Recruit the Restless

As Seth Godin points out in the blog post link below – change is never going to come from those who signed up for the status quo, for certainty, for an environment within which getting everything right is the expected norm.

Seth Godin Blog Post – In Search of Familiarity

In fact, worse, it’s not enough to just recruit good people who believe that they are ‘safe hands’ to educate children. Not only will these people not initiate change, they will resist it by every means at their disposal. They’ll demand data and evidence in bucketloads. And, even when you produce evidence they’ll have to refute it, doubt it and ultimately fall back on, “my way has served well in the past.”

This is almost certainly the reason why we’ve gone so many years since Dr Ken Robinson spoke up in the first TED conference about what needed to change in education if we were to avoid short changing a generation of youngsters in their preparation for a vastly different world, yet we have really seen so very little change. In fact, when we see the obsessive zeal applied to the gathering and endless tweaking of data, we have to suspect that people have inadvertently set about entrenching and solidifying the existing ways of doing things. Too many have convinced themselves that the old way is perfect, provided we can just measure more, gather more data and carry out more assessment.

Instead of humanising an education of curiosity, creativity and engagement with thew world around, we’ve sought incremental improvements in the existing systems by focusing on turning children in to so many data points to be graphed and mapped through to academic success.

The curious, the challengers, the restless – they do show their faces in the education world, but too often in programmes like Teach for America, Teach for India, Teach for Malaysia. They stay for a couple of years, but too often see that they’re never really going to change the system, so treat it as an interesting experience before they head off to other fields where change is more accepted.

We have to figure out how to get more restless people in to our profession, and then keep them here long enough to make a difference.

Schools of Possibility and Hope

The Schools We Don’t Want

There are plenty of people ready to speak out about the type of schooling we no longer want, the industrial model education of yesterday that gets perpetuated in slightly altered forms despite the weight of voices to speak out against it. I’m as guilty as the next man for this. Prominent people who’ve stressed the need to get away from this model include Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson and now George Monbiot, British writer on politics and society;

The Guardian – George Monbiot – In the Age of Robots, Our Schools Are Teaching Our Children to be Redundant

George Monbiot is a respected writer on society, politics and a prominent columnist on important issues. In the article, with perfect justification, he attacks the industrial model of education, the gaps between what’s going on in too many schools today and the skills young people need to really flourish in the Twenty First Century and the relevance and applicability of much of the knowledge being crammed in to children. He also does a reasonable job of highlighting some of the reasons why, despite all the protests, little changes.

However, it’s when Monbiot, like many other commentators before him, comes to the alternatives that we see one of the reasons why change is so difficult. He gives a number of examples – giving students ipads, taking them out in to nature, imaginary project tasks, Reggio Emilia but for many educators, parents and even the politicians the sheer variety of these different options seems to be what daunts them and eventually causes them to settle for little tweaks around the edge of the existing industrial paradigm model.

For example – if we take the ‘getting back to nature’ idea, I know plenty of urban brought up children for whom this would be a minor form of hell. They would be uncomfortable with dirt, uncertainty, potential dangers and risks. Some might also be unsettled by the uncertainty of purpose, with the result that their learning in that environment is very limited and they just count off the time until they can get back inside a building.

Taking the artificially constructed projects idea, I was recently intrigued by the ideas developed by Marc Prensky (the man who came up with the terms – digital natives and digital immigrants) in his book – “Education to Better Their World.” He sees a future where a great deal of children’s school time is spent on real projects with real implications and real impacts. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how such an approach would work, yet. But, it’s going to be fascinating to follow through on those ideas.

At one point, Monbiot’s article becomes more about teachers than children. I’m afraid i don’t buy in to his ideas that if you just leave teachers to do whatever they wish and go individually in whatever direction they choose, this will deliver the answers. With justification, parents and society cannot accept that the educational outcomes for an individual child become a mere lottery and a game of chance determined by who happens to be their teacher. We also cannot be naive that teaching is ‘a calling’ and a passion for every teacher in every classroom. For an enormous number it’s a job choice out of a variety. In such circumstances, we need clarity in our expectations, we need accountability and a strong commitment to supporting the learning and continuous improvement of the educators.

