Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Design Thinking in Education - slowing down to speed up

I am enjoying the opportunity to have a foot in both camps, so to speak, one foot as a teacher and one as a facilitator. I feel this gives me a great perspective when looking to extend my own knowledge.

Today I rocked up to a Design Thinking in Education seminar as a time poor teacher with a full day of commitments ahead of me. I quickly became disillusioned with the session as I was wanting the 101 ideas for Design Thinking to use back in the class. Luckily my growth mindset kicked in and enabled me to get over myself and engage in the learning opportunity provided.

A couple of statements from the presenter really reinforced this

  • We need to slow down the process in order to speed up the thinking
  • Urgency doesn't get us anywhere
These statements were very timely and made me reflect on my work with a cluster, where I am constantly pushing to get to the actions, to be able to see and do something tangible. Luckily in that cluster I have a very sensible colleague in the form of Rebbecca Sweeney who is staunch in slowing down the process to ensure deeper thinking. I now have more clarity around the value of this approach.

I may be time poor however, I also have to put some skin in the game if I wish to develop my own knowledge around Design Thinking and reflect on this which is the reason for this blog post.

“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

Another statement that resonated with me especially with my knowledge of the Golden Circles was 

  • Have a purpose to your inquiry - my why
The purpose of attending the session today was to deepen my understanding of Design Thinking. I went in with the expectation of having some magic bullet shot into my head that would give me all the answers. This was never going to happen, however by changing my mindset about this during the session enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of Design Thinking. Reflecting now I think the 101 Design Tools for the class session I imagined would have lead to a shallow understanding of Design Thinking. 

I had already seen Design Thinking in action a couple of times and have a resource to read as well as connecting with another colleague to unpack Design Thinking some more. So in the big picture today was just another piece in the puzzle of developing my learning around Design Thinking. I would have loved to have attended the morning workshop after the seminar to continue to unpack Design Thinking.

Overall a very valuable session for me. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Politics of Distraction - Appease the Parents

Making parents happy at a political level is not necessarily in the best interest of the children. The parents are not part of their children's schooling system on a daily basis, however, they have the power as voters over the schools. 

This choice can be seen at a national level with a change of government or at a local level with parents voting with their feet and changing between school's. Hattie states that data from the OECD shows the percentage of students attending a government- funded school are dropping around the world. 

This is due to a number of reasons, the brand strength of a private school, the perception of a higher quality of education, the children meeting the right people, higher student achievement, higher in-school teacher variability at public school's.

When Hattie looked at the data of student achievement between private and public school's, it often showed little difference in student achievement between these schools, especially when the prior incoming achievement data was taken into account. I wonder if we looked at the progress of the learners from when they entered a school to completion of learning at that school whether the private school's outperformed the public schools?

Implications for Governments, Schools, and Teachers
  • Governments need to stay strong against public opinion and get the messages across to parents and the community of what actually makes a difference to student achievement. These messages must be research and evidence-based and use examples of "Pockets of Promise" happening in schools already. With the media attitude towards education in New Zealand, this would be a difficult task.
  • Remove the Decile Rating system as this create bias against a school and community.
  • School's need to continually communicate with their wider community and de-silo the school's practice around teaching and learning, creating an expectation and ethos of 'visible teaching and learning' within the school community.
  • Promote a culture of teacher learning within the school to reduce some of the variability between teacher practice, develop collaborative teacher practices so teacher's can learn off each other, provide mentoring for teachers with recognized weaknesses in their practice.
  • Teacher's need to open their classes and share their practice with the wider community, making their teaching and learning visible to the public. This can be done through Class Sites and Blogs, Parental education of the new pedagogies and technologies for learning, greater public / private relationships with opportunities for the learners to work with individuals and businesses from within the community, teachers taking the time to watch weekend sport or activities of their learners and building connections and relationships with their parents and community.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Teaching Writing with the Tools

I have had an interesting experience recently working with teachers helping them make the transition from paper-based writing sessions to digital writing. All the teachers seem to struggle with the transition, seeing the use of a Chromebook as a completely new way of writing and unsure how to engage with it.

