Tagged: change

Choosing to do the “Right Thing”


By Paramore [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During the school term, I rarely watch television, so when the holidays hit I tend to catch a few movies and maybe indulge in a series between my mandatory holiday novel binge.  A few nights ago I caught the film “Coach Carter” which I have previously never seen (surprising really, since I am a sucker for any basketball related flicks, especially those based on real people and events).

Whilst there were a range of important themes throughout the film, the most significant for me was ‘doing what’s best for kids’. Coach Carter (Samuel L Jackson) choosing to “lockout” his players from any basketball until they met the agreed grades and expectations. Despite incredible pressure and volatility from parents and the Richmond High School community, Coach Carter sticks to his convictions with the bigger picture in mind.

This is the exact challenge that we are faced with as educators today. Imagine if each of us took a stand for the future of our students, did not bow to the pressures of structures, politics, timetables, content demands and even student resistance and actually chose to push for the bigger picture and imagined what could be.  If you agree with me that 20th century education and paradigms are not best for 21st century learners, then our challenge is to foster the importance of lifelong learning over the immediate gratification of grades. To break the learners focus on being measured and ATARs and instead have them choose learning and personal challenge over being defined by their final numbers.

I am excited by some of the initiatives coming out of Universities now, where they are honouring students who choose challenge over subjects that will gain them the best ATAR (hat tip Flinders University). Especially exciting for girls choosing mathematics, physics and other STEM opportunities. Even greater reason for us to be forging ahead, reimagining the learning to foster ownership and agency with relevant and meaningful work which sees us (teachers and students) as creators, problem solvers, mentors, and instructors grappling with problems bigger than ourselves.

Thanks to David Truss for sharing this gem from a recent Tim Ferris interview with Seth Godin.

“We need to teach students two things:
          1.HOW TO LEAD
Because the fact is, there are plenty of countries on earth where there are people willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. So we can not out-obedience the competition. Therefore, we have to out-lead or out-solve the other people… who want whatever is scarce. The way to teach your kids to solve interesting problems…  is to give them interesting problems to solve. And then, don’t criticize them when they fail because kids aren’t stupid, if they get in trouble every time they try to solve an interesting problem, they’ll just go back to getting an ‘A’ by memorizing what’s in the textbook”. — Seth Godin



Innovation is a Mindset

My Creations (15)

Disruption by Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr

The word “innovation” has been a driver in business for many years and is increasingly becoming part of the discourse in schools.

I think often when we talk about “innovation” in schools, there is a tendency to accompany that with new devices, or developing new spaces.

The dictionary defines innovation as;

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 4.50.58 pm

I believe innovation to be a mindset, not a title, nor something that occurs in a special space.

It’s how we disrupt our actions and methods to always seek something better. It may be in the routines we have created or the rules we maintain.  It may be in the content we teach or the way we teach it.

It may be hard to conceive of innovation without some form of digital technology participating, but innovation is definitely not limited in this way.

I believe it’s about the willingness to explore and challenge ideas, to take on the status quo and to implement change. To test and try and to respond to the results.

Not everything will succeed nor will all change be sustainable, thus there is inherent risk involved. Whenever there is risk, we need to ensure there is trust. I believe this is the biggest challenge in developing cultures of innovation, they must be cultures of trust first and foremost.

Understanding —> Shared Vision —> Trust —> Innovation

What do you think?

For some articles and perspectives on innovative mindsets check out these links:

The 7 key principles for an innovation mindset

Developing an Innovative Mindset

Forbes Best-Of Blogs: How To Encourage Innovation In Your Company

This Year Make a Move, Shake it Up


Change cc Flickr photos – Sebastien Wiertz

This time last year I was struggling with the belief that not everyone shared the basic premise that all kids can learn (see Clear to Me Opaque to Others).  Over the year I have spent more time listening and working with individuals and small groups and gained a greater understanding of what it is they believe and want to achieve. Time to build some relationships has definitely made a difference, after all no one goes to work with the intention to be terrible or do a poor job. Starting from this point I have been able to see more clearly what breeds reluctance or fear in trying something new.

I believe it is essential that whatever the small step may be to change our practice for the better, we must commit to take that challenge.  For some it may be something grand, for others it may be small shift in habit or attitude or just acknowledging that support is needed.

I have the most respect for staff whom I know are feeling frightened by trying something new, but are willing to do so because they know it will benefit the kids. If we are willing to be vulnerable and admit “this is hard” or “this is scary” or “I am feeling intimidated by this” but then seek support from others we are truly modelling the challenge of learning for our students.

