The End is Nigh

This blogpost is my contribution to EdBookNZ 2016. Thank you to Sonya van Schaijik for the opportunity.

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Photo “The End is Nigh!” by Mikey, CC BY 2.0

Like a precarious but game-winning Jenga tower, education is the last major industry standing extant. Critics claim the education system is broken and thus that it is ripe, nay, overdue, for disruption. Here in New Zealand, we talk about our “long tail” of underachievement and the inequalities that urgently need addressing. It is common to point to the fact that classrooms today bear little discernible difference to the classrooms of 50, 100, even 150 years ago…

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CC BY-SA 3.0 (Wikimedia Commons)           CC-BY-SA-2.0-CA (Wikimedia Commons)

We also know what has happened to other industries that have failed to adapt and evolve. Frequently cited examples include: your local video store, Kodak, print newspapers. These have become the cautionary tales of the modern world: warning us of what happens if we arrogantly deem ourselves non-disruptable.

We argue that now we live in a world of hyper-change. Moore’s law is regarded as immutable as a law of nature, and consequently our societies are rapidly, exponentially, unfathomably changing – primarily due to technology. Again, frequently cited examples include:

If we aren’t careful the robots will have our jobs, we will have created our own unemployment crisis, and the planet will be frying under human-created or -accelerated climate change. (But on the plus side, we will have world-wide WiFi.)

The only logical conclusion is that education needs to be disrupted in face of this uncertain, unknowable, unpredictable and technologically-advanced future. Our current students will go into jobs that haven’t yet been created. Right?

Woah.

Can we just push pause on the mania for disruption and think a little bit first. I know the CPUs will get fasterer even as I type so time is of the essence, but I think a little of ‘slow down to hurry up’ might be in order here.

Let’s think about ‘disruption’. And let’s think about how we used to use the word in a non-business or technological sense. For example: were you the ‘disruptive’ child in class? The naughty one who prevented others from getting on with their learning? Has your public transport service ever been ‘disrupted’, but no need for panic because normal service will resume shortly? Inconvenient, but the status quo will re-set. Does your city or town plan road works over night in order to minimise “disruption”? Rather thoughtful of them, isn’t it?

How have we come to a place where we believe that if something isn’t working that nothing less than total annihilation – read disruption – is required? Why do we champion disruption?

I’ve been wondering about the purpose of those ‘all hail the mighty disruption’ speeches, and can’t help but suspect a motive of whipping up panic and stoking the fires of fear about an uncertain and unknowable future where we must “disrupt or be disrupted”. Nothing less than a completely radical metamorphosis is needed. The alternative is extinction. Oblivion.

disruptionLinker (2014)

Sometimes, I concur, these speakers offer solutions. But I similarly urge suspicion of the silver bullet. Teach all children coding! Follow a STEM (or STEAM) curriculum! Be agile and teach entrepreneurship – real skills for a productive and employable life! Design thinking is where it’s at! If we accept the premise that education is so fundamentally broken that nothing less than complete and utter destruction – sorry disruption – is needed, how will a one-trick pony fix it?

So. Let’s pause and think. What’s it like to be the disrupted? How does ‘disruption’ position people?

Metaphors I’ve observed include the dinosaur. This is an image that fits well with the rhetoric of disrupt or die. It is the dinosaur’s own fault for not adapting to exponentially different times, so they became extinct. That’ll learn ‘em. ‘Dinosaur’ handily connotes age here too. Who is the dinosaur in your staffroom? The older person who doesn’t / won’t / can’t get on board with an initiative, one often involving technology? Thought so. Digital immigrant? Can’t even get a passport let alone a visa.

What about the ‘resistor’? Not the piece of science equipment from the lab, but the people who resist change initiatives, often the ones involving technology. They can be identifiable by their big buts. You know, as in: “I would, but…”; “We tried that five years ago, but…”; “But the parents…” They are the naysayers, the ones with every excuse as to why they can’t, they shouldn’t, and why it wouldn’t work even if they did. Because the resistors actively resist the nifty initiatives dreamed up to prevent them from becoming irrelevant, we give ourselves permission to ride roughshod over their concerns. We feed the hungry, we don’t bother with watering the stones.

