Feed the Hungry: Applying design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning

This blogpost is a written version of the ULearn presentation I gave on 8 October 2015, as the culmination of my CORE eFellowship research. 

 

Here I will seek to share some insights into my research as part of my CORE Education eFellowship where I wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

By way of an ultra-brief introduction to design thinking, it is a process or methodology of problem finding and creative problem solving that seeks to keep users at its centre. There are various iterations of the process, but the d.School in Stanford, and the NoTosh representations have been most influential in my thinking.

For the purposes of this research, I have focused on the design thinking mindsets, and these have particularly informed my professional learning facilitation in my current capacity as the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) at The Mind Lab by Unitec.

In this role I facilitate a 32 week programme, the first 16 weeks comprise weekly four hour, face-t0-face sessions, ultimately working towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning). I joined The Mind Lab because I was hugely inspired by its founder, Frances Valintine, and her vision of having 10,000 teachers complete the course in the next five years. To me, this represents a real tipping point, a disruption to the New Zealand education system.

Hence, when it came to choose a particular focus from the design thinking mindsets for my research, I gravitated towards ‘bias towards action’ – it wouldn’t be enough for me to contribute towards this disruptive vision with ideas, something tangible and concrete would need to come from the teachers who complete their DCL. I was going to change the world one classroom at a time.

I figured that, if that was my aim, then I had better learn about what makes for effective professional learning. I started with the Timperley et al (2007) Best Evidence Synthesis. And immediately came to a crashing halt. I felt there was a certain arrogance in my role as facilitator – was I assuming I knew better than the teachers who willingly give their precious time to this professional learning opportunity? Were we being upfront with teachers about our assumption/expectation that a shift in their practice is needed? Other facilitators seemed to be provocative, to play the role of devil’s advocate, but I felt I didn’t have the stories or the experience to do that. And isn’t that a bit rude anyway? Who was I as a facilitator?

After thrashing around in the dark for a fair bit, I decided I needed to come back to first principles – those of the design thinking mindsets. What I realised/remembered was that empathy is key to design thinking – it’s actually what separates design thinking from other inquiry or problem-based learning models. Design thinking is user-centred design; it is a deeply human process. I felt much more comfortable with this, but still harboured a secret desire to disrupt…while disliking the word itself…

Then, the amazing Louise Taylor, one of our CORE Education research mentors, handed me the phrase that set me back on the path: “disrupt with humility”. It suddenly all made sense to me. Focus on respectful practice. This aligned perfectly with both my personal and professional values.

So the arc of my research process went like this: reflecting on my own practice and blogging about it; a ‘goldilocks’ survey to find out what the teachers thought I should do more of/less of/was doing just right; listen to teachers to hear their stories, and from this conduct interviews to hear some particular stories in more depth. I unpacked these interviews to tease out ways in which we might disrupt with humility.

Disrupt with Play

I don’t think we value play nearly enough as a powerful learning experience for adults. Every session at The Mind Lab includes a ‘play’ element, and design thinking itself, I have come to see thanks to Keryn Davis, is playing with ideas. In a dedicated design thinking session, one of the teachers on the course, Imogen Warren, was so struck by the process that the following week she instigated a challenge with her class: ‘How might we make Room 9 even better?’ One conclusion the class reached was to have an Imagination Club. The design thinking session sparked a creative force in the class whereby learners are now actively encouraged to explore their creativity and individuality – and thus Imogen reports that it “changed the culture of the class in an afternoon.”

Similarly, another teacher reported that by experiencing a live, hands-on demonstration of a Twitter chat facilitated by me and Tim Gander, Education Director of The Mind Lab in Gisborne one Wednesday evening, this sparked the realisation that Twitter can be a powerful source of professional learning. So much so, that he returned to his own school to spread the word amongst his colleagues.

Disrupt with Dialogue

There is immense power in conversation, humour, asking questions, following tangents. One teacher spoke of how being with a colleague on the course, and car-pooling with this person drove her back onto the path of being interested in leadership. The opportunity for critical reflection and to develop critical friendships was seminal. In fact, the time to converse with fellow teachers, to network across the educator sector, to build a community of practice, was a key theme emerging from the goldilocks survey. Teachers want to connect, to converse, to share their stories, and this is what is most valuable to their learning.

