Education for uncertain futures

We crave explanations 
for most everything, 
innovation and progress happen 
we allow ourselves to embrace uncertainty.

Alice Bell the science blogger for the Guardian and Editor of New Left Project Tweeted...

"Science thrives on the cusp of uncertainty 
and its cunning operates in creative ways."

I've been thinking about uncertainty 
and wondering about its relationship
 to the state of being unsettled. 
In the past I have associated being 
'unsettled' or 'uncertain' as a change blocker. 
Today I say... Maybe.

Over the past few weeks I have been talking to classroom teachers at different schools and I am stunned that they do not consider that they really need to reflect on their teaching practice, ask why or try new ways. I'm wondering if they are experiencing uncertainty or are wanting to avoid being unsettled. So of course, I'm now really interested in this idea.

This coming weekend I am attending the second weekend of course: by Jane Gilbert PCSS551-13B (BLK) - Special Topic: The Future of Education.

Nine weeks ago at the end of the first weekend, the group of classroom teachers, reflected on their current understandings of schooling and education and decided there were feelings of being 'unsettled'.  I said, "but I don't feel unsettled, have I missed something?"

My understanding at the time was that 'unsettled' came from:
1. Deeply reflecting on why change is needed in schools and education.
2. Explicitly discussing the myths in education, which we as classroom teachers participate in perpetuating.
3. That knowledge is no longer just some thing to be transmitted, it has energy and students need to participating in being knowledge creators.
4. That schools in the 21st century continue to be based on the ideas of Plato

For nine weeks,I have wondered whether I"m about to feel unsettled. 
Another word has surfaced to sit along side unsettled, and that word is uncertain. 
Thinking about the things I feel uncertain about in schooling and education and then asking.. 
"Do I feel unsettled yet?" 

Last week, I visited Google and typed in 'uncertain' and 'education'. I was excited to find the path led to another talk by Keri Facer in the context of Education for uncertain futures!

Keri asks a simple question:
 "How do we better equip our students and ourselves to think critically about the assumptions we make about the future?" 

Keri identifies:

1. We are not so good at thinking critically about the future.

2. We manage uncertainty by working in cycles. "Schooling being profoundly cyclic."

3. When we do think about the future, we swing from a position of radical uncertainty or business as usual. Keri believes we all need to move beyond these polarities.

4. We need tools to be able to think critically and offers a model called: The four orientations to the future. Keri suggests we all need to think about which orientation is most useful to students and ourselves and the context we use the orientation.

Two key questions for thinking critically:
a) How open do we believe the future to be?
b) How much agency do we believe we have to influence it?

After listening to Keri, I am reflecting on which 'orientation' I am currently working with. As this may answer why I'm still waiting to be unsettled in my role as a classroom teacher. I have thought hard about when I experience uncertainty and feelings of being unsettled and I have noticed that its during these times I nudge something into action. I nudged this blog into action during a time when I changed from teaching Year 4/5/6 to teaching NE/Year 1.

My guess for my teacher colleagues who do not want to step into change is that radical uncertainty or business as usual has put them on pause.  I want to spend time understanding and applying the The Four Orientations. Keri suggests its actually critical to be able to place ourselves within an orientation so we can work with education in an uncertain future.

Evidence-Informed Practice

I've been thinking alot about the 'why' to what I do in the classroom.

Last week,
 Juliet Twist and Lynda Carroll  reminded me of 
Simon Sinek's work.

                                                                       Simon Sinek

Sinek talks about the golden circle. Sinek reccomends to always start with 'why'. Watch this clip  and I almost think life may never be the same!

There are squillions of  amazing blogs and online resources on the ready to tell me about WHAT to do with technology and social media in all areas of the curriculum.  

Very few actually assist me with WHY.

During this year I have been using education research to inform the why in my classroom program. 

The importance of educational research being aligned to classroom practice was the anchor stone for a recent conference at Dulwich College / London researchED2013 I Working out what works 

Professor Robert Coe

I did not think using educational research in the classroom  was anything different until I realised there was no box in my planning template for the section about what research is informing my planning!  Then I started thinking, what would happen if every classroom teacher was required to place in their planning the research evidence that informed their practice?