Very similar to the resistors are the “laggards”. These people languish at the bottom of Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations bell curve:

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CC BY 2.5, Pnautilus, Wikipedia

They are the last to know, the un-networked, the ostriches. Chicken Little, at least, knew the sky was falling. The laggards wouldn’t know about the planned initiative because they can’t log into their emails to read about it. They’re clicking their red pens and surreptitiously marking when the principal stands up to talk about in the Monday afternoon staff meeting. That’s if they didn’t skip out of the meeting entirely, citing a doctor’s appointment. Right?

These are among the labels we use to categorise and stereotype people who don’t believe as we do and won’t blindly endorse our plans. So much easier to complain about them en masse when we lump them into a group like this. The labels become shorthand and in doing so, we lose sight of the individual: their beliefs, their thoughts, their hopes, their fears, and their stories in which they are the hero.

And who are we to do this? Nobody starts their day by deciding to be incompetent. It takes a rare individual indeed who wakes up wanting to be disrupted. Do we use the word ‘disruption’ to threaten because cajoling has failed?

So, what if, instead of the dystopian zombie apocalypse stories of ‘disrupt or be disrupted’, we could agree that the future is (truism alert) fundamentally unknowable: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and see what human-centred, inclusive frameworks we could employ to help actively shape the future rather than be frightened into passively accepting our robot overlords?

Frameworks like: Design Thinking, Timperley, Kaser and Halbert’s Spiral of Inquiry, Snowden’s Cynefin framework with its safe-to-fail experiments. Tools for thinking, not recipes for radical metamorphosis. Human-centred rather than top-down. Honouring the stories and the roles people play as the experts of their own lives. Inclusive: embracing of diversity and genuinely seeking to hear the voices of the unheard. Asking new, different, difficult questions. Seeing the system and exploring how we might influence it in a desired direction.

This kind of approach is respectful, empathetic. It does not mean that it is easy nor that it may not result in difficult, evolutionary changes. But it is collaborative and consensual. Empowering. Agentic. It is measured and thoughtful. And it might just create the kind of ethical, creative citizenry I personally want for the world, how about you?

Beware disruption and its horsemen. Shall we have a transformative evolution instead? After all, the future is nigh.

Acknowledgements and Sources:

  • Pete Hall
  • Annemarie Hyde

Woods, trees and on ramps

Sometimes, the more time I spend with something, the more I seem to lose my way with it. This is what seems to have happened to me in the past few months. I have apparently lost my ability to articulate the “why” of embedding digital technologies for learning. And this is a bit of a problem.

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CC BY 3.0

So, in order to find my way through this inability to see the wood for the trees situation, perhaps it’s more useful to think about what I do know.

I do know I’m not a ‘techie’. In fact, I’m constantly embarrassed by my low-tech skills. I rarely know the new, cool apps, and while these can be fun, aren’t really what ignites a passion for education and learning in me.

I do know that technology in and of itself won’t make a difference to learning. Equally, the same can be said, I believe, of an exercise book, or even a teacher. Plonk these things in a classroom and there will be no discernible effect. Like any tool, it’s what we do with it that counts.

I do know that relationships and emotions make a difference to teaching and learning. Mostly  based on my own experience of being a student, as well as fifteen years in the classroom, but also because the OECD tells me so:

“Emotion and cognition operate seamlessly in the brain to guide learning….Any debate about whether learning institutions should be concerned about learners’ emotions and their development is…irrelevant” (“Nature of Learning”, OECD, p. 4)

I do know that there is, rightly, in my opinion, an increasingly loud call for learner-centred education. There are many facets to this argument. One is an egalitarian one – that it is simply not acceptable that our schooling system works for some, but not for others. Another is that a knowledge economy requires that everyone be lifelong learners. Without the skills to learn how to learn, the motivation or interest to do so, then we run the risk of perpetuating an out-of-date, industrial model. A further argument is a learning sciences one. This links to the statement above about the role of emotions, as well as showing that learning collaboratively, learning deeply, and learning connected knowledge is key. (See “21st Century Learning: Research, Innovation and Policy”, CERI) And maybe another is just a ‘gut feeling’ one. We are all different, with different backgrounds, interests and needs. One size just doesn’t fit all, nor should it, and increasingly we have the ability to meet these diverse needs.

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CC BY 3.0

Hmmm.

Maybe this is my “why”. Because digital technologies can offer significant ‘on ramps’ to this desired pathway of learner-centred education.