Disrupt with Time

Thus the connector between the themes in my research became obvious to me: time. It takes time to play, to think, to talk, to discuss, to reflect. While the individual stories the teachers generously shared with me were all very different, the concept of having the time to embark on a learning journey came through loud and clear. Because it takes time to learn. We have this myth of a sudden ‘eureka’ moment, but we know this flash of insight or inspiration rarely comes like this. Instead ideas develop iteratively, as a ‘slow hunch‘, combining, building, colliding, from which deep learning occurs.

And these teachers’ stories disrupted my thinking. What were the implications of espousing respectful practice? I began to examine my own assumptions, starting with the very title of this research: ‘Feed the Hungry’ which comes from the phrase ‘feed the hungry; don’t water the stones’. I also referred in my research outlines to ‘willing and curious’ teachers. Who was I to call some teachers ‘stones’? Who was I to judge some teachers as ‘willing’ and thus position others as ‘unwilling’? Where was the respect, the empathy, in that? I began to wonder about the language we use to refer to the so-called ‘resistant teachers’.

Maurie Abraham, principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School, gave me a new analogy. What if we ‘invited teachers on the bus?’ He spoke of inviting teachers on a learning journey, on a bus. They could wait at the bus stop if they so chose, but the bus was on a public transport loop and would come around again. At which point, they would be invited on the bus. This warm but demanding metaphor fits much more comfortably with my need for respectful, empathetic practice.

So what have I learned about design thinking as a tool to invigorate teachers’ professional learning? I have come to realise that learning is a deeply emotional experience – it sits right at the heart of who we are as people. Design thinking takes empathy as its core tenet – it has a human-centred focus – and this is why the two fit together so beautifully.

Really, I have come back to where I started: how might we invite teachers on the bus?

List

Acknowledgments

Advertisements

Introducing the “Imagination Club”

As a teacher, you don’t necessarily know what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It’s the same as a facilitator.

Being passionate about design thinking, it would come as no surprise that I leapt at the chance to shape a design thinking session for our postgrads completing the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec. What was a joyous surprise to me, however, was how warmly it was received by the Wellington teachers when we ran this session in June.

Even more exciting though was when, the following week, one of the teachers kindly let me know that not only had she gone away and trialled a design thinking process with her class, but it had been extremely successful.

The question Imogen posed for her class at Tawa Intermediate was: How might we make Room 9 even better? And out of that, the Imagination Club was born. Two students lead the club, which has been timetabled into a weekly slot. Initially, students were asked to ‘audition’ by drawing something from their own imagination. One of the lead students sidled up to Imogen as everyone was sketching to quietly let her know that everyone would actually be allowed in.

GetAttachmentRecently, the Imagination Club finished their first project: creating a class mascot. Named, rather appropriately, Sparkle, the mascot is testament to the students’ self-direction, ability to sustain their interest, engagement and, of course, imagination, over an extended period of time. I was lucky enough to visit the Imagination Club in their planning phase.

But, even more than this, is the way Imogen reports how this design thinking challenge has marked a real turning point in the learning journey of the class. She told me how it “fostered…spawned…[a] kind of creative force in the class.” Students are now actively encouraged to put their own creative spin on any activity. In this way, creativity and individuality have become honoured. Design Thinking “put a spotlight on a new path” – one of “being creative and embracing their [the students’] own individuality”. Imogen believes that the challenge “changed the culture of a class in an afternoon.”

Powerful, inspiring stuff.

So, what are the implications of this, beyond the obvious reported success of design thinking in the classroom? Imogen herself says that, for her, it was the suspension of judgement, particularly in the ideation phase, that attracted her attention.

  • ‘Yes, and…’ is an empowering phrase.

This story of the Imagination Club has also helped me to reflect on my own practice as a facilitator, and given more fuel to my fire that design thinking is a way to play – to play with ideas.

  • We don’t value the power of play in adult learning, and perhaps we should.

And we can never truly predict, not as teacher, not as a facilitator, what will make an impact on others. Therefore it is always important to treat others with empathy, and to offer opportunities to learn in a multitude of ways.