I don’t claim that I’ve got all the answers any more than anyone else as to exactly how a the most ideal school education programme should look going forward. However, I believe for all of us collaboratively, the answers lie in developing our understanding of the world our children are growing up in, their needs for the future; emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually (in the broadest sense). The child and their interrelationship with their world now in the future should drive our decision making.

Selling The Future

As educators, when we talk to parents about our schools, our approaches to education and what should matter most in the education of children, we need to talk a lot about the future – the future of the child, the future of the world we are preparing the child to live in and how that child can be helped to have the maximum chances of success in that future. So, for example, we talk about the vital importance of developing the skills of being a lifelong learner. This doesn’t just impact our communication with parents, but also with teachers.

That’s a massive problem for us because, as Seth Godin makes clear in this blog post – the future doesn’t sell, but the present does.

Seth Godin blog – It’s Almost Impossible to Sell the Future

So, while we’re earnestly selling parents on the idea of their child’s long lifespan, the likelihood of multiple careers, need for flexibility, resilience, lifelong learning and re-learning skills etc., the parent just wants to ask, “What did my child score on this week’s Maths test?” Further, teachers are very often sold on the idea that their work only has real meaning and motivation for them if they’re engaged in activities that show immediate response – can I see that this child is better at using adjectives this week than last week, is the class better at reciting their seven times tables this week than they were at the end of last term?

I firmly believe that this is one of the biggest hurdles that gets in the way of the kind of reforms that education needs. Whilst those of us who’ve studied hard, worked to understand the latest research, strived to understand where the leading experts tell us the world is going in the future and then put in the tough work to figure out what that should mean for reforming education are, to some extent, destined to find many of the most important messages falling on deaf ears with the key stakeholders we need to carry with us.

They all want to know what’s appealing, shiny, new and now. In these circumstances, we shouldn’t be surprised that when schools are marketing or even when educators are sitting around planning together, the talk is almost entirely about how we can do what we do today, just a little bit better. This incrementalism feels comfortable to all concerned, but in a world that is changing as fast as ours, it may be doing a massive disservice to our children and producing a generation of children for whom it will be a matter of luck and exposure as to who is able to take most advantage and succeed. There would be way too many students lead to believe that if they diligently apply themselves as the teachers and their parents tell them, produce good scores and grades, that the world will be theirs. When they discover this isn’t the case, they’re going to feel sorely cheated.

Teachers have their motivation tied to seeing short term gains in children’s learning. So, focusing on the children’s acquisition of ‘stuff’ is inevitable. Parents and school leaders are also happy to focus on these things because they provide easy, simple and immediate measures for accountability. “How else would we know if the teacher is doing their job effectively?” they might all ask.

The challenge is that we need to find the right ways to steer our children’s education in an effective direction that provides a meaningful preparation for the future and the longer term, by carrying teachers and parents with us. This is a hard message to sell, and we’re going to need new ways to do that. The easy way out would be to settle for incrementalism and work to introduce a few future focused elements in an education approach which remains short-termist. However, I believe this would be to fail our children and we have to figure out how to make the future more appealing, believable and

K-12 Technophobes Rule !

If you read this blog post, you might get an insight in to a fascinating little secret from within the realm of k-12 education. You see, in most countries of the world there’s been a vast investment (billions of dollars) in Information technology – sometimes broadened to Information Communication Technology (ICT).

So, what’s the secret? The clues are in the following article written by a prominent US educator;

Get Schooled Blog – Atlanta Journal Constitution – Article – New Study – Students Use Technology Everywhere But School

Across the world, in rich and poorer countries alike, in state and private sectors, billions of dollars have been invested in hardware, software, training etc. related to ICT – and in too many places, the children never get to really use it effectively! The article highlights a couple of important issues;
a) training teachers to use ICT and purchasing hardware/ software etc. doesn’t mean that anything very significant or substantial will have changed for the children (they get a more professional looking worksheet!). Seeing teachers using technology shouldn’t be mistaken for believing that the learning process has changed for the pupils.
b) teachers today are still, to a great extent and in many places, fixated on issues of ‘control’. The issues of being the ‘sage on the stage’ are still very much alive and refuse to die. As a result, all the time teachers see putting IT in the hands of the children as a loss of control, then the greater the likelihood that little will change.