Again, from the OECD report “The Nature of Learning”, we know that the learning sciences suggest that the following are the fundamental conditions under which successful learning can occur:

When:

  • “Constructive, self-regulated learning is fostered
  • The learning is sensitive to context”
  • It is often “collaborative” (p. 3)

And they list six “building blocks for innovative learning environments”:

  • Cooperative learning
  • Service learning
  • Home-school partnerships
  • Formative assessment
  • Inquiry-based approaches
  • Learning with technology (p. 10)

Learning with technology: “Learner-centred approaches to technology-enabled learning can empower learners and leverage good learning experiences that would not otherwise have been possible. Technology also often offers valuable tools for other building blocks in effective learning environments, including personalisation, cooperative learning, managing formative assessment, and many inquiry-based methods.” (p. 10)

This first sentence about learner-centred approaches has definite echoes of the New Zealand Curriculum to me: “Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning.” (Emphasis mine in both cases.)

This call is similarly repeated in the e-Learning Planning Framework, where learning and teaching should work towards “Student-centred, authentic, higher-order, collaborative learning, and digital literacy, is enhanced by ubiquitous digital technologies.”

So here’s my own list. Technology is not THE solution, but A solution. An on ramp to learner-centred education. Technology offers us ways to:

  • Access information and people
  • Collaborate
  • Bring the world to the classroom – to be connected to the global community
  • Self-manage and reflect on our learning
  • Ensure learning is engaging, authentic, purposeful
  • Learn ubiquitously: anywhere, anytime

And I’m picking this is a good thing.

Timetable Mentality

While not originally conceived of as a companion piece to my most recent blogpost, this does work alongside quite naturally. Again, this is not intended as a criticism of any particular school nor teacher. This is my own personal opinion, and I invite your comments, thoughts and suggestions.

Ah, the timetable. I’m in awe of the immensely hard-working teachers who construct these. I love getting my timetable in the last week of school seeing what’s ahead for me in the new school year. I love to colour-code my timetable. See when my non-contact lessons are. Check out what I’m teaching Period 6 on a Friday. And Period 1 on a Monday.

Image Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Stundenplan.PNG

As a thoroughly Type-A personality, the organisation and structure of a timetable brings joy to my heart. By this means I can figure out what’s happening when, how to allocate my time, my efforts and energy. I know what classes I’m teaching, and I can know where any student or colleague is meant to be at any given moment of the school day. What a thing to behold.

Of course, the timetable is far more than the piece of photocopied paper in front of me. It is a whole system. In a timetable, students are allotted their chosen subjects, and are organised by their age, and sometimes by their ability. In a timetable, teachers are allocated their classes for the year, which places them within subject disciplines and departments. A timetable files people very well.

And by this ability to file people, a timetable becomes more than a system. It becomes a mentality – and possibly a fixed mentality at that. A timetable can limit the way both students and teachers see themselves and see their learning. Whole schools of thought are broken down into terms, weeks, and lessons. Learning only happens in 55 minute slots. Science and English are discrete subject areas. It is lunchtime and learning must stop. A timetable can be as rigid as the ‘cells and bells’ of traditional (secondary) schooling. Learning becomes assessment driven in a timetable. It is much easier to teach via direct instruction as a time efficient method of conveying the required content.

A timetable is a completely legitimate way to deal with these immense pressures. But I would like to pose a key question. Does a timetable suit an adult or a learner best?

What if…

  • We saw the barriers (timetable, assessment, university requirements) as enabling constraints?
  • We put learners at the heart of the system and built our schools genuinely and authentically around them and their needs?
  • We worked within the flexibility afforded by the New Zealand Curriculum and possible under NCEA to find creative, innovative structures and systems?

Because ultimately I believe that the big picture of education is really the small picture: start with the learner, not with the timetable.

Is this one of the biggest problems in traditional secondary school education?

This blogpost represents my personal views. While I do not wish to cause offence, I do genuinely wish to hear your thoughts about my wondering. I invite your comments.

Image Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Knowledge-Reid-Highsmith.jpeg

This week on The Mind Lab Postgraduate course (Certificate in Applied Practice – Digital and Collaborative Learning) we were talking about epistemology. In other words, we were discussing knowledge. What it means to know, the changing ideas about knowledge, the implications of what it might mean to be a teacher in the Knowledge Age when basically the sum total of all human knowledge is now available in your pocket. Rich, interesting, thoughtful, provocative stuff.

In the past, schools have positioned their students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Students would retain this knowledge in their heads for a time in the future when it would be needed. For a teacher under this paradigm, content is king.