Recently a colleague (after listening to Dianne Christianson and myself present SOLE) picked up the SOLE research  and completely turned around her classroom teaching. Our colleague took one good nights sleep to do this!  I was so excited about the speed of change,  I wondered two things.

1. How do we go about capturing such a process so other teachers may be inspired to try a similar process?
2. How do we instill a culture of  'evidence-informed practice through research in our classroom planning?

I spoke to Ally Bull about questions to best capture classroom teacher thinking. Thanks to Ally who whisked the following  questions up in a flash. We are unsure if these are the best questions, however they are something to start with. Do let me know if you know of other questions that really hit the spot.

Questions that may be helpful to you and your colleagues to capture the exciting teaching / learning moment. 
(The context for these questions is SOLE. However, change your context and you could be cooking with gas!)

1. What attracted you to the idea of SOLE?
2. How did you think your students would react? How did they react?
3. What benefits can you see in this approach for the students? / For you?
4. What are the down sides?
5. Has exploring with SOLE challenged how you think about other aspects of your practice? If so how?
6. In what ways (if any) does SOLE change the relationships between you and your students / between one student and another?

KNOWLEDGE - The verb

Report to the Ministry of Education
R Bolstad & J Gilbert

In the past our understanding of knowledge has been treated as receiving content as part of disciplinary facts. 

The report to the Ministry of Education maintains there needs to be a new focus on the role of knowledge:
  ".. the focus needs to be on equiping people to do things with knowledge, to use knowledge in inventive ways, in new contexts and combinations." 


 ".. is seen as something that does things, as being energy.."

Knowledge is a doing word.

Jane Gilbert Professor of Education AUT

Jane Gilbert suggests this new understanding of knowledge is about:
 "How to use knowledge to generate new knowledge. To think about knowlege in new ways, as a knowledge-building or knowledge-creating enterprise, or as an activity that focuses on 'doing things with knowledge"
Catching the Knowledge Wave pg 76

With this understanding of knoweldge, Gilbert suggests that:

“The future is about students problem solving and thinking critically in a new way.  We therefore need our trainee teachers to experience this transformational learning at university so that they can work with students in the classrooms of the future.”

Amelie Kelder believes if knowledge is about energy it then  becomes connected to new tasks. 

Kelder explains, 

"...the energy is used to do something which leads to another action. For example, the lamp needs energy to brighten the room in order for me to read my book; the car needs energy to drive in order to go to the shop; the ball needs energy to move in order to be played in a game etc. The knowledge here thus would abolish the boundaries as it is connected to new tasks."

As a result of thinking about this new understanding of knoweldge:

1.  I have started looking at Sugata Mitra's model of SOLE and how it may be utilised in the classroom. At present I am in the process of preparing a presentation for the next staff meeting. My colleagues and I  are wondering what are  going to be the strongest angles we can enter into Inquiry teaching and learning.

2. I am asking myself how is the capacity to  create, change and collaborate within all teaching and learning contexts being realised?

Ken Robinson

Ken Robinson suggests that it is time for creativity and collaboration  to be part of a systematic process. Much like we learn numeracy and  literacy. Where being creative and using knowledge in a new way needs to become a habit.

3. I am looking at all classroom program development and implentation and asking: Where is the play, passion and purpose?

Tony Wagner

4. I am looking for a new metaphor for school. Guggenheim.  A archetyple spiral. A metaphor that has energy! 

5. I am looking to other disciplines for sign posts of where to go next.  One sign post is The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa statement of intent.  Within the statement is a vision about change.

E huri ngakau ana. E huri whakaaro ana. E huri oranga ana.
Changing Hearts, Changing Minds, Changing Lives


6. Sweeney believes the metaphor Punctuated Equilibrium is a metaphor for change. That change happens on the edges of any given species. Sweeney challenges us all to find our edge.

When schools work with knowledge

having an energy, schools may be able

to explicitly KNOW their EDGE.

Brian Sweeney, founder of NZEDGE.COM

Find your Edge

Brian Sweeney at TEDxAuckland

Brian Sweeney, founder of NZEDGE.COM

Sweeney utilises a profound scientific metaphor.

Punctuated Equilibriun is about change happening first on the edge of a species. The species enters a process to emerge, evolve and adapt.

