students are enjoying or getting any educational benefit out of their school work! They are just on task. A study in Australia called the Fair Go Project concluded that when students are strongly engaged they are successfully involved in tasks of high intellectual quality and have passionate or at least positive feelings about these tasks. No surprise here! Rather than just being ‘on task’ with teachers’ wishes and directions, students need to actually be ‘in task’. That is, to have some substantive engagement.

Some years ago I was talking with a teaching colleague who I valued enormously for his understanding of education and his desire to seek out ‘best practice’. He talked about an article he had read where someone was describing substantive engagement in children’s learning as ‘hard fun’. That was a real ‘a ha’ moment for me. That was so brilliantly summing up what we all know from our own learning experiences. Mostly the thing that drives us to learn is when we are intrinsically drawn to it. Around the same time one of our students came up with the phrase ‘edutainment’. This boy called Theo said the best learning is based on a series of events sneakily intertwined with education. He said “schools need to be a place of education, entertainment, friendship and memories.”

I believe Theo has got it in one. This is not a woolly or flakey approach. There has to be rigour!  The best education is ‘hard fun’---we all learn better when there is a bit of tension and stretch combined with enjoyment. This fits so well with the important concept of ‘learner agency’ where the aim is support children incrementally to take more control over their learning. “ When learners move from being passive recipients to being much more active in the learning process, actively involved in the decisions about the learning, then they have greater agency.” ( Core Education: )
The concept of ‘learner agency’ is huge, complex and powerful in the learning process. Best practice here transforms children’s learning and is central to this idea of ‘hard fun’ but more on this another time.

Monday, 8 August 2016

A Bit of Struggle is a Good Thing

I have been talking to the children about the importance of having some ‘struggle’ in our lives.
I know it is a bit of a cliché but ‘no pain, no gain’. As you know this applies to all of us.

I told them the following story I heard many years ago. I don’t know whether it is true but it hopefully helped illustrate my message.

“A little boy came upon a butterfly struggling to emerge from a chrysalis. He helped it by gently pulling the chrysalis apart. When the butterfly tried to fly, it fell to the ground and died. The strength it needed to develop to emerge from the chrysalis was the same strength it needed to fly. The boy trying to help had inadvertently made the butterfly helpless.  Sometimes we need to struggle to build up our strength to grow and develop so we can cope with what life will throw at us.”

This concept of ‘struggle’ is going to be a bit of a theme this term at Waterloo. It ties in so well with one of our key values---resilience. We are encouraging the children not to give up easily when they come across a challenge at school or in any aspect of their life but to try and overcome it themselves. These challenges will come in many forms from school work to relationship issues. There is no shame in asking for help after giving the challenge a fair go and we are encouraging the children to ask for help once they are ‘stumped’.

In our desire to be good parents and/or teachers we can step in too much and prop up children and create ‘learned helplessness’. We have to allow our children to make mistakes because from these mistakes comes a learning opportunity.

Life can be tough and if we help our children to help themselves, then we are doing them a big favour. The hard thing is to know when to step in and when to insist on more effort. Praise is so important too! Praise for trying and doing one’s personal best. It is destructive to praise mediocrity.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice inside your head that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.” (MA Radmacher)

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Inquiry as a Disposition.

Sometime ago I viewed this Sharon Freisen’s talk (online ED talks) and I was convinced that she is right. Inquiry is not something you do but it should pervade school life. It is something ongoing and should be persuasive.

Her work is inspiring and pulls together much of what underpins the inquiry model of learning.

Freisen argues that to keep the spirit of inquiry alive teachers need to challenge themselves to think more deeply about what they are doing and provoke themselves to question so this will cultivate questioning in children. We have to have something worthy that will sustain inquiry so it is not trivialised.

Through the renaissance (da Vinchi  etc) period when the microscope, telescope, printing press etc were invented, everything started by questioning.  We are at that point in history again (new technologies). We can’t say we have done inquiry or we are doing inquiry. We have to go through a transformation shift as the end product of inquiry is the awakening of a new question.

The world is totally connected. We know that the reproduction and taking on knowledge has some merit but a more valid skill today is using information to produce things. So the type of work children need to be asked to do in schools is far deeper/questioned based as we want children to build on other people’s ideas  (including the great thinkers of old) and build on their own ideas to ideally create new knowledge. Part of this is also to challenge established ideas and build new working theories.

So the types of things happening in classrooms should not be sitting to long lectures but coming to engage in deep and meaningful work. E.g archaeological study in their own community, looking at agents of chemical warfare, examining democracy around the world—e.g. is the international community democratic?  Is democracy better than a benevolent dictatorship? (incl. children’s personal Interests/questions)

We need a thinking generation, people who can develop solutions to real problems. To ask questions of things that have gone before not just to recite them. The standards of work which we hold students accountable for needs to be higher than ever—not just a set of individual standards but also what a team may aspire to. We need to somehow create an intrinsic desire to aspire to greater things (builds character), not in a selfish way but with the desire to add to global well being.

