Rising to the Challenge

We are constantly challenged to remain current in the fast changing educational landscape. Leveraging knowledge of others is crucial and much of what we have been able to achieve has been as a result of interaction with the broader educational community. This is a landscape where the possibilities offered by technology are outstripping pedagogical practices.This statement by Thornburg in 2004, surprisingly, still holds currency.

“The notion of educational practice as the impartation of a (largely decontextualised) body of information to be regurgitated on examinations is dead. It has been dead for a long time, although vestiges of it seem to have survived. But consider this: this model of education is experiencing its own demise simply because it is inadequate for the educational needs of young people entering a dynamic workforce where lifelong learning and creativity are among the few certainties for success.” (Expectations, 2004, Thornburg Center)
Exploration of literature makes it abundantly clear that some systems are harnessing technology and pedagogy with greater success. Certainly we are seeing innovation occurring in Asia and Scandinavia. If we take PISA assessments as a litmus we must believe that some systems are working more effectively than others. 

“An in-depth report by the Grattan Institute on the successes of four of the top five territories—Hong Kong, Shanghai, South Korea and Singapore—found that the success of the East Asian ‘tiger’ countries in PISA is likely to be connected to reforms that have developed the capacity of teachers.”(Ben Jensen, Catching Up: Learning from the Best School Systems in East Asia (Melbourne: Grattan Institute, 2012)

“No education system in East Asia that participates in international tests ranks below the international average. Such outstanding performance has led to the perception that East Asian education systems, particularly Shanghai, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore, exemplify practices and policies worthy of emulation worldwide”(Jensen, 2012) (OECD, 2011, 2014; Tucker, 2014, 2011) (Miao & Reynolds, 2014). (Ref: Zhao, Y. (2015). Lessons that matter: What should we learn from Asia?, Mitchell Institute discussion and policy paper No. 04/2015.)

There is a strong perception that the strength of these systems, and I must include Finland here, is that these systems are actively evolving to embrace pedagogical practices which better prepare students for a 21st Century World. To continue our evolution we should look beyond the traditional conferences and courses. We need to look at regions that are innovating differently and importantly are perceived to be succeeding. We should see what can be learned from the innovators in Asia.

“Outside observers have largely neglected or misunderstood these reform efforts, either failing to address why and how East Asian education systems have engaged in continuous reform over the past three decades or mistakenly treating some of these reform efforts as reasons for outstanding performance on international assessments. As a result, many of the popularly promoted lessons drawn by outside observers relate at best to the recent past of education in East Asia, while these systems have been actively working to create an education of the future.” (Ref: Zhao, Y. (2015). Lessons that matter: What should we learn from Asia?, Mitchell Institute discussion and policy paper No. 04/2015.)

And finally this comment, while reflecting on the UK system, is relevant here too. 

“Success will go to those individuals and nations that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task for UK policymakers is to help its citizens rise to this challenge.” (Andreas Schleicher is deputy director for education and special adviser on education policy to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Secretary General.)

Here I have included links to a couple of conferences occurring in Singapore and Hong Kong later this year which look worthwhile opportunities. (Wish list items)








Towards a Culture of Learning


Hattie (Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education) has identified a number of factors that are important in achieving positive student learning outcomes. Not surprisingly pedagogy was rated as being crucial. While his work is influential not all of his conclusions are as compelling as he advocates measuring teachers through assessments which does little to advance the outcomes of students. “make sure our money is spent well, is tie it to the performance of children and look at the whole test accountability notions to make sure we’re spending the money the right way.” (Hattie / Sahlberg interview) Fullan questions this idea “A focus on accountability uses standards, assessment, rewards and punishment as its core drivers. It assumes that educators will respond to these prods by putting in the effort to make the necessary changes. It assumes that educators have the capacity or will be motivated to develop the skills and competencies to get better results.” As Fullan points out the US has been using this approach for 30 years and their system hasn’t seen substantial improvement.

Similarly Pasi Sahlberg (Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) in the Ministry of Education in Finland) emphasises the importance of the quality of teaching. Finland leads the world in PISA assessments (International benchmark comparisons – OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment). “Because many young people when they look at what the primary school teachers do with a high quality academic master degrees that they earn in our universities, they see pretty much what the medical doctors, or lawyers or engineers or anybody else with a similar degree are doing, with their autonomy, independence, respect, professional collective nature of work.”

Carrie Leana (2011) a business professor at the University of Pittsburg. “She starts with the well-known finding that the patterns of interaction among teachers and between teachers and administrators when focused on student learning make a large measurable difference on student achievement and sustained improvement. This is called ‘social capital“. (Fullan)
Similarly Fullan (Prof Michael Fullan to Department of Education and Training Queensland) while looking at educational drivers states. “The first of these is about making sure that the centrepiece of action is based on learning and instruction. In this regard, relentless development of what we call ‘capacity building’ – to make learning more exciting, more engaging, and more linked to assessment feedback loops around the achievement of higher order skills (which I have called the new average) – is the main agenda.”

The creation of a culture of learning in schools is also suggested in an article by
Rick DuFour and Mike Mattos – How Do Principals Really Improve Schools?
“Of course, teaching and learning are not divorced from each other. The key to improved student learning is to ensure more good teaching in more classrooms more of the time. The most powerful strategy for improving both teaching and learning, however, is not by micromanaging instruction but by creating the collaborative culture and collective responsibility of a professional learning community (PLC).”
They cite a number of studies “which offer an unequivocal answer to the question about whether the literature supports the assumption that student learning increases when teachers participate in professional learning communities. The answer is a resounding and encouraging yes. (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008, p. 87)”
To foster school cultures in which professional Learning Communities flourish, schools “need to focus on forming teams in which members share responsibility to help all students learn essential content and skills, providing teams with time to collaborate, helping to clarify the work that teams need to do, and ensuring that teams have access to the resources and support they need to accomplish their objectives.” (DuFour & Mattos)

These ideas seem to sit well with the ideas of Fullan, Leana and Sahlberg. Sahlberg states “We are putting much more emphasis in Finland on well-being, happiness and health of children. So everybody is healthy and ready to develop themselves and to take the responsibility of their own learning.”
It is about finding the right drivers as Fullan suggests and advocating for a culture where schools focus on the student and on teaming to drive learning in purposeful ways, on creating Professional Learning Communities.