Experts, expertise and learning


I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences lately that have got me thinking about the art of knowing, learning and being an expert…

I think we have all had the experience of a parent not trusting us as a professional who is an ‘expert’ in our field of teaching. I dare say doctors get patients coming in to tell them they have already diagnosed themselves with help from Dr. Google. It wouldn’t be surprising if architects are told how to do their job by an avid Grand Designs viewer…

So what’s happening to our world? Tom Nichols, in his book “The Death of Expertise” thinks we are not just loosing faith in experts but that we see it as a virtue.

“To rej22BOOKNICHOLS1-master180-v3ect the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”

He thinks we are caught up in our very own confirmation bias bubble, where we are exposed to much more information than ever before. However, this information tends to be cherry picked and biased towards what we already think and believe. On top of this, real experts don’t always make their way into our wee bubble, leaving room for charlatans to spread misinformation and people to believe some pretty wacky things.

“…romantic notions about the wisdom of the common person or the gumption of the self-educated genius.”

But confirmation bias is only one of our fallibilities as humans. Another cognitive quirk that comes into play here is the Dunning Kruger Effect where, if we don’t know much about something, we mistakenly think we do and fail to see our own incompetence. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why we can be super confident as beginning teachers, then sometimes loose confidence as we learn more and discover just how much more we can learn to develop our practice… Perhaps this helps explain why we often rate ourselves highly on PD rubrics before we begin the PD then, as we learn more we grow more realistic in our self assessments…

I think schools have an enormous role to play, if we take Nichols’ view as true, especially if we are indeed living in a ‘post-truth era.’ I don’t know that anyone would argue the importance of teaching critical and analytical thinking skills in schools. I think the question is – How do we teach this? How do we teach that science is so much more than doing a fun Coke and Mentos experiment? How do we teach that we need to be really discerning with information we find on the internet or in our day-to-day interactions with others? How do we instill the idea that knowledge is different to belief?

Perhaps a good start would be to model and live it. I attended the Campus Link conference “Turning Point: Changing Landscape of Education” recently and a key theme that kept coming up in so many of the talks is EVIDENCE! What is the evidence that a certain intervention will be successful? Why do we feel that to do something, anything, now is better than to do something soon, once we have done some homework to ensure that intervention is actually evidence based? Why do we jump onto ideas based on a snipit of information provided to us by a colleague, when we could evaluate the evidence or inquire further into the idea?

Bryk_front-cover_web_revPerhaps here, we can learn from the ideas in this book:

Rather than “implementing fast and learning slow,” the authors believe educators should adopt a more rigorous approach to improvement that allows the field to “learn fast to implement well.”

Ensuring we have a curious and inquiring mindset would help too, I think – always evaluating our own beliefs and assumptions and building our own knowledge…


In praise of the collective

TEDAs I said in my last post, I attended the TED Opening Night, via film, last week which really got me thinking.

The final speaker was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs who talked about the new thing we all worship- predictably, ourselves.

“Future anthropologists will take a look at the books we read on self-help, at how we talk about politics as a matter of individual rights, and at “our newest religious ritual: the selfie” — and conclude that we worship the self.”

However, Sachs says, we are social beings so all this focus on the individual goes against our very nature.

“To solve the most pressing issues of our time we need to strengthen the future us in three dimensions: the “us of relationship,” the “us of responsibility” and the “us of identity.””

Sachs discussed the very human trait of surrounding ourselves with people who share our views, residing in our own little echo chamber of the same ideas. Of course this is not overly helpful when we are also prone to confirmation bias. Nor is it helpful when we are trying to re-imagine schooling and education… How do we get to a place where we want to follow people we disagree with on Facebook, Twitter etc? Where we feel comfortable debating big issues with people who totally disagree with us? Where we actively seek out people whose views differ from our own? How do we get to the stage where we feel comfortable in such an uncomfortable situation? – This is vital if we are going to shift our own thinking…

“We need to renew those face-to-face encounters with the people not like us in order to realize that we can disagree strongly and still stay friends.”

Sachs went on to discuss nations’ identities and the religions and politics of ‘us.’ He ended with a simple but powerful suggestion:

“Do a search-and-replace operation on the text of your mind. Wherever you encounter the word ‘self,’ substitute the word ‘other.’ Instead of self-help, other-help. Instead of self-esteem, other-esteem. We can face any future without fear so long as we know that we won’t face it alone.”

How do we grow ourselves and our students to become an ‘other’ type of human?

Do we over ‘process’ and scaffold creative opportunities?

I went to the TED opening night, cinema event, last week and it left my mind whiring in the wee hours of the morning. Not the usual worries and hashing out of upcoming Open to Learning Conversations either! This was all positive ideas and thoughts, so thank you TED!

One of the talks was by the band OK Go, of the zero gravity music video fame, among others. They talked about their creative process, which they said was hard to describe but was not – think up idea, plan, go back to the ideas phase and refine, new plan, create. Instead, they discussed spending lots of time playing with ideas in their metaphorical sandpit.

I, personally, like the linear model they presented. It works for my more sequential way of doing things. I also like the Design Thinking model and became particularly attached to the simplicity and versatility of the Stonefields School learning model during my time there.

However, I wonder if we allow children enough time in the sand pit at the start of such a process… or do we over scaffold or over process things, thereby removing all the excitement, wonderment and creativity? Though these things have their place, how much play and exploration is there in a KWL chart or a brainstorm on the board, for instance?

Hacking Leadership

Being a new DP I have lots to learn about how to do this role really well. I have been enjoying reading “Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning That Teachers, Students, and Parents Love.” by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis.


The book is written in a super easy format and has lots of practical ideas and tips. I’d recommend it, so far.