  • Teaching is about opening doors.

What’s the Beef with Research?

Research is scary. It’s inaccessible, it’s technical, it’s wordy and jargon-filled, it’s formal, it’s cold. And it has nothing to do with me, a practising teacher at the chalk-face. There is a gaping divide between theory (read: research) and practice (read: my classroom). One does not inform the other, and I don’t need it even if I did have the time to conduct or read some research. Actually, on the whole, education as an academic pursuit is a pretty dubious area.

This has definitely been my attitude towards educational research for quite some time, harking right back to my days as a university student studying towards my DipT and BEd. While some of the papers I did were of academic interest to me, basically I saw them as a necessary evil to complete in order to get into the classroom.

So it came as a little bit of a shock to discover that, as a 2015 eFellow, I was expected to conduct research. The application hinted at it, and I wasn’t put off by pitching a project or an area for inquiry, but conducting research… that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Right?

Right from our first hui I was confronted by language I wasn’t familiar with. Research design, methodology, ethics, qualitative data, action research… everybody else seem to understand these words in context. Not me. I was politely nodding and hoping they’d go away. They were scary and cold. I wanted to change the world, not be herded into scientific boxes of hypothesis, aim and findings. I’d had enough of that during high school science, thank you very much.

But, it was expected, and I’m good at following instructions and doing what I’m told, so here is my research design. And my final reference list.

And then, it just started to flow.

Indulge in the reading I love to do. Listen to the stories of the teachers around me. Think and reflect on my practice. Write blogposts. Talk to colleagues. Wonder. Learn.

This kind of research isn’t cold and clinical. It is very much about people. It doesn’t overwhelm with facts and figures, but engages the heart to engage the mind. I think it’s more transformative because it is a human-centred process.

And this connection for me is key. Research mimics a design thinking process. Immersing yourself in stories (the scary research word is data). Making connections and synthesising wonderings. Considering possible outcomes, what the implications are for other practitioners. Ideating, prototyping, seeking feedback.

I can see now why research is appealing to me. The things that I love about design thinking turn out to be the same things that make me a good researcher: the security and framework of a process, but the flexibility and creativity to go where ever the wonderings take you. It’s messy, but organised. It’s imaginative and constrained. It’s hard fun.

Image Source

So I challenge you, if you have thought like me, that research is scary and scientific and irrelevant, to confront those assumptions, and to overlay design thinking mindsets of empathy, of radical collaboration, of prototyping, of bias towards action. The teaching as inquiry cycle in The New Zealand Curriculum is a research design model, and I encourage you to consider it as such and to welcome the process in order to be a creative teacher as researcher.

How might embracing research transform your practice?

Manaakitanga

This one’s for you, Dad.

One of the really important things my Dad has taught me is that you should treat everyone the same. For him, he sees no difference between the farmers, the scientists, and the academics he works with. Everyone has their own story and their own experience and thus are due respect.

I think this kind of appreciation for the individual is part of what makes up manaakitanga. During our most recent eFellows hui in Wellington, Deanne Thomas presented us with several challenges, one of which was around what manaakitanga and whanaungatanga looks like in schools, and looks like in a digital environment.

A seed of an idea has been slowly growing in my mind since then, and it wasn’t until last week that it finally sprouted a bit.

On Friday I had the great privilege of visiting Paraparaumu College and meeting its inspirational principal, Gregor Fountain. He was able to clearly articulate for me his vision for the College. This vision, to me, captures in a coherent and compelling way the connection between e-learning, culturally responsive practices, and nurturing positive relationships: relational pedagogy.

And these weren’t just edu-babble buzz words, either. The commitment to this path, and the care and respect for each individual in the school was immediately obvious to me. Gregor knew the name of each student we came across on our tour of the school, and asked each one something particular to them which showed me he knew them. The same thoughtful and respectful nature was extended to me, as a visitor, and to his staff. This genuine interest was sincere and natural.

It reminded me of my Dad. It made me think about manaakitanga. And it made me reflect on my own learning journey this year.