So this year, what will you do to make a move or shake it up, to take a chance, to make a change?

Growing Changemaking Communities

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by *patrick

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by *patrick

Education leaders such as George Couros and Stephen Harris are always seeking ideas and examples from beyond the education arena to develop and strengthen learning and leadership in schools. I think there are many lessons to be learnt from corporations as they continually reflect upon what contributed to their success or their failure.

I am not suggesting in any means that schools should fashion themselves entirely on a business model – our core business is kids, not making a profit, but I do think the more that business looks at building success on the basis of developing relationships and connection, the more we can learn from their change journeys.

This morning I read this article by Alexa Clay – “5 Tips for Growing Changemaking Communities in Your Company“.  Clay puts forth the importance of building an entourage which she describes as;

“people who bring you energy and ‘get it’ Your entourage is what gets you through the darker times and plays a much needed role in keeping you going when things appear stuck”

I have previously written about this idea in terms of our Circle of Influence and Who Makes You Average. I feel strongly about the team that we build to cultivate and grow ourselves and our school.

Clay says the following in which I have added the alternative (schools) or (classrooms) substitute:

And corporations (schools) aren’t merely collections of individuals. Corporations (schools) are communities. Behind every business (school) is an environment where people are looking to find connection, fulfillment, and identity. And yet, within and across cubicles (classrooms), it can be so hard to connect on a human level. So how do we bust through? How do we generate communities to really unleash game-changing innovation within big corporations (schools)? And how do we grow our entourages into truly powerful networks of change.

For each of the 5 tips Clay suggests to move towards developing changemaking communities I have included a ‘school’ alternative.

1. Visualise your relationships

Company model: …. go beyond the usual suspects and think about organizations or communities you might never engage with …Map out these actors and understand their competencies and points of leverage within the system. Then spot areas where a shared agenda could emerge.

School model: there may be people in your school that have a passion or interest in what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t assume it will always be the same people who put their hand up for everything, develop opportunities for support staff, parents, families, ex students and others to be involved in what you’re trying to achieve.

2. Find your counterparts

Company model: …make sure that you connect with like-minded intrapreneurs within these organizations. Systemic collaborations require an enterprising spirit to be ignited and sustained. So find the right allies in other organizations that you can rely and depend on to accelerate these types of initiatives. You’ll save time and energy by working with others who share the same mindset as you.

School model: Connect with people who share your passions both in and beyond (local or global) your school.  Develop a network of educators on the same journey and share and build from each other. Utilise #twitter , google+ or other ways to connect and share and forge the development of your community.

3. Practice code-switching

Company model: Be able to shift how you communicate, depending on your audience–know the right language to use depending on your stakeholder. Part of building community has to do with knowing how to translate your prerogative into the language of others.

School model: depending on whether you are engaging with your allies, leadership or those whom may be resistant, your communication will need to change.  No point going full blown excitement on a peer that is reluctant to change anything at all, save that for your ‘counterparts’

4. Foster a subculture

Company model:  at times, it might feel like the culture you’re trying to create is not reconcilable with the culture of your organisation. Ask yourself what is the delta behind the culture that is and the culture that you are trying to create. And the delta should be fairly small. Most people don’t like massive change.

School model:  Change is hard! Start by developing a small culture which you can cultivate and grow eventually infiltrating the rest of the school.

5. De-couple your entourage and your ego

Company model: Communities don’t revolve around one person. Nor should the success of an idea or innovation be dependent on one person. To be successful you need to be able to democratize ownership of your ideas. Beware of isolating yourself with a community of enablers. Get the “scary people” within your organization or from the outside to champion your work. They are key in getting your ideas to scale.

School model: Make sure there are people within your community who are willing to question and challenge ideas (critical friends). Success will be measured not by what you envision on your own, but by what is owned within a vision.

“most game-changing ideas are 10% epiphany and 90% relationships and community building….People don’t just lean in to ideas; they lean in to communities where they can discover purpose and meaning.”

Aren’t I supposed to?

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by opensource.com

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by opensource.com

Seth Godin is someone I really enjoy reading regularly. I don’t always agree with everything he has to say, but his reflections on stigmas, cultural change, relationships and education are always interesting and often inspire further exploration. The following post had me thinking about our roles in maintaining the status quo in education.

“Am I supposed to like this?”

If we think we are, we probably will.

We’re more likely to laugh at the comedy club. More likely to like the food at a fancy restaurant. More likely to feel like it’s a bargain if we’re at the outlet store.