My way of thinking is that the process still remains the same as I have blog previously, and it is just that the tool is different. There are some setup and systems required before the lesson to ensure a smooth lesson, these include creating a document and template to write in and ensuring the learners have guidance around protocols and expectations of writing in a shared document.

Once the learners and teacher get the hang of this then the writing can really start to fly. Engagement increases and ideas being shared generate a lot of quality writing.

The writing can be read back, using headphones, by text to speech tools allowing learners to hear their mistakes and lack of punctuation as the computer will only stop at a full stop or comma etc.

I have created the template as seen below which helps guide teachers that are new to digital writing. I find for myself that having a document that is used with a group for a term helps manage workflow and provides a modelling book for future reference.

I was very proud of the work one teacher did with her class, working with me on the first day and then making the connection with the writing process and using an innovative approach to have the students self-reflect on their learning by highlighting the language features in their own writing on the second day.

The learners can peer-assess their classmates by commenting on the right-hand side of the table as can the teacher by the commenting feature in a google doc.

I would see the next step being the students posting to their blog as below - 


  • understand the purpose for writing
  • Use our senses
  • use a range of  written features to engage the audience;  e.g. metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia
  • Use basic punctuation that is mostly correct;

Gurgle, slip, slop. There was some thing lurking in the misty, shadows of the dark alley way. It had five rorange tentacles that were making the slipping noises. And purple, wet flippers were making the sloping noises. When he went over to it, I nearly fainted.A skunk lurked in the room. Then I saw it's face. It had 2 sets of jagged  teeth that were pointy as iron tips, It also had 3 triangle eyes, 4 square eyes and 1 giant, fat circle eye. It had a nightmare nose that wanted revenge. In its hands was something with eyeballs in it.!!! The thing was an alien.DA DA DAAAAAAAAA!

Success Indicators -
  • My writing will paint a picture in the reader head
  • Write each sense (taste, smell, hear, sight, fell) into its own paragraph.
  • Has at least three language features, eg personification, simile, onomatopoeia, metaphor, alliteration
  • Can re-read my writing to check my punctuation

This then means the learners get an authentic audience that will hopefully comment on their work and learning.

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you — Digital Convergences for happiness

Here is a blog post I wrote for Core Education, it started off looking at happiness and ended up heading off into a lot of new learnings.

Please check out the blog post at

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you — Digital Convergences for happiness

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pulling the Weeds of Teaching and Learning - The Courageous Gardener

In many industries new knowledge and technology has enabled huge transformations of practice, think about a 1950’s dental surgery compared to one now.

Unfortunately education has not had the same social and economic drivers pushing it to remain current in the 21st century. As a result of this and the increase in availability of knowledge through technology a large percentage of students are not engaged by the industrial model of education. Through technology students can now choose when and how they access their learning. Often this technology and new knowledge including about learning is limited at education institutes due to the historical norms and assumptions.
As learners, educators and leaders we need to have the courage to push back against historical norms and assumptions that are prevalent in education and pull some of these "weeds" out of the educational garden to help improve student learning.
Possible examples of weeds could be :
  • a bell will determine length of learning and a timetable will determine what you are learning
  • students shall be organised by year of birth
  • Data use is a task for leadership not teachers
  • Students need to know content
  • Students and teachers need a long Christmas break
  • Teachers teaching alone and to groups of 25-30 students works best
  • subjects need to be separated out to be taught
  • Students can not use their Smartphones or devices at school
  • Teachers need to be in control of the learning
  • Data is only used to group children
However for this to occur:
  • we embrace the vision of “ will it make the student learn better?”
  • we pull the weeds of “busyiness” and look towards our main business of improving student and teacher learning by challenging the historical mindsets and assumptions.
  • increase student agency and engagement.
  • desilo teacher practise and set aside ample time for collaborative data use and planning.
  • get students, teachers and leaders all to analyse data to improve outcomes.
  • build a culture that focuses on trust and improvement, rather than blame
  • give teams the professional development and support they need around data literacy and evidence

Schools in the past were designed on the premise that the student was a mug and the teacher was the jug. The teacher was used to pour knowledge into their students heads in order for the learners to all come out of school the same and prepared for working in mass produced, production style jobs. These mass production line style jobs are now fewer and fewer and the creation of new knowledge is getting faster and faster and is very easy to access. How as a teacher do you determine what knowledge you should be pouring into the heads of your students, when new content is created every minute and students can access that knowledge 24/7 through a variety of mediums often learning more outside the school gates.