Image source

e-Learning is not about technology, it is, among other things, about access to information. Teachers are no longer required as content experts. Their job is to work alongside learners to help them navigate knowledge for themselves. Some teachers might find this threatening or confronting. That is understable. But instead of viewing ourselves as redundant, we should view ourselves as more important than ever, because what is left when we take information out of the teacher-student equation? Relationships.

In a similar kind of way, my exploration of design thinking this year as part of my eFellowship inquiry has led me to the same conclusion. I started with a hiss and a roar, wanting to inspire teachers to take arms against the education system and to transform it, one classroom at a time. I wanted a bias towards action. How to spark this revolution though, was at odds with who I am as a practitioner, and as my father’s daughter. It is rude to assume I know better than others. Disrupting with humility and respect was much more authentic to me. The emphasis shifted to where it should have been all along: empathy. Design thinking is first and foremost a human-centred approach.

And this is what my Dad has been teaching me, and this is what I witnessed at Paraparaumu College last week. As I have previously stated, to me big picture is really small picture. Systems must keep the individual firmly at their centre, otherwise they become bureaucracies only interested in sustaining themselves. In order to do this, a system must be flexible, adaptable, responsive. It must put the emphasis on relationships, on manaakitanga, on whanaungatanga.

He aha te mea nui?

He tangata

He tangata

He tangata

From Quagmire to (some) Clarity

The eFellows learning journey continues!

A fortnight ago I was struggling to write the first draft of my abstract for ULearn. I have written abstracts for conference (research) papers before. And it would be fair to say I pretty much hate the practice. In Design Thinking terms, how on earth can I talk about where I’ve got to while I’m still in the immersion stage? And ‘immersion’ would be a very polite term for how I was feeling. Stuck in the mud of seemingly disparate ideas. Floundering to find footing. Lost.

I managed to bang something out (but you know you’re in despair when you start doing word counts on the eFellows14 abstracts to compare to your own) and was actually reasonably happy with it. Then it came time to firm the abstract up for submission. Cue wheels well and truly falling off.

It was time for desperate measures. I took myself off to one of the ‘phone boxes’ in the CORE Education Wellington office. I remained standing and looked hard at the messy ideas I had.

The two ideas that have really stopped me in my tracks during this learning journey have been:

  1. Design Thinking as play, and the role of play-based learning for adults. (Which has lead me onto a tangent as to what constitutes effective professional learning, and exploring the perceived differences between pedagogy and andragogy.)
  2. How the goal of disrupting teachers’ preconceived ideas about their practice conflicts with being respectful. This has lead me to re-evaluate my Design Thinking pedagogy and shift my personal emphasis from ‘bias towards action’ to ’empathy’.

And then – how on earth to mesh all this together with my original inquiry question of: How I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens?

<Insert scream here.>

Luckily, as always, our amazing mentor Louise Taylor, had handed me the key by way of introducing us to the phrase: Disrupt with Humility.

<Insert angels’ choir and clouds parting here.>

Suddenly, on a square of blue note paper, it all fell together. My Design Thinking principles have shifted to put empathy at the centre. This allows me to work in a respectful way aligned with my personal morals and values. I can disrupt, but with humility. And for me, often times, this incorporates the element of play and fun. Design Thinking as a process aligns with this as it’s all about opening up conversations, being human-centred and creative; playing with ideas. When we’re having fun, even if it’s hard fun, we are engaged and motivated. In turn, hopefully, this prompts us to trial new things in our teaching context, and hence take action.

GetAttachment

So, in case you’re interested, my abstract is complete and submitted, and here it is:

Feed the Hungry: Applying Design Thinking Principles to Invigorate Teachers’ Professional Learning

In this presentation I will share some insights into my research as part of my 2015 CORE Education eFellowship where I have wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

Passionate about future-focused education and the role design thinking might play in this, I have moved from being a classroom English teacher and future learning facilitator, to being the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) of the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec.

Using a qualitative approach, I have listened to the stories of teachers currently completing the postgraduate certificate, as well as reflecting deeply on my own practice. I have found myself

wrestling with the idea of ‘disruption’, concluding that before we can disrupt educators’ mindsets we must first engender respect. Thus I will offer those with an interest in design thinking a different context in which to consider its power, and offer those embarking on their own professional learning inquiries, or designing professional learning for others, some food for the journey.