Sweeney has used the metaphor to brand New Zealand.
 Sweeney encourages all New Zealanders to know that as they are living on the edge of the world they are contributors to global change. 

Sweeney challenges us to:
1. Know our national and international legends
2. "Find your edge"

I often wonder when and how change will happen in our schools. So many theories and ideas. Classroom teachers working from the ground up. Are we making any difference? Tonight, I am wondering if it is possible, using Sweeney's 'Punctuated equilibrium' metaphor if teachers who are working on the edge are contributing to schools / education being at an emerging stage of change. 

Does this metaphor make sense to any other teachers?

The challenge to 'Find your edge' is important to me. 
I'm tentatively suggesting that based on Tony Wagner's work on Creating Innovators: When a student is learning in a context where play, passion and purpose is evident then resulting from this may be an explicit understanding of the student knowing their edge. The student knowing what it is that makes them different and what it is they can explicitly contribute to their commuity and the larger world. 

Knowing your edge - steps towards innovation?
Knowing your edge - steps towards explicit personal change?

There is educational research in New Zealand titled On the Edge: Shifting teachers' paradigms for the future

Play, Passion, Purpose

Tony Wagner at TEDxNYED

Thank you to  Karen Melhuish Spencer for reminding me about this TEDx talk.

Tony Wagner discusses that it is no longer important what we know, instead the question is:
What can we do, with what we know?

Based on extensive research Wagner identifies the requirments to be an innovator.

1. Critical thinking and problem solving and being able to ask the right question.
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
3. Agility and adaptability
4. Initiative and entrepeneurialism
5. Effective written and oral communication
6. Accessing and analyising information
7. Curiosity and imagination

Wagner asks: What do we need to do differently to encourage innovators?

Wagner believes the culture of schools are radically different from the culture that produces Innovators.


1. Schools focus on individual achievement. 
Yet, innovation is a team sport
2. School are about specialisation. 
Yet, the world of innovation is about interdisciplinary problem based learning. 
3. The culture of schooling is about risk aversion and penalising failure. 
Yet,  Innovation is about risk. 
4. The school culture of learning is about passive consumption. 
Yet, Innovators are about creating a real product for a real audience.
5. Schools are about motivation through good grades. 
Yet, Innovators are intrinsically motivated.

Wagner found the central ideas that all innovators experienced was engaging with their
Play, Passion and Purpose!

Questions for myself:

Q: Where and how am I encouraging my students to engage with play, passion and purpose in the classroom?
A: Using the 21st Century Fluency Project planning template. Unit called I am Curious. Focus on questions  (sometimes big) within the science and arts. Sharing this template with others to question and reflect on 21st century teaching methods and our own assumptions about teaching and learning.

Q: Where and how am I starting to engage with the core competencies towards being an innovator?
A: Using the 21st Century Fluency Project planning template.
Reading Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

Q: What risks and failures am I modelling in the classroom?
A: By being explicit about the mistakes I am making during the day. eg saying: "Goodness I just made a mistake. I wonder.. what did I learn?"

Q: Where and how am I willing to take risks and model innovation?
A: Using and relying on digital technologies in the classroom, trying science experiments that just might not work, move with a students interest and be prepared to apply learning to a new context, model all the things I am curious about, model asking questions and embracing complex questions that may result in more questions.

Q: Where and how am I working with my passion?
A: Every day the sun rises and I drive to my school towards a new day of learning and creating. Secondly, everyday I connect with the digital community of educators who want to engage with how they can contribute towards realising dynamic change in schools and education in the 21st century. Thirdly, reading, reading and more reading about educational theory and practise and applying the 'why' and 'how' to classroom teaching and learning pedagogy. Placing my practise alongside rigorous academic thinking and research.

Q: Where and how can I place the importance of play, passion and purpose into Sugata's model of SOLE. Student Orientated Learning Environments?
A: I believe, without deep student engagement, achieved through play, passion and purpose the self orientated learning environment is not able to be realised.

Q: Play + Passion + Purpose = Finding your Edge?
This equatation introduces the heart of my thinking. In order to understand what is "our own edge" we must engage with our own play, passion and purpose!  (Watch this space!)

Karakia as lived experience

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