I often think now in education we have missed the boat so to speak and confuse “busyiness” with business.

Sir Peter Blake is well remembered for his vision for the 1995 America’s Cup challenge “will it make the boat go faster?”(Childress 2011). He often challenged his colleagues with that question and if the answer was no they stopped doing that action. Of course in education there is no boat however there is the lifelong learner and perhaps we need to rework Sir Peter Blake’s vision to “will it make the student learn better?”

I would argue that education is due for a transformation, from teachers always being the “sage on the stage” with all the knowledge to becoming “guide on the side” at times, supporting learners to gain the expertise to access and use knowledge.

Teachers need to start challenging some of the historical assumptions to ensure the vision of  “will it make the student learn better?” is embedded into schools decision making. The ability to challenge this assumptions and beliefs will be driven by data use and strong inquiry cycles. It will require teachers, schools and the Ministry of Education to reflect on present day schools and ask "does this practice make students learn better, where is the evidence?"

This transformation will include looking at the role of the teacher and school ensuring that we meet our obligations as part of the New Zealand Curriculum Vision of creating young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners (TKI, 2007). Our role will need to change from one of being an individual delivering content in siloed classrooms to a more collaborative, time rich, connected educator that understands and uses a range of data effectively
(Vickers, 2014).

Potentially data driven decision making and  knowledge building cycles are a way we can change historical assumptions and mindsets within schools and classrooms and begin to drive towards transformation within education leading to a greater engagement of students.

●       data needs to be seen as a tool to inform teaching and learning, and not as a tool for labelling or grouping learners.
●      There has to be teacher and leader education around data literacy, task creation and analysis of the information provided from the task.
●      There has to be analysis that includes conversations with staff involved to unpack the data.
●      Teachers must see themselves as learners and be self reflective, willing to change their own mindsets, historical assumptions and practices if necessary.
●      Cycles of evidence based inquiry must be engaged by the school to build the skills and knowledge required (Timperley, 2009).

Data and inquiry cycles are seen as an important part of transformation of teacher and school practice, however a lot of educators have the opinion that “Data use is a task for school leaders, and not teachers. My job is to teach and to take care of the children in my classroom” (Mandinach, 2012).
This opinion is often reinforced as teachers are tasked to collect and record data onto student management systems that are very time consuming and often seen as irrelevant to their teaching and students learning. Usually data is required at a national level to measure a school's performance rather than to improve its practice.

To begin to transform teachers, classrooms and schools, mindsets around data need to change. Teachers and leaders must learn how best to improve student learning by using data to inquire into their own practice, and then understand the impact of that practice.
Educators often look at the learner and ask “how can we change the way they learn” instead of thinking “what can I do differently in my practice to educate this learner”.

Regularly teachers “evidence-based” decision making beliefs and assumptions are due to a lack of data literacy and the ability to analyse and think critically about the data. When working with school’s on Teaching as Inquiry professional learning, questions around “what could the evidence look like?” are frequently asked. In our New Zealand Education system there seems to be a lack of professional learning around what is relevant data and data literacy for our inservice teachers and also our preservice training providers.

The cry of teachers stating a lack of time due to a number of factors will be a thing of the past once:
By driving the decisions within a school, based on appropriate, high quality data and following a knowledge building cycle, we can look at practices within a school and hope to answer the question “will it make the student learn better?” If the answer is no, we therefore must challenge our practices and determine if the practices are simply weeds that require pulling from the educational garden.

Childress, John, R. (2011, September 27). Will it make the boat go faster? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from
Mandinach, E. B. (2012). A Perfect Time for Data Use: Using Data-Driven Decision Making to Inform Practice. Educational Psychologist. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.667064
Timperley, H. (2009, August). Using assessment data for improving teaching practice. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Conference.
Vickers, I. (2014, March). The uphill battle for teacher wellbeing. Education Review Series, Retrieved from APN Educational Media