Am I supposed to applaud now? Be happy? Hate that guy? Use a fork?

Judgments happen long before we think they do.

And successful marketers (and teachers and leaders) invest far more into “supposed to” than it appears.

As we approach a new school year, I have been considering how I will support the continued development of learning experiences we cultivate for our students. I often get told that my perspective is fresh because I haven’t always been a teacher. Whilst that may have some truth and I do believe that we all benefit from the richness of experiences we indulge in beyond the school walls, I think it is also true that we need to approach teaching with new eyes every day.

We have all spent at least 13 years in an education system, good, bad or otherwise which means we have an expectation of what school is “supposed” to be.  Parents and families (and of course students) also have an  expectation.  I certainly don’t go to my doctor and say, “yes but when I was a doctor” but our families do have experience of  being a student  “in school”.

“All to often, on the long road up, young leaders become servants of what is rather than shapers of what might be.” ― John Gardner

I never want to maintain a practice just because it has always been done that way. I want my actions and choices to be determined by purpose, merit and opportunity, to be open to what might be. Part of this challenge is to work with families, community, peers and students to change their ideas of what school is “supposed” to look like, feel like and sound like. Even the smallest of changes can have a huge impact on perceptions and attitudes. Something as simple as committing to welcoming your students each and every day can increase their sense of worth and make them want to be at school, through to developing real world projects that give students opportunities to make a difference in their community or another.

I am extremely excited about the opportunities we can make this year and I will continue to be open to what might be.

Will you be reproducing, or shaping something new?

Reflections on a Year that Was


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by flower87

It seems not that long ago that I was planning for this year, now it is all but over.  No catastrophic events professionally or personally this year but definitely some periods of challenge and a few “firsts”!  The following are some key things that come to mind as lessons learned or significant reminders that have been important for me this year.

First impressions can change!

I have always considered myself a pretty good judge of character and would like to think that I never treat people differently regardless of their circumstances. This year though, I’d made some assumptions about why some of the people I work with became teachers and I was ignorantly mistaken. My lesson was to take the time to get to know people before I categorise them in any way.  It’s easy to assume that people are resistant to change because they’re lazy or stuck in their ways. Listening to what they need, how they learn, what they fear or are frustrated by gives me an insight into how or if I can be a support. By listening more and talking less, I have learnt a valuable lesson and developed some great working relationships.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
Bryant H. McGill

Letting go

One of the challenges this year has been to “let go”. One of my strengths is modelling practice and sharing everything I have that may be of use to anyone whom is interested. I am truly invested in making myself redundant, by supporting and developing the people around me until I am no longer needed.  What this requires is for me to give up control of things I am used to handling. It means things are done differently and at times have not been as successful, but mostly it has been that people and ideas have developed and grown for the better.  This will be something I continue to work on.

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’
 Lao Tzu

Don’t take toxic behaviour personally

I can’t control other people’s behaviours, nor their intentions. What I can do is control how I let it affect me. This year has seen some significant events occur that have caused me stress.  I cannot control the behaviours of people involved with my students beyond my classroom, what I can control is how I react to that student, how I support their development, how I show them they are important, cared for and valued.

The same is true for the behaviours of other adults in my life. I will continue to focus on surrounding myself with a positive circle of influence.  People that challenge, encourage and value me. I know that I do not have to agree with everyone and not everyone will agree with me. It is only the dignity and compassion that I show in this regard that will truly reflect who I am and I will continue to let my actions speak louder than others’ words.

Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.

– W. Clement Stone

Embrace opportunities wholeheartedly 

I have always been a believer in not letting opportunities pass me by.  I encourage my own children, my students and my friends to take risks, embrace opportunities and at times fly by the seat of their pants! I have always had difficulty saying no, so professionally it has not been difficult to jump into projects when opportunities arise. This has led to some great prospects this year for myself and our students. Personally I probably play a lot safer and this will be something that I will be mindful of next year.

“Your life is an occasion. Rise to it!”  – Mr Magorium 

Some things turned out the way I planned and some things did not. The only success to be measured is that I become better tomorrow than I was today. Here’s to the year ahead!

Get Class, Add Tech…Innovation?

Developing innovative teaching is not a “get class and just add iPad” fix. In fact innovative teaching doesn’t require iPads, computers or devices of any kind. These things are just tools that enable the production of the same “stuff” just in different ways.  It’s the approach that makes learning innovative.