Now knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate. Google and Wikipedia know far more about any given topic than I could ever possibly be expected to know. And even about topics I have studied in considerable depth, like Shakespeare. Students can access this information any where, any time, via their smartphones. As a teacher, I cannot possibly present myself as an expert receptacle of knowledge. We have moved from ‘just in case’ knowledge to ‘just in time’ knowledge. When students need to know something, they can simply google it.  Content as king is dead. Long live the… what?

Today, this article from The Atlantic was shared with me via Twitter: “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher“. In part, the writer mourns the loss of the role of the teacher as “content expert”.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve attended, or even heard of, any professional-development training focused on my specific subject matter. Instead, these experiences concentrate on incorporating technology in the classroom, utilizing assessment data, or new ways of becoming a school facilitator.

In many respects, I understand where this teacher is coming from. When I would become disillusioned with high school English teaching, I would take genuine comfort from the fact that I was being paid ‘to talk books’.

And yet, the world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. The siloed approach to content knowledge, to the very subject-specific matter this teacher is mourning the loss of, needs to change with it. Skills and dispositions are critical. Exploring, discovering, creating knowledge is where the emphasis needs to fall.

This reminds me of a conversation I was involved in during our last eFellows hui, whereby we secondary teachers were explaining to a primary school teacher that high school teachers don’t see themselves as teachers of students first, but rather subject specialists.

And this is my big wondering today. Is this one of the biggest problems in traditional secondary school education? That I identify as a teacher of English [or insert subject here] and not as a teacher of learners?

What do you think? How might we encourage secondary school teachers to put students and not their subject first?

I’ve not left teaching, I’ve just left school.

Last night I dreamt I was a primary school principal (male, of course. Don’t you love the weirdness of dreamscapes?!) and I was directing the school show. It was chaos but we were having a ball.

Ah, back to school dreams. (Aside from the obvious complications of never having been a) male b) a primary school teacher c) a principal.)

Except, this year, for the first year since 1999, I haven’t gone back to school.

Some people were shocked when it was announced I was leaving my high school teaching job for a new adventure with The Mind Lab. I do love the classroom. I love being paid to talk books all day. I love teenagers. I love school. And yes, I’m worried that I’ll miss all of those things.

But, these days, I kind of have a bigger picture in mind for education. Being a part of #edchatNZ, and learning through my PLN, and attending conferences like ULearn, has taught me to want more. And shown me that I can play a part in bringing more to New Zealand education.

I think we should be offering a 21st Century education for our 21st Century learners. I believe that the purpose of education is to empower citizens. I believe that design thinking can help to energise and spark a transformation along these lines. I believe that the key to achieving this is by reaching teachers. And I don’t believe I can achieve this from my classroom on the kind of scale I imagine.

I believe assessment is driving education. I believe many of our secondary school learners are impeded by the keeping of learning areas in discrete silos. I believe that a timetable is not just a schedule for ordering the day, but a hiding place for a closed mindset and upholding status quo.

I want change. Wholesale, drastic, transformative change.

So, here’s what I’m doing. I’m helping organise #educampwelly (have you registered yet?!), I’m helping run #WellyED (follow us on Twitter @Welly_ED), I’m a CORE eFellow (as I may have mentioned before), and I’m the Postgrad Programme Director (Wellington) for The Mind Lab by Unitech. And I’m going to change New Zealand education one teacher at a time. I love teaching. I’m an educator by vocation. I just don’t work in school anymore.

Now there’s a dream.

Image source: http://th05.deviantart.net/fs48/PRE/i/2009/192/2/5/Just_a_Dream____by_enricoagostoni.jpg

Hui 1: Breathe a sigh of relief

I’m a CORE eFellow. Even though I’ve been to my first hui, I still can’t quite believe that once again I’ve blagged my way into something far exceeding my skills and abilities. I look around at the amazing, passionate, innovative educators around the hui table and think, ‘Really? They picked me?’ But they did, and I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful for the overwhelming sense of relief that I experienced sitting in Auckland airport on my way home. Exhausted yes, exhilarated yes, buzzing with ideas yes, but mostly relief. I had expected to feel scarily confronted with educational ideas that I didn’t know how to wrestle with. And while there were certainly interesting philosophical discussions, there wasn’t anything so new or so ‘out there’ that I didn’t know where to begin to engage. Whew.

