CoLearn MeetUp

In my last post, “Are these the greatest challenges teachers face?” I shared a curated collection of challenges ranked in their priority order by a mix of educators. The greatest challenge as listed by the 40 participants was Quality teaching time with students.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 15.16.39

The more time I spent looking at the data, the more questions I had.  What does quality teaching time with students mean?  What is the meaning of quality?  Now the wording of the questions on the Google form most definitely influenced the responses so contextual colour is required.  It is always required.  While we may have similar problems in our schools, it is different in each context.  The environment, the culture, the cohort, the policies, the community, these all play a role.  A lack of quality teaching time with students for one teacher may be as a result of a school’s expectations to perform well on NAPLAN or it might be as a result of too many competing extra-curricular activities.  It might be as a result of the range of capacities within the class itself.  It might be parental expectations. Whatever the case may be, a problem is an opportunity or as Taiichi Ohno calls it “a kaizen (continuous improvement) opportunity in disguise”.  Taiichi Ohno is the Former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation and is the pioneer of the Toyota Production System, a system that allowed a small time Japanese car company to compete on a global scale with the big American car manufacturers. The 5 Whys technique was developed by Taiichi Ohno as a systematic problem solving tool and it was (and still is) an incredibly effective tool.

Spending time in this post trying to decipher the why for the number one listed challenge would be time spent speculating.  What I want to spend this post talking about is how we bring colour and context to these challenges so that we can kaizen or continually improve.  Solving the big (and small) challenges in education is a passion area of mine.  I am interested in the subtlety, the details and the possibility to influence positive change through innovation.  At the bottom of the form I sent out, I put the call out to see if there were educators out there who would be interested in working together to try and develop solutions for some of these problems.  The rationale behind the survey was the development of the CoLearn MeetUp.

The CoLearn MeetUp is a meeting of educators and innovators to collectively problem solve the challenges teachers face in their classroom and schools through local action research and innovation.  The CoLearn MeetUp is a meeting of educators and innovators to look at the challenges that you face in your classroom and to help you to design solutions to solve them  CoLearners will share their insights and observations with other educators and be open to the collective feedback, insight and ideas you receive when you do. The CoLearn MeetUp is free, designed by educators and for you

The CoLearn MeetUp is not me selling a product or pushing professional development.  It is built of the same ilk of a TeachMeet.  It is reciprocity, teachers giving to other teachers and colearning together.  Look at the CoLearn MeetUp as a gym buddy for innovation and change at your school.  It is a set of friendly eyes asking how your innovation experiment is traveling.  It is a sounding board for ideas and feedback.  It is collaboration of the truest nature and professional learning of the highest degree.  The more you put in, the more you get out of it.

We will be running the first CoLearn MeetUp on Wednesday July 13 at Collective Campus (1/20 Queen St, Melbourne) at 6.30pm.  To continue the conversation, we have a Slack group set up that will allow educators a real-time communication platform to discuss the experiments or projects they devise.  The CoLearn MeetUp is free.  Please also connect with CoLearn MeetUp on Twitter (@colearnmeetup).  We hope to see you there.  Please RSVP on the CoLearn website and we look forward to colearning together.

Are these the greatest challenges teachers face?

I am incredibly interested in the commonality of challenge faced by teachers. Regardless of context we face many of the same problems. Sure, there are the context specific elements that make your problem unique but largely they can be qualified together. As part of a curiosity experiment I threw out a tweet on Twitter a while back asking for educators to list the greatest challenge that teachers faced in the classroom.

I then compiled the tweets in a Google form and sent out the following tweet.