I was recently at a school that has a great reputation for providing students with “21st century” learning. They have amazing spaces, facilities, technology and materials. I was able to see two classes in action. One group of students were constructing iPod cases which were to hold speakers which they soldered themselves.

Sounds like a great design challenge doesn’t it?

The second group of students were racing cars they had built. They were constructed from the same materials and as they raced in pairs, the slower car was eliminated.

Sounds like fun yeah?

Both tasks provided opportunities for students to engage in relevant content that they could connect with. Both tasks provided opportunities to engage with peers and/or work independently.

One task had students follow an explicit sequence of instructions. Every end product looked identical except for the colour or decoration on the outside.

The other task had students challenged by a design problem. They had to consider how to make the BEST product with the materials provided and test the end product to see if their design was successful.  Each end product looked different even if the colour matched others.

Only one of these tasks was different than a traditional build from the 20th century tech class.

I remember woodwork in high school. We built paper towel holders and coffee cup trees. Each one looked the same, some were sanded finer or stained darker, but generally the end products were hardly different.  I know that some schools still complete very similar tasks and thus we would consider them static in their progress.  I argue that the first task I mentioned above might as well be a paper towel holder. The only difference is that kids would prefer to make it over the paper towel holder!

Whatever the product, the change in the innovation is giving students the opportunity to approach it in authentic ways. Given a design brief with limitations, not a sequence of instructions which results in identical products at the end.

The same can be said in all class rooms. If we are just providing options to do the same task in different ways, for example instead of writing your narrative, type it on the iPad/computer or record it in audio, this is differentiating the learning yes, but it is not transforming the experience for the student. It is not challenging them to think about their learning in different ways. It is merely making the learning look pretty. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE PRETTY!!!

Developing an innovative learning experience is not limiting our students to topics or ways of expressing themselves, it is about inspiring our students to think beyond the examples we provide.  It is about establishing a culture of exploration, adaption, modifying what we know and making it better!

This is what I endeavour to do each and every day. How about you?

Why I Teach and Lead! #SAVMP

cc flickr photo by Brenda Clarke

cc flickr photo by Brenda Clarke

People often ask why I am a teacher. It wasn’t my first port of call and I once felt a sense of shame, that I chose teaching after my previous (somewhat socially higher valued) profession. Now I cannot imagine doing anything other than “cultivating learning”!

So what made me divert the course of my life?

Well it was a community of young indigenous boys in the centre of Australia. A group of boys that caused nothing but havoc to the organisation I was employed. Every program we implemented and every facility we renovated, they destroyed, hijacked or sabotaged! For my colleagues they were rogues, to me they cried out to be nurtured, their boundless energy harnessed, but most of all someone to give them a sense that there were greater possibilities,  they needn’t be welfare dependent nor expect incarceration. This community was rife with young children affected by drugs and alcohol, violence and neglect.  I worked with grandparents, amazing people frustrated and crying out for their babes to be saved.  This is what hurt my heart. I thought I was on a path where I could “change the world and make a difference” but at times I was was watching it pass me by.

This was the moment I decided I shouldn’t give up on that ambition, it just had to be a different path. That path was education. When I called my mother to have that awkward conversation (I have written previously about how inspirational mum was/is to me), “umm mum (mom) you know that 4 years I spent at Uni…..”, she was nothing but affirming.  In fact she said “these kids need people like you Rhoni, someone who only sees their potential”. That was it for me. I signed up for Education (Special Education) and have never looked back. My focus since has been how I can support students who need strong advocates to access the learning opportunities so many take for granted. This focus has taken place in the classroom as a teacher and beyond with an obligation to always seek the possibilities and not be hampered by or identified as their deficits.

In terms of leadership, it’s just not in my nature to be idle. When I see unfairness, inequity or something that just doesn’t sit right with me, I am compelled to act. My passion for having kids access opportunities drives me to build with others, a better education experience for all. I have always loved learning, it gives me chills to see my own children passionate about learning and it gives me an incredible joy knowing I have helped a child see their potential and go after it. I believe we (teachers) are important, I believe we can make a huge difference for our students and I know that our future is bright in the hands of kids when they are given opportunities to shine.

So really, I teach and lead to discover possibilities! To help students find the keys to unlock access to learning and passions.

I look forward to how this mentor program can support my development as a leader and help me increase the positive impact we have on young people by developing skills to construct and support a team of passionate educators. I enter this experience excited to connect with my mentor Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy and fellow mentees Dana Corr @dcorr1 and Kevin Graham @KGrahamHWDSB.

Resistance is Futile!