The dedicated list-maker in me (yes, I outed myself as being ‘Monica’ from the American sitcom Friends – I can have fun, I just need it to be tightly controlled. And tidy.) also feels much more comfortable with understanding the overall shape and expectation for the eFellow year of awesome learning. I’m seeing this experience as kind of like a ‘mini-Masters’. Employing educational research methodologies to investigate an area that for me has a clear sense of moral purpose, to keep my project small and simple in order to present at ULearn15 and deliver an EdTalk for CORE Education.

In a way I’m also feeling embraced (yes, physically hugged) but more importantly, a sense of connection. The first activity Louise had us do was to talk about the three (three, people!) artefacts which we had brought along to represent ourselves. Here are mine:

IMG_0023 Very briefly, I brought along a Dominion Post two-speed crossword (because I love the power and slipperiness of words), Baking Powder (because I’m a bit clueless at the moment about my new job that I haven’t started yet, but I’ve taken it because I want to be an agent of change), and post-it notes (because I love design thinking and the way it is creative and yet structured).

Exploring these, and later on in the second day, exploring more in-depth as to what we each believe the purpose of education to be, truly reveals so much about a person. It was amazing that without sitting around and hearing one another’s life stories, we quickly got an insight into each other.

And this is something I want to take into my research. Once this is a little more concrete, I’ll blog about that, but suffice to say that something I learned from Louise and John is the power of stories, but, more importantly, the power of having your story heard. And I want to hear the stories of teachers. I want to be a respectful listener, not a preachy mouth. If people feel heard, and therefore respected, appreciated and safe, perhaps they’ll feel confident to embrace something new. And my first eFellow hui certainly made me feel this.

Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

Yet another reason why Design Thinking is Genius

I wrote a post a little while ago declaring my passion for Design Thinking. Since then I have done loads of reading and thinking about it. I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time participating in the #dtk12chat on Twitter – especially the day that it was summer vacation in the States, so I basically got an hour of one-to-one time with the lovely and uber-helpful Lisa Palmieri to ask her all my annoying novice questions. I’m currently preparing a design thinking exploration for my Year 8s in Term 4, and this resource centre, curated by Thomas Riddle, is proving exceptionally useful.

PearlTreesDT

But this doesn’t explain why I have such enthusiasm for design thinking. And today it struck me. At the risk of making design thinking into some kind of panacea, I truly believe that it offers powerful potential for schools to address the needs of their 21st Century learners.

Last November, as I was starting my Future Learning journey, I read Bolstad et al‘s  (2012) research report “Supporting future-oriented teaching and learning”. I blogged about the reading here, here and here. Today I’ve had occasion to revisit those blogposts and the research, and I can see that design thinking can mesh beautifully with several of the future focused themes Bolstad and her colleagues pinpoint in their report.

There is the notion of personalising learning – that the activities and curriculum content students engage with should reflect their input and interests. Design thinking will certainly allow this, as students generate their own questions in relation to the topic or issue at hand, and then follow these ideas through a prototyping and feedback cycle.

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Bolstad et al also speak of diversity. Design thinking offers a means by which a great deal of ideas and questions are generated, welcomed, and indeed valued. Learners must generate (ideate) a wealth of ideas, and learn to filter these through the human-centred lens of empathy. Different perspectives offered by people of diverse backgrounds can therefore only be of benefit in order to empathise with others and add to the collective knowledge and ideas of the design thinkers.

Design thinking requires creating and using knowledge in ways that are different to traditional schooling. Filling an empty vessel is so contradictory to the process of design thinking as to render it inconceivable and redundant.

And to work within a design thinking process is to fundamentally shift the roles of ‘student’ and ‘teacher’. The teacher truly does become a facilitator as learners explore their own ideas in relation to the issue at hand. Teachers are just the most experienced learner in the room.

Furthermore, design thinking offers much potential to integrate and foreground the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. The potential of the Key Competencies to shape the senior secondary curriculum is discussed in another of Bolstad and Gilbert’s publications, Disciplining and Drafting (2008), which I read in the recent school holidays. I suspect the next book in my reading list, Key Competencies for the Future (2014), will continue to make this kind of compelling argument. By following a design thinking process and adopting a design thinking mindset, it is inevitable that learners would be thinking, using language, symbols and text, managing self, participating and contributing and relating to others. This is because design thinking is a human-centred process that has a bias towards (social) action. In fact, it has the power to equip learners to tackle with the “wicked problems” outlined in Keri Facer’s seminal book, Learning Futures (2011), which I have read and blogged about here.