Delegates will:

  • Hear new research around design thinking mindsets and professional learning.
  • Be challenged to consider the centrality of empathy and respectful practice.
  • Be inspired to disrupt with humility.

You’re all cordially invited to attend if you’re at ULearn this year. I can’t promise I’ll stick to this plan as there may well be further disruptions to my learning journey ahead, but, for now, I’ll enjoy a moment of clarity.

What happened to the “e” in “eFellow”?

Ah, CORE Education’s eFellowship. The best professional learning experience you can possibly enjoy. I’m wallowing in the challenge, and am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to work alongside such inspirational educators and mentors. And I’ve been wondering: what happened to the ‘e’ in eFellows?

If you look back over previous eFellowship inquiries, there has been a strong bias towards projects that researched the integration of technology to enhance learning. This year though, not so much. Possibly the best fit with the ‘e’ is Richard Wells who has a wonderful inquiry in process looking at social media and connecting previously unconnected educators. However the rest of the projects are as fabulously diverse as their researchers. Is this lack of ‘e’ a problem?

Obviously I can’t speak for the CORE Education Charitable Trust who, extremely generously, funds the eFellowship programme, but I don’t personally think so. To me, it’s a bit like the argument I put forth here, that the ‘e’ is essentially now redundant. For innovative, future-focused (and yes, I realise the irony of saying that) educators, the ‘e’ is a given. Maybe what I’m saying is actually echoed in the fourth of CORE’s Ten Trends: Digital Convergence: “The concept of digital convergence refers to the merging of previously discrete and separately used technologies, as well as the almost ‘invisible’ integration and use of technologies as a part of our everyday life.”  

Because, for many of us eFellows, we simply wouldn’t be able to carry out as effective a research inquiry without the ‘e’ tools we’re employing. I’m thinking of Vivita’s use of AR in supporting her deaf learners, of Steve’s international research into design thinking – reaching out to Australia and the US. And even me, using tools like Teachmeet, Padlet and Google Forms to gain feedback from my teachers. The technology enhances our research and is intertwined with what we do. The ‘e’ is ubiquitous.

However, I wouldn’t want the ‘e’ to be dropped from the title. I think it is still crucial to keep being ‘e’ focused. It foregrounds the way the eFellows work, both in terms of conducting their own inquiries, and also with our mentors in between hui. It is also an important point of difference to other fellowship programmes. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that it’s a measure of success for the CORE Education eFellowship because now the ‘e’ just is.

Image credit

Andra-what??

When I shared my CORE eFellowship research plans with my lovely colleagues at The Mind Lab, I received some wonderful endorsement from my new colleague Tim Gander, himself an eFellow in 2014. He said to me that all pedagogy starts with andragogy. I smiled to myself, thinking, ‘OK, that makes sense: teachers learning (education as an adult – andragogy) about how to teach young people (pedagogy),’ and the comment went no further in my brain.

And then I recently read this blogpost by American educator Tom Whitby, “The Importance of Andragogy in Education“, which got me thinking further.

I’m no expert in andragogy, and in fact, sometimes I confess to thinking that some of the things people more expert than I list to consider when engaging with adult learners are equally important when working with young people. Take this list from Tom Whitby’s post for example:

According to an article, “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit, Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

  • Adults are goal oriented

  • Adults are relevancy oriented

  • Adults are practical

  • Adult learners like to be respected

I’m not entirely sure that this is so different to what works for younger people too – it’s just that maybe their ‘life experiences and knowledge’ haven’t been gained over the same amount of time. And that maybe younger learners need more help to be ‘internally motivated and self-directed’. (I don’t know – share your thoughts with me below…)

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean a list like this isn’t useful, nor that it should be dismissed. And it’s the final bullet point that I want to think about today, that ‘adult learners like to be respected’.