As I take a breath after a busy term, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the things we have achieved already as a school and the shift we are making towards a learning culture. It is easy to focus on the mountain we still have to climb and at times feel overwhelmed and frustrated by things moving slowly when you are in the thick of it. When someone on the “outside” can see a change and can feel a change it is both a relief and motivation to keep going.

There is still some resistance, and this is where I know the challenge lies.

Change and the flame

We need to see this time as an opportunity, rather than something being forced to resist at all cost or something that will just go away, if we sit quiet for long enough. It is a concern that some are already so close to the flame, students are disengaged and at times avoiding teachers or lessons and to be honest some are just not coping. For me this is the writing on the wall and differentiating our instruction, challenging our students and empowering them to explore their interests in a vibrant safe learning environment is the light. The last thing I want is for teachers to be burnt, either by feeling completely dislocated from where we are heading or completely overwhelmed because their students cannot connect and are responding in a destructive way.

I have read over and over that to get staff on board in a change process, they need to see what is in it for them.  Is there even a choice at this point? This is not a technology push, this is about the skills our students need to negotiate their world, to solve problems to use what is available to them and seek, discover and develop those that are not.  The ‘WHY’ we need to change couldn’t be more obvious!


After writing this post I came across this interview with Ewan McIntosh regarding “Key Ingredients for Scaling Up Innovative Teaching in our School”. When asked what we do with teachers who don’t want to adapt Ewan explains how to support teachers see the reasons through great leadership then he matter of factly concludes that if that isn’t successful, “Help them find another post”.

Check it out here.. http://vimeo.com/63328145#

The Power Game

Lately I have been thinking about the role that power plays to inhibit the learning in our classrooms and schools.  This has led me to think back…back ………back to my early impressionable years at university, as I studied justice and law and visited the works of such thinkers as Michel Foucault and german cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche. I remember being caught up in the ‘rise of the institution’ as a construction of power and control. At the time it wasn’t the institution of schools that I was most intrigued by, it was in fact the prison and psychiatric institutions I was more obliged to investigate.  The system of education was secondary but still of interest due to my reliance on being part of that machine to complete my degree!  It is now that my memories of such studies comes to the forefront as I consider why it is that our classrooms often preside as the playground of power struggles and control and how the systems we work within constrain and restrict originality.

Foucault saw schools in the 17th century as functioning to contain disorders, prevent ignorance, idleness, and insubordination (see Discipline and Punishment).  He then saw it develop with the rise expanse of the factory and population increase into the more modern system.

Schools began to develop, first, functional spaces, and later, separate classrooms; and pupils were distributed spatially and serially, not only according to progress, age, or level of achievement but also character, cleanliness, even morality.

The twentieth-century shift from traditional didactic or teacher-centred to more co-operative or child-centred instructional formats has not dissolved or tamed power relations but merely reformulated them.

 Roger Deacon 

I can walk around my school on a daily basis and see this in action. We have some amazing teachers in our school, yet if you asked each one of them who owns the power in the classroom, who controls the learning, I am quite sure most, if not all, would say they do.

George Couros recently suggested reading Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. It was quite serendipitous that 2 days from starting to formalise these thoughts on here, George would make this suggestion.

Notter and Grant declare that we are in fact struggling to be “fully human within our organizational lives” as they explain that our organisations have been “modelled after machines”.  Foucault would assert that in fact they ARE machines and we are but cogs within it.

Are we just cogs in a machine?

Are we just cogs in a machine?

Notter and Grant see that the “revolutionary breakthrough in technology” (the internet) has enabled us to become “more human”.  The social connections and implications creating transparency and enabling the line between professionals and amateurs to be blurred.

Yet our organisations (schools) remain rigid and our classrooms structured to maintain the machine. The struggle for control and power continues despite the mechanics failing those it is trying to ‘produce’. Most would agree and most schools would even impart in their vision that their objective is to support students to be innovative, creative and successful. How many of our schools are actually able to support their staff to be innovative, creative and successful? Does it start there? Shouldn’t our principals be able to be innovative, creative and successful too?

The challenge as Notter and Grant see, is “to make our organizations more human”. They suggest:

Taking more chances

Giving up control

Shifting authority

Thinking about old issues from new perspectives

Bringing in new voices

I would love to see these ideas being discussed within faculties, within schools, within executives, within regions. I would love to hear  about and see schools challenging the machines and transforming themselves to become more “humanized”. Most emphatically I am excited about challenging my own classrooms, my own staff, my own peers and my own leadership, to see how WE can become more “humanized”!