What do we think school should be like, to prepare us for life? – Discussion with Intermediate students.

I had a great chat with a class at Northcote Intermediate recently and thought I would share some of their insightful ideas with you.

Firstly, we had a bit of a talk about some current ‘push factors’ on education, that people talk lots about at the moment – technology, wicked problems, changes in the job landscape etc. Following this, the class got into groups and had a good discussion about what this means for schools – what should they do to prepare the students of today for life? What should change and what should remain the same?

Here are their ideas, in no particular order:

  • Teach science.
  • Up skill us to get into jobs where we can find new planets.
  • Lower the cost of education.
  • Learn the right things to match the jobs we want (here we had a bit of a debate about when it is best to move from a broad education to more specialisation).
  • Learn about sustainability.
  • Learn history so we can apply this in the future.
  • Have the opportunity to apply new learning.
  • Learn from the teacher, not just the internet.
  • Have supportive teachers.
  • Learn about robotics, computers and technology.
  • Learn the basics of reading, writing and maths.
  • Have more of a focus on careers counseling.
  • Don’t forget PE!
  • Have a focus on health.
  • Learn time management.
  • Become good questioners.
  • Learn patience.
  • Have more choice.
  • More of a focus on students’ passions.
  • Learn practical skills like cooking.
  • Don’t just focus on the academic. The social aspect of school is important too.
  • Learn social studies.

Thanks to the class at Northcote Intermediate for all your great ideas. It is so useful for us adults to hear kids’ perspectives on these things.


What’s the purpose of school? – Bringing some new learning and some old ideas together.

As you might have noticed if you read my blog, I have been doing a fair bit of reading lately. I’ve also been doing lots of thinking and have talked to plenty of people with differing perspectives lately. My challenge has been to bring all of this together to decipher what the purpose of school is (now).

I’ve decided to separate  the ideas out into the ‘how’ of learning, the attributes, skills, competencies and dispositions of great learners and the beliefs and values I’m thinking school should instill in students. I’ve also added a component which I have become convinced is missing in lots of our discussion around education – the ‘what’ – here I’ve pinched Michael Young’s term of ‘powerful knowledge’

What do you think? I’d love your feedback please!

My-learning diagram 2015 draft

The future of education – what will it look like?

I’ve read another book relatively recently, by Kerri Facer, called Learning Futures which I’d highly recommend. Below I have summarised the main ideas and reflected a bit about the ideas in the book.



Keri Facer paints quite a different picture of what schools should be, what purpose they should have and how they should operate. Her goals for thinking about a new education system are outlined in the first chapter:

“We need to start thinking now about how schools can act as resources for fairness if children bring highly diverse digital, social and pharmacological resources into the classroom. We need to start thinking now about how schools can equip students for democracy when technologies of surveillance are expanding and new networked public spaces are emerging. And we need to start thinking now about how schools can act as resources for building sustainable economic futures when networked globalization promises increased polarization, radical inequality and environmental degradation.”

She says that we run the risk of becoming more impersonal and fragmented as we look towards personalized learning when instead we need local, physical, community based organisations. We also base our current ideas about the future of education around two key ideas:

  • Technology is advancing, population is increasing, global economies are shifting so we need to prepare kids for that.
  • Technology is changing incredibly quickly but schools aren’t keeping up.

These are incorrect, Facer says, because they are based on the assumptions that we have no influence on shaping what the future will look like, technology will only change the economy and education’s sole job is to prepare kids for the economy. Instead, Facer introduces the idea of ‘socio-technological change’ whereby the focus is to move away from technology influencing the future alone to technology is “co-produced through social, material and epistemological practices.”

Facer offers some different assumptions about socio-technological change:

  • Computers will become more powerful and cheaper.
  • Computers will be found everywhere and digital and physical artefacts will merge.
  • Communication over a distance using rich audio-visual technology will be commonplace
  • Working alongside sophisticated machines will be taken for granted.
  • Networks will still be important for us to work in and adapt to change.
  • Bioscience will have a big influence on our lives.
  • We have an aging population.
  • “Energy, mineral resources and climate warming” will still be important issues for us.
  • We live in a world of great inequality.

Based on these assumptions, Facer looks at a future where the school is not ‘future-proof’ but, rather, ‘future-building’. This would mean looking at how learning happens inside and outside of schools as well as how communities can shape the future. Facer believes that the school remains important, and we should avoid breaking up into highly personalised pockets of learning because schools are a local institutions we can use to have democratic, critical conversations about the future, learn important things (as adults and children) in a network and create a sustainable future.