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently about respectful practice. I started this eFellow journey in conjunction with my work as Postgrad Programme Director at The Mind Lab by Unitec with the intention of transforming education one teacher at a time. (No quiet, humble goals for me!) I want to use Design Thinking as my pedagogy (or is that andragogy now??) to bring about this shift. The Design Thinking principle I was seeking to embrace was ‘bias towards action’ – participate in the learning at The Mind Lab with the intention of changing your practice and thereby the world. But now I have started to doubt myself: who am I to disrupt the thinking of classroom teachers? Is there not an inherent disrespect in thinking I know a better way to ‘do’ education?

Image Credit: https://dschool.stanford.edu/groups/k12/wiki/6c04c/Visual_Resources.html
Image Credit: https://dschool.stanford.edu/groups/k12/wiki/6c04c/Visual_Resources.html

But in the midst of this doubt, which still continues, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: I hold genuine admiration for these teacher-learners who come faithfully every week to learn with me at The Mind Lab. They embrace playing with new technology, they share ideas, and are willing to consider new ideas. They devote time out of the scheduled sessions to read, view, think (and complete assignments!). They clearly just want the best for the young people in front of them. They embody a growth mindset. I am lucky to be part of their learning, and they are teaching me a lot about myself in the process.

So, instead the Design Thinking mindset or principle I find myself embracing is empathy, human-centredness. And maybe this is a more important starting point.

Teacher Professional Learning and Development

This blogpost represents my current thinking and learning about the role and the effectiveness of professional learning. It is a personal reflection both in terms of my role at The Mind Lab by Unitec and also my CORE eFellow research

I’ve been reading the summary of “Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration”, by Helen Timperley, Aaron Wilson, Heather Barrar, and Irene Fung, MOE (2007). But before I get there, I’d actually like to start with a quote from something else I’m reading at the moment:

‘It’s all about the kids’ is an almost universal mantra at schools and pretty much expresses our collective mission. But in the case of changing education to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, it’s really all about the adults. The kids get it; they are naturally adaptive and flexible thinkers; they use new technology easily; they see learning as fun as long as we allow it to be playful and interest-based and not dreary. Changing what and how learning takes place is an exercise in retooling the adult skill set…”

Grant Lichtman#EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education (2014), p. 40

For me, this quote neatly encapsulates the moral purpose behind my position as Postgrad Programme Director (Wellington) at The Mind Lab by Unitec. It’s less about feeling like ‘the kids will be okay’, but more about ensuring that the lead learners in classrooms are equipped to work alongside our 21st Century learners. On a side note, for me it’s also about scale – the hope that I can accomplish more with the diverse group of teachers participating in the postgrad programme than I can inside one school.

So, it’s about the adults. But what do we know about what’s effective in professional learning? What prompts substantive, sustainable change that makes a difference for students? Luckily Timperley et al have synthesised a number of studies and have reached some really useful conclusions. The key summary is this:

“Seven elements in the professional learning context were identified in the core studies as important for professional learning in ways that impacted positively and substantively on a range of student outcomes: providing sufficient time for extended opportunities to learn and using the time effectively; engaging external expertise; focusing on engaging teachers in the learning process rather than being concerned about whether they volunteered or not; challenging problematic discourses; providing opportunities to interact in a community of professionals; ensuring content was consistent with wider policy trends; and, in school-based initiatives: having leaders actively leading the professional learning opportunities.” [emphasis mine, p. xxvi]

What I have been particularly struck by though is this:

  1. “Teacher participants rarely believe that they need to engage in deep learning or to change practice substantively, whereas providers typically believe they will but do not necessarily disclose this to the participants.” (p. xxix)
  2. “…it should not be assumed by providers that teachers’ current theories of practice are problematic or that providers’ theories are, by definition, more effective….Negotiating meanings, and debating and testing evidence of the effectiveness of both providers’ and teachers’ theories, are part of the process of achieving mutual understanding and effective practice.” (p. xl)

Firstly, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am reflecting on these statements personally, not passing comment about The Mind Lab postgrad course nor its teachers. I believe the course itself stacks up against the criteria for effective professional learning and development as outlined in this Best Evidence Synthesis extremely well. And I know the facilitators of this course to be passionate, committed, reflective practitioners.

I want to own these two quoted statements myself. In seeking to lead transformative change in education, I do think teachers may well have to shift their practice substantially. And, underpinning that, I guess I have held a falsely superior view that I did know better. Yikes.