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Acknowledgement of images: The K12 Lab Wiki

So, when I get excited about design thinking, it is because I believe so strongly that belying its seeming simplicity, it offers a wealth of rich possibilities to transform education.

One size fits all fits…nobody?

Photo credit: Stephan van Es

We’ve run three Professional Learning sessions so far at Marsden. And, considering that there’s only 12 sessions in total, that’s actually a significant proportion. So, how’s it going?

Anecdotally, the feedback seems to be positive. We’re in the process of crafting a survey for the final session of the term, which should give us some more ‘concrete’ data from which to ascertain reactions. But overall, I would say I was feeling fairly positive, given the scope of the task in front of us. The school is, by and large, a fairly traditional one. Our students gain excellent results, which, in my opinion, makes it harder to convince staff that there is a pressing need to change our pedagogy and embrace the potentialities of e-learning. I think it would also be fair to say that, by and large, staff are reticent to explore technology. We have had our Learning Management System (LMS) for three years now, and staff turnover considered, there are still some teachers who don’t know how to set up their own class page. The professional learning sessions are presented to pre-school, primary school, co-ed secondary school and single-sex girls’ secondary school staff. So the fact that there are staff who admit they need to ‘get on board’, and there are staff who are starting to get excited about what’s out there, is good.

And then there are the staff who feel that it’s all a waste of their time as they already have sufficient technological know-how.

I find this criticism both useful and fascinating. Firstly, I’m very pleased that there are already educators in the school who have glimpsed what is possible and who want to learn more about pedagogy, because they feel comfortable in going away to play with tools themselves. At the same time though, the idea that the sessions being offered don’t cater to them doesn’t sit so well with me.

Perhaps what we’re seeing is this: an implementation dip (thanks to @GeoMouldey via @mosborne01 and @mcleod). Staff were initially intrigued and inspired by future learning, but then we hit mid-term, and the internal assessments have started, and the first wave of marking has come in, and we’re heading towards our first set of parent-teacher interviews, and, and … and, suddenly the time pressure is on and it all seems huge and scary and overwhelming.

I feel as though the model we’re following (20 minutes of big picture pedagogy and vision, 20 minutes of workshop – self-selected from at least 3 possible choices, 20 minutes of reflection) allows for a wide range of interests and skill levels to be catered for. We have actively encouraged staff to offer more workshops if they’re keen to do so. The presentations for the pedagogy and vision include loads of links for further exploration and learning. I’ve been tweeting (or, perhaps more accurately, re-tweeting) yet more links to useful and relevant sites and readings using the hashtag #MarsdenPL14. I actively promote #edchatnz Twitter chats and its blog.

This all sounds very defensive from my end, I guess. But I think it begs the question: at what point should learner educators be expected to take some responsibility for their own professional learning needs, and/or what more should we be doing to meet the needs of the learner educators in front of us?

I touch the future; I teach – reflecting on Keri Facer’s “Learning Futures”

Let's touch the stars

On the recommendation of Steve Mouldey I purchased and read the truly thought-provoking book by Keri Facer: Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change.

In this well-structured and coherently argued book, Facer builds a compelling case for maintaining physical schools in the light of increasing claims about what the future will mean for education, such as those here.

While, of course, Facer’s “future-building school” of 2035 represents a significantly different educational institution to those of the local school down the road today, it is undeniably a physical presence in a literal building where human relationships are key.

Facer begins her book by exploring some of the exciting and some of the alarming potential futures ahead.  In so doing though, she continually emphasises that the stories of the future she outlines are just that – potential narratives – just versions of what may or may not be.  She calls us to take action now – not to see the future as something pre-determined, but as something that is created step-by-step from the decisions that we make today.  The ‘ending’ of the story can be changed.  And schools have a critical role to play in shaping the future – not just in churning out workers for jobs – but as nurturing citizens who may well have to grapple with environmental, biological, technological, generational and societal issues.

And, for me, it is this emphasis on the future as a story that particularly resonated: “The future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene.” (p. 6) While there are indeed significant challenges ahead, and Facer argues that schools must become democratic hubs where learners explore how to live in an equitable, sustainable, connected way, ultimately I was left with the very hopeful feeling that teaching is really a tangible expression of optimism – that what we do can, and indeed should, make a difference.

So while I generally avoid such cheesy sentiments as those in my title, I too recommend to you Keri Facer’s Learning Futures as a place to go to think about why education and schools are so crucial because in teaching we have the opportunity to ‘touch the future’.