The relationship of the teacher is complex—part mentor and guide and part director as well. Teachers need to design work that introduces students to environments that may never have been considered before. 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.

Friday, 10 June 2016

What Does This Mean For Education ?

Children at Waterloo School fascinated by a 3D printer.

The below article by Dr Bob Goldman was sent to me recently by a friend. Although it is only one person's viewpoint, it does sit well with what we are experiencing on a day to day basis. Change is exponential now and you can plan for it or just be content to 'rock and roll' with change as it happens.

However, for educationalists and parents (aren't we all the same thing?) we have a responsibility to prepare our children for a world that will clearly be very different. It is an exciting time to be involved in education and I am constantly thinking about this very important challenge. Some of my previous blogs deal with what is required and I am enjoying working with a team of committed life-long learners to help our children embrace and engage with this rapidly changing world.

Nga mihi nui


In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years - and most people don't see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again? Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore's law. So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years. It will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, autonomous and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs. Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Welcome to the Exponential Age.

Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.

Uber is just a software tool, they don't own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don't own any properties.
Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected. In the US, young lawyers already don't get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice (so far for more or less basic stuff) within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So if you study law, stop immediately. There will be 90% fewer lawyers in the future, only specialists will remain. Watson already helps nurses diagnosing cancer, 4 time more accurate than human nurses. Facebook now has a pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans. By 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans.

Autonomous Cars: In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don't want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will never get a driver's license and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for that. We can transform former parking space into parks. 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 km, with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.

Most car companies may become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels. I spoke to a lot of engineers from Volkswagen and Audi; they are completely terrified of Tesla.

Insurance Companies will have massive trouble because without accidents, the insurance will become 100x cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear.
Real estate will change. Because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in a more beautiful neighborhood.

Electric cars won’t become mainstream until 2020. Cities will be less noisy because all cars will run on electric. Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can only now see the impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. The price for solar will drop so much that all coal companies will be out of business by 2025.

With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water. Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic meter. We don't have scarce water in most places, we only have scarce drinking water. Imagine what will be possible if anyone can have as much clean water as he wants, for nearly no cost.
Health: There will be companies that will build a medical device (called the "Tricorder" from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample and you breathe into it. It then analyses 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any disease. It will be cheap, so in a few years everyone on this planet will have access to world class medicine, nearly for free.

3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large number of spare parts they used to have in the past.

At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they already 3D printed a complete 6-storey office building. By 2027, 10% of everything that's being produced will be 3D printed.
Business Opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to go in, ask yourself: "in the future, do you think we will have that?" and if the answer is yes, how can you make that happen sooner? If it doesn't work with your phone, forget the idea. And any idea designed for success in the 20th century is doomed in to failure in the 21st century.

Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear if there will be enough new jobs in such a small time.

Agriculture: There will be a $100 agricultural robot in the future. Farmers in 3rd world countries can then become managers of their field instead of working all days on their fields. Agroponics will need much less water. The first Petri dish produced veal is now available and will be cheaper than cow-produced veal in 2018. Right now, 30% of all agricultural surfaces is used for cows. Imagine if we don't need that space anymore. There are several startups that will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat. It will be labeled as "alternative protein source" (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).

There is an app called "moodies" which can already tell in which mood you are. Until 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where it's being displayed when they are telling the truth and when not.

Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and might even become the default reserve currency.
Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span used to be 79 years, now it's 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by 2036, there will be more than one year increase per year. So we all might live for a long long time, probably way more than 100.

Education: The cheapest smart phones are already at $10 in Africa and Asia. Until 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smart phone. That means, everyone has the same access to world class education.

Robert M. Goldman MD, PhD, DO, FAASP
World Chairman-International Medical Commission
Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board-A4M
Founder & Chairman-International Sports Hall of Fame
Co-Founder & Chairman-World Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine
President Emeritus-National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
Chairman-U.S. Sports Academy’s Board of Visitors
FREE Health Longevity info newsletter at:

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Seed of Love

 Earlier in the week I viewed a short video which I just have to share with you.

Teachers really do matter and to work with these special people who every day have the opportunity to influence lives is extremely rewarding and humbling.

Over my teaching career I have observed many extraordinary teachers. They ‘get’ children and they care deeply for them. These teachers have an innate and sensitive understanding of the many and complex ways of how children learn and they are able to build trust and a connection which allows the child to take risks and show their individual spirit and talents. It becomes an upward spiral of success as the child grows in confidence.

These special teachers spend an inordinate amount of time reading and thinking about things that will inspire and interest their children. They encourage the children to take as much ownership of their learning as they can manage which of course is hugely motivating and empowering. Always seeking best practice, they cut through bureaucracy and keep children at the heart of learning.

I could go on but the point of this entry is to introduce you to this 3-4 minute video which is truly amazing. Enjoy!

Stephen Hawking On The Teacher That Changed His Life | #TeachersMatter