The book begins with a provocative question – “Would you enjoy being a teacher or a student in your school? ….Is there any hesitation in your answers? Be honest.” Woah! OK, time to reflect honestly!

It then goes on to seemly speak directly to me…”checking emails and efficiently completing paperwork doesn’t fulfill the needs of the modern school” – Uh oh, I pride myself on being relatively efficient and replying to emails in a pretty timely manner. Of course, you know this but it’s always good to have a reminder/kick up the butt that your real work is with the learners, both of the child and teacher variety.

So instead of being efficient, what is ‘hacking’ leadership all about?

“… empowering other people so they can achieve their hopes, dream and goals.”

Now that sounds like a worthy aspiration. How do the authors think we can achieve this?

Chapter One is all abut being present, visible and engaged. The authors tell us that communities need school leaders who understand that they have a direct impact on school culture. It is the leader’s responsibility to listen, be present, find out other people’s perspectives and be seen as lead learners.

A good thing about this book is all the practical ideas the authors give. Here are a few I’d like to try:

  • Diarise (and prioritise this intentionally I guess) time for relationship building
  • Be intentional about asking questions and taking the temperature of the community as a whole
  • Have informal lunch dates with groups of kids (and ask strategic questions in this time to elicit information)
  • Celebrate in public – I need to use our school’s Facebook account and get involved in this platform
  • Make a list of staff members I connect with meaningfully and make sure I connect with everyone (I need to decide what period of time is realistic for this)
  • Start a lunch time club (maybe… I need to think about what this could be…)
  • Go beyond modeling being a learner, which I think I do, to encouraging others to be lead learners.

Something that stands out for me here is the strategic nature of leadership. I really learned this when I taught at Stonefields School, where they talked frequently about being “strategically organic.” This has stuck with me. I think sometimes we hope for things to happen, rather than being strategic and intentional about making them happen – not leaving things to chance.

More on this book next time…

EduCafe Term 3 2016

We have a really exciting EduCafe planned for this term!

Term 3’s Discussion:

At this event, we will be joined by Dr. Jarrod Haar, from Auckland University of Technology.

Dr Haar will speak to us about technology – how this might change the workplace as we know it and what this means for careers, workers and students.

Dr Jarrod Haar (PhD) is of Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Mahuta descent. Jarrod is a Professor of HRM in the Department of Management at the Auckland University of Technology and is the Deputy Director of the New Zealand Work Research Institute. Professor Haar has a broad research focus, exploring work-family issues including work-life balance; indigenous (Maori) cultural factors (inclusion); the relationships between leaders and followers; and teams and performance. Professor Haar is ranked as a world class researcher (Ranked ‘A’ in PBRF); is an award winning writer and teacher, and has been on research grants totalling $36 million. He is a keen quantitative researcher, and has over 260 refereed academic outputs (including 65 refereed journal articles) and numerous editorial board roles. His is an Associate Fellow Human Resource Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ); a Research Fellow of the Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management; and was the 2016 Winner of the HRINZ HR Researcher of the Year.

How will the evening work?

Modelled on the “World Cafe” style of discussion.

Nibbles and beverages provided.

This EduCafe will be a bit different to previous events. Dr Haar will talk to us about his research, then participants will have the opportunity to discuss the implications of our new learning for schools, education and our learners.

The big question will be –

What do schools need to be like and do in light of the changing work place that our learners will enter into?

Click here for tickets.


Hello, my name is Emma and it’s been a REALLY long time since I blogged…

And I’m feeling REALLY disconnected from fellow education people out there in the big wide world….

And I haven’t been to any of the things I used to go to for such a very long time, like Ignite and all those other fabulous teaching things that really spark your passion for education. I’m not even going to Ulearn this year.

It’s feeling a little like an AA meeting… but not so positive…


The point of this rant is that disconnection could be one of the number one things that put the breaks on your personal growth, I think. I also think that being disconnected puts up a huge barrier to passion and excitement. When I used to be better connected online and face to face I had much more passion for education, got involved in much meatier debates and had exciting ideas popping up in my head much more frequently.

I’ve become stuck in that rut that so many of us get stuck in… busyness… I hate that word! My job has taken over a bit lately, emotionally and time-wise. You see, being a new DP and learning that role in a school with a one to two year ERO review (and the huge change process that comes along with that) is not easy!

The problem is that I have let this become an excuse. I have let the job put my study on hold and get in the way of connecting with other people in the sector. I have become that person I didn’t want to be – who doesn’t actually have a terribly firm hold on what is going on out there in the big wide world, beyond the school gates.

How long do you need to be disconnected for before you are so out of the loop that there’s no coming back?

And so I vow, in public, that I will get involved again. I will schedule Twitter time. I will go to events other than the odd CORE breakfast and EduCafe. I will read other people’s blogs again. I will start up my study again in the new year.

If you’re reading this blog, you are probably one of those well connected people who has their finger on the pulse of education at the moment. There will be people you work with who aren’t connected like you are. Encourage them to be!! I didn’t know how beneficial it was until I inadvertently lost it…

Come along to Term 2’s EduCafe!

Term 2’s Question:

What is  the purpose of schooling and how do we ensure that school is purposeful for all learners?

Modelled on the “World Cafe” style of discussion.

Nibbles and beverages provided.

Term 2: Monday 13th June 2016

6pm, for 6:15 start

National Library Auckland

8 Stanley St, Parnell

Tickets HERE

Please send this post on to educators, those in the wider education sector, parents, Board of Trustees members, students (Year 5 and older please) and anyone who would like to contribute to a discussion on the purpose of school. It would be great to have a really diverse range of participants in this conversation.

Thank you to CORE Education and the National Library for making this event happen.