So, instead, what I keep coming back to are two things. Respect and transparency.

Each week I find myself in awe of the commitment teachers are making to their professional learning for the betterment of Kiwi kids. I want this to ring through what I say and in how I interact with the teachers on The Mind Lab course. My attitude is one of: let’s work together to explore what might work for you in your context and in your classroom.

And I need to be transparent in the expectations and assumptions I hold. Now this part is tricky, because they are my assumptions and sometimes I don’t even know I have them until I’m some way down the track. What I’m hoping that is by opening up conversations, participating in dialogue, and consistently positioning myself as a co-learner, I can confront my own assumptions and own them when they arise. I think this is respectful practice too.

So maybe I keep coming back to one thing only: respect. Aretha had it right all along.

My Inquiry

In this blogpost, I thought I would look to capture the essence of my CORE eFellow inquiry. It’s fitting for me to do this now, as my research proper will get underway on Wednesday, with the first ever intake of postgrads into the Wellington branch of The Mind Lab by Unitec starting (squee!).

mind lab by unitec_small

I’m asking for help from the postgrads to inquire into my own teaching practice. I would describe this as a Design Thinking pedagogy. On a really small scale, I want to cut any direct instruction time by me to 15 minutes. On a much larger, more significant scale, I want to ensure that I promote discussions around an overarching question or provocation, enable the playing with ideas, and a chance to reflect on education in New Zealand on a systemic, but also a personal classroom, level.

I want to do this in a respectful, empathetic way. I don’t want to make assumptions about why teachers have courageously chosen to make this impressive time commitment to their professional learning. I’m genuinely interested to hear about what’s happening in the classrooms around the greater Wellington region, and the applied learnings that might arise out of participation in the Certificate of Digital and Collaborative Learning.

My belief is that education is about citizenship. I feel a strong moral purpose to do what I can to transform education in New Zealand to better meet the needs of our 21st Century learners. So, in this inquiry I want to investigate how I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens. My guiding questions are:

  • How can I use design thinking principles to promote active change in a professional learning context?
  • How can my use of design thinking shift a teacher’s ability to transform their mindset/learning and thus their classroom?
  • What stories of change can I hear from teachers who are inspired by a design thinking mindset?

I’m really looking forward to engaging in this research with the help and support of the Wellington postgrads. Any feedback, thoughts or suggestions are gratefully received. An information sheet about my research is available by clicking here.

Musings on ‘Transformation’

9k=  9k=-1

The eFellows were in Christchurch. For many of us, it was the first visit post-quakes, so a visit to Cathedral Square was mandatory. Little did we know how powerful this walk was to become.

For me, the walk developed into a living metaphor for this second hui of the 2015 CORE Education eFellows. Straight after the walk, our mentor Louise Taylor facilitated a discussion where we unpacked what we had witnessed around the theme of transformation.

That change is messy. It is disruptive, in all senses of the word. That rising out of the ashes could come creative, innovative, human-centred spaces. That it requires resilience.That it requires new relationships to be forged, and it can offer fresh perspectives. That the most effective transformations hold a strong vision at its heart.

The following day, we visited Breens Intermediate School and Te Pa o Raikaihautu. I would like to thank the staff, students and whanau for making us feel so welcome at both schools. The visits were utterly fascinating, and helped me to cement my learning about transformation. In both schools their vision is clearly encapsulated and, more importantly, embodied in their day-to-day way of being. Both schools are unashamedly who they are, and if that’s confronting, that’s okay because it sparks conversation, and out of dialogue comes learning. Both pay testament to the idea that, as principal of Breens, Brian Price, said: ‘Out of crisis comes creativity’.

This statement was to continue to come back to me over the remainder of our visit to Christchurch. At a pot luck dinner with CORE staff and eFellow alumni, I was recounting this to Ali Hughes, who added onto the idea, saying: ‘Creativity and implementation is innovation.’ It’s not enough to have the idea. It must be enacted for innovation to occur. I like this very much, and brings me back to Breens and Te Pa. It’s not enough to have a mission statement, a strategic plan, or a vision for a school. This must be tangible, must be made concrete to be transformative.