On the latter point, I well remember, not so very long ago, the school i came across where a one to one tablet programme had been introduced. After some parent complaints it was discovered that many of the teachers were in the habit of collecting the tablets from the pupils “so that we can all concentrate.” Then, they would tell them, “If you’re very good, I’ll let you play on the tablets for 20 minutes before you go for lunch.”

Clearly, when so many of us started to get truly excited by the potential for what ICT can do and be in the classroom, how it can be a vehicle for personalisation of the learning experience previously only dreamed of – this was not what we were looking for.

We’ve seen ample evidence of what can happen, across countless countries with the introduction of interactive white boards. These, as teaching and learning tools, had great potential to bring real enhancements to the learning process, student attention and motivation, understanding and speed of learning. However, the problems all too often started with the fact that the decisions to install such boards came from a marketing position rather than an educational position. The net result was that when they got used almost entirely as an extension of the teacher’s ‘showing and telling’ traditional methodologies, nobody really batted an eyelid. sadly, as a result, they became very expensive white elephants, paid for through school fees.

The earlier article alludes to something that I’ve personally witnessed in this as in many other scenarios in schools – in the words of the great Peter Drucker, “Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.” Where ICT has been used genuinely to change the way learning happens, to bring real personalisation it’s been because an individual or a handful of individuals were prepared to change things despite the system (not necessarily because of it!) It takes a certain degree of zeal to ride out the problems and challenges, to question and challenge oneself and to step out of comfort zones to try new things.

As long ago as 2011, it was very clear to me that these enthusiastic pioneers existed and were doing work that really mattered to change education, as evidenced by one of my blog posts from that time:

Mark Parkinson Blog – Get in on the Global Action For Free

The Global Collaboration In Learning referred to in that article is still very much active and bringing amazing educators together to share ideas and creativity around the ideas of utilizing ICT to change the way children learn;

Global Education Conference

Incidentally, those interested will see that the next conference is due to take place from Sunday 13th November to Wednesday 16th November, online, free of charge – certainly a great opportunity to put in the diary. From the website it’s also possible to dip in to the vast archive of material from the past conferences.

The driving forces behind all these initiatives have included many people. However, one who has long stood out for me as a pioneer and a tireless worker to share information about educators bringing real innovation and change is Steve Hargadon. Here’s an article from a couple of years ago sharing some of his concerns about what’s wrong with education today and why we need to be looking to bring about real change:

Mindshift – KQED – Steve Hargadon – Escaping The Education Matrix

Among many other things Hargadon has been responsible for one of the most prolific series of podcasts with interviews with educators who are making a difference. You can get access to the archive here;

Future of Education – Past Interviews

A vast range of interviews going back to 2006/07!

The reality is that too much of what’s happening in education today is not serving children well. Too many could benefit from education that treats them as individuals and enables them to learn in ways that are more appropriate for them. It’s time to find the monomaniacs, to share their stories and ideas and to multiply their numbers. There should be no prizes for simply doing ‘yesterday’s education’ but doing it incrementally 1% better. We have to be ready to reform and to rebuild the plane whilst flying at 35,000 feet.

Long Life Changes Everything

For nearly 10 years now I’ve been telling parents something that I know many of them struggled to get their heads around. Mostly, I’ve saved this message for parents of children in Kindergarten and Primary classes. My argument is a simple one. If your child is going to live more than 100 years on this planet, what should be changing in our thinking about how we prepare children for such a life?

One of the reasons parenting is such a challenge for so many is that the temptation is to see our children’s lives as an extension and a progression on the experiences of our own lives. However, in a world that’s changing as fast as ours, that generally is a big mistake. So, I understand that the first reason so many glaze over when I talk about children living to 100 is that when adults look at their own lives and those of their parents, it doesn’t seem possible. However, this article from the Telegraph shows that, quite frankly, I might be being too conservative with an age expectation of 100 – maybe we already need to be getting our heads around the idea of 110 or even 120!