Facer sees schools as a place for a merging of older and younger generations’ ideas and experiences and a breaking down of the boundaries between these groups. In addition to this, schools will need to learn how to deal with students who bring diverse biological and technical enhancements to the school with them – “The educational encounter between networked individuals becomes one of understanding how best these resources can be mobilized, and where they need to be extended…” Facer goes on to discuss information and our ease of access to this. She highlights the need for ‘multi-modal’ literacies as we enter an age where machines will have the capacity to work out what to do, rather than just follow directives and our digital media will be more integrated into the physical world. We are, therefore, going to need to become more discerning with the information we find, and what we do with it. Facer says that “this means that there won’t be universal laws about what counts as valuable information and that critical questions we may need to learn to ask will be: “‘what am I interested in’ ‘what am I working on?’ ‘what matters to me?’” Schools would then move towards becoming knowledge producing institutions. On top of this, schools will need to be places where students experience and learn how to operate in a democracy.

My reflection on this book:

I’m glad I took the time to read this as it stands in stark contrast to some of the current ideas we throw around in education. I don’t know how many times I have attended a conference or spoken myself about the very ideas Facer seems to abhor. I guess it is all too easy to feel buffeted in the winds of change and caught up in the hype/depression/hysteria (depending on who you talk to) of discussion about the future.

Facer draws form many of the same trends but looks at the situation in a different (and perhaps more positive) way – how do we construct the future we want? This is where it got tricky for me. Although I appreciated the story at the end about a vision of a school in 2035, I found it difficult to understand what exactly would be happening on a day to day basis. I also found it challenging to think about how we bridge the gap between the current situation and day to day reality, and this vision of the future school. I also wonder if it is so black and white – either disconnected personalised learning OR community learning and co-construction of the future. Why can’t you have both?

Leading from the bottom of the heap

I was lucky enough to attend a day of the National Secondary AP/DP conference last week, which I also did a little presentation for. The theme of the conference had me hooked from the get go – Disobedience. Brilliant!

Videos of some of the presentations are here.

The day I attended was kicked off by Mei Chen, which I then followed with a breakout by Dr Graham McPhail. Talk about disruptive!! I was reminded again that I have surrounded myself (sometimes consciously, sometimes less so) with like-minded people. I read blogs, ‘network’ with plenty of people, attend conferences, read books, filter though Twitter and (more recently) learn from Jane Gilbert’s Education Futures papers…. It’s a fair bit of PD but most of the things I hear are pretty similar to what I think already. I’m heartened that this is, apparently, a pretty human quality called “Implicit Egotism”. Graham Mc Phail’s presentation, on the other hand, represented quite a different school of thought from what I am usually exposed to (it looks like it will go up on the NASDAP eTV page soon). So I have sought to find out more about why he thinks so differently to me and what research he has to back up his ideas… I’ll keep you posted!

My presentation was about leading from the bottom of the heap or, more specifically, redefining leadership in a broader manner – having an influence and growing others around you. To me this means that anyone can be a leader, no matter what the organisational structure or where you sit in the organisational heap.

I drew from Drew Dudley  who talks about every day leadership and not being quite so frightened of the title ‘leader.’ I also referred to the way in which leadership has changed now that people are so networked and we live in such complex times. Now anyone can create a little push in the system which could create a ripple of change. For this I drew from Seth Godin’s ideas around tribes and the learning I have been doing recently about complexity theory.

I also drew from my own experiences and highlighted how people in formal leadership positions allowed me to learn, grow and begin to have a bit of an influence. My presentation finished with a question to the audience – how do those of you with proper leadership titles allow others to grow and, in turn, grow and influence others? I have been lucky to have been lead by some great people who have done just this for me (Jeff Johnstone, Sarah Martin, Viv Foster… etc. etc. – I’ve been lucky that people outside of the schools I’ve worked at have helped me out too) but I shouldn’t be the only one who is this lucky…

Exploring the “modern”

There is SO much talk at the moment around what modern learning, teaching, spaces and mindsets might be, that I have organised two events this term to help us unpack such big ideas.

Firstly, on the 17th of August, there will be a get together at Campbell’s Bay School. This event is set up to be a fairly casual discussion for people who have either just moved into a new environment or are about to. The goal of the get together is to discuss the pressing and practical issues we face when in a very different space to what we are used to- What do we actually DO in these new spaces? How do we make the most of them?

More information is here.

The other event is EduCafe, which is on Thursday 27th August. Last term, the participants who attended EduCafe voted on the following topic:

What does the ‘M’ in MLE/MLP/MLM (Modern learning environment, practice, mindset) actually mean?

This will be a discussion for anyone who wishes to unpack these ideas to attend, not just those who find themselves in fancy new spaces. I anticipate the conversation at this event being fairly different to the first event – more philosophical, more broad and perhaps less about the nitty gritty of day to day teaching and learning.

It would be great if we could get a more diverse range of participants along to this event. Feel free to come if you are in a different industry, if you ar a parent, a student (perhaps over the age of about 10), a board of trustees member etc. etc…. Anyone is welcome as long as you are willing to discuss  your perspective on the topic. The more diversity the better so please pass this on to those who may be interested.

More information and tickets here.

AND, since we are talking about the modern and the future, how about having a listen to this audio from National Radio, where Salim Ismail discusses the future. What does this mean for education? Thank you to my Mum for sharing this with me.