Telegraph – World’s First Anti-Ageing Drug Could See Humans Live to 120

Inevitably (just think who reads the Telegraph!), the article focuses on the more immediate life change implications of this drug for people who are already in their middle ages or older. However, as an educator, my mind immediately turns to the implications further out in time for the young people who are now undergoing education and how we need to change our perspectives and approaches to education.

Since the start of the Twentieth Century education has been almost entirely a process that stats around age 3-6 and ends in the early twenties or earlier for the vast majority of people. Most countries use the law to force parents and children to stay in the process until age 16 or in some cases age 18. What a strange state of affairs that is – legal coercion is necessary to make people do something that’s supposed to be essential to prepare the individual to lead a successful and productive life. All of this may well have (sort of) worked in the time of a life span of three score years and ten (70).

If you were going to live at least 50% longer, how much would that change? Where would be the tearing hurry to start hot-housing children so early? Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow them to play, to learn at their own pace and naturally develop the neural networks that will support their future learning? Shouldn’t we all be going the Scandinavian way and delaying the start of formal education until age 6 or even 7?

Even after that, when you have so much time available, learning deep rather than broad makes more sense. Also, greater emphasis on developing the skills of independent learning – being a lifelong learner become critical. There’s time for so much more focus on the development of ‘soft skills’ and skills for life that are of use across a whole variety of professions or life areas.

How soon does it make sense to start narrowing down and specialising? Right now, children as young as 14 are pressured to make decisions that will narrow their future choices by deciding what subjects they will study. Wouldn’t we better allowing personal motivation and interest to define what is learned and for how long?

When you consider how much has changed in the world in the last 110 years, how much change would a person see who is going to live through the next 110? How much flexibility would they require? How much resilience?

Most have seen education as a preparation for an economically productive life. How long will that economically productive period last? Plainly the idea of stopping working at 60 years will be a nonsense. Also, if the drugs available mean that people are that much healthier at older ages, then there would be no sense in withdrawing ones contribution from the world at such a young age. Quite frankly, I already believe that doesn’t make sense today.

In recent months I’ve seen a number of studies from different countries regarding people’s attitudes to work, professional life and the role of what they do to be economically productive in their lives. All indicate, give or take a few percentage points, levels of disengagement in the workplace exceeding 70%. I have a separate article that I’m in the process of putting together on the subject of work and how we perceive it, so won’t go in to a lot of detail here. Fr the purposes of this article though, I suggest that if our ‘productive’ stage of life is more likely to be 60 years than 35, shouldn’t we be bringing children up with healthier attitudes and feelings towards work, expending effort – in short a complete change of mindset towards the meaning of work? That starts with favouring the pursuit of goals and visions that are meaningful to the individual – that people do work that matters to them. It also requires a massive raising of the bar on the way people in workplaces are lead. Leadership skills need to go to a whole new level.

In short, if trained and permitted to follow their dreams, people can really learn to love work and find it an engaging and exciting part of their lives.

My final thought on this – longer life span becomes a strong case to stop the process of schooling being a massive filtering mechanism from which people are sifted in to future life streams according to arbitrary factors related to passing examinations. Instead, education has to focus on every pupil, as an individual, being set on a path to live and fulfill their potential and make their best contribution to the world around them in all respects.

In the face of such massive changes in human lives, the changes in education can’t just be about incremental tinkering around the edges. That’s just like rearranging the deckchairs as the Titanic sinks below the waves. We need to be fundamentally questioning, challenging and inventing anew if we are to meet the needs of people leading a new kind of life.

5 Changes for 5 Years

here’s an article from Fast Company that explores five ways that education is likely to change in the next 5 years.

Fast Company – 5 Big Ways Education Will Change By 2020

To me, the big takeaway (no real surprise), is that education isn’t yet fully changing in response to technological changes and advances – but isn’t going to be able to resist for ever. If the education delivered is to be relevant and effectively prepare young people for the world of today, then the impact and change from technology is going to be far greater than we’ve seen so far.

And the other one that struck a chord – student voice will be listened to! Well, plenty have talked about that for a long time. It would be great to see, but I’m still not holding my breath about that one!!