40 fantastic people completed the quiz and so thank you to those people. While the total number of people who completed the quiz isn’t large, it does paint a really interesting picture. A total of nineteen challenges was listed and below is an ordered list from the largest perceived priority to the smallest.  The number one listed challenge was quality teaching time with students.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 15.16.39
Number 1

Now each of these challenges does require unpacking as there can only be so much that can be relayed in 140 characters and so I’m spending time trying to articulate the real problem.  I have many questions.  Is it time in total that places pressure on teachers?  Is it curriculum pressures?  The word quality needs unpacking as it is fairly ambiguous.  All those questions aside, the lowest score it rated was a three so there is something to this challenge.  As for second place, reaching all students and differentiating was listed as the next greatest challenge for teachers.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 15.17.12
Number 2

The interesting element about this challenge was that it was definitely a high priority but not the highest for many people.  I wonder why.  In third place we had time for curriculum development.

Number 3
Number 3

Time is a common thread between the top three challenges.  I have spent a fair amount of time working with staff at my school to unpack time as a challenge for educators.  My question is whether or not the real challenge is value and not time.  If we value something enough, we give it time.  If we feel that our time, which is valuable is being utilised in poor ways through the direction of others, we make a choice to pull back our investment.  While I can’t speak to any of the contexts above, I am intrigued by the challenge of time for teachers.  The following challenges are listed in their order.

Number 4
Number 4
Number 5
Number 5
Number 6
Number 6
Number 7
Number 7
Number 8
Number 8
Number 9
Number 9
Number 10
Number 10
Number 11
Number 11
Number 11
Number 12
Number 13
Number 13
Number 14
Number 14
Number 15
Number 15
Number 16
Number 16
Number 17
Number 17
Number 16
Number 18
Number 19
Number 19

I have attached a link below to a compilation of the challenges and I have created another survey link that I would love your feedback on.  It is the same survey but a different collector and I have added another box so that people can add their own other challenge.

Click here to access the ordered challenge list.

Click here to access a survey link to have your say or fill out the form directly below.

As always comments and thoughts welcome.


How does your school innovate?

Is your school innovative?  If so, how is your school innovative?  Is innovation only from pockets of lone wolves interspersed across the school or is it school wide?  What is the process used?  How does a school scale innovative practice?  

When it comes to the topic of innovation, I could keep going on and on with questions.  The question that sings out to me amongst all of the above is the question of process.  Innovation means different things to different people.  To me the definition “significant positive growth” talks to me.  It specifies growth from a determined and valuable metric.  Innovation isn’t a kodak moment plucked from thin air but a structured process that is as David Culberhouse (@dclulberhouse) states “often better served and engaged when approached from constrictions and constraints, than when not.”  It is innovation for value.  Significant positive growth in value.

Pilot vs Prototype

What process can you follow for innovation?  Traditionally at schools,  the pilot or trial is the go to method to validate the effectiveness of a particular tool, approach or change in practice and I have been a part of many trials and pilots in my career.  Some successful, some total failures.  My issue with the pilot as a methodology is that we determine the course but often we don’t tend to stray from that original determined path.  In the book “Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems Around the Globe” by the Global Education Education Leader’s Program (GELP), the use of the pilot method is questioned.

Whereas pilots are generally seen as test-runs of
and involve a limited number of people and locations, prototypes are intentionally unfinished designs that embrace a wide range of potential adopters and users in refining and enriching the development and testing out it’s applicability in a variety of settings. The earlier in the innovation process potential adopters and users actively engage with the prototype, the more likely diffusion will accelerate.

Now prototypes seem more synonymous with entrepreneurship and start ups than schools so what exactly does a prototype look like in schools?  What process should be followed?  How can this lead to improved innovation?  To explain this, we need to step back a little.

Problems and the Scientific method

Like Culberhouse stated earlier, innovation tends to thrive in response to the parameters of a problem.  There is a void, a need, a gap and we develop an idea or hypothesis to try to fill that.  The likely next steps are that you design to test that idea, define whether or not it worked and then make adjustments of either minute or significant stature.  This is the scientific method.

Scientific Method

The above graphic loosely outlines the steps required to complete a scientific experiment and is a process familiar to many.  This method is also at the heart of the Lean StartUp method.  The key difference is the lean component.

Lean StartUp Methodology

The Lean StartUp method was developed by Eric Ries (@ericries) as a way to reduce the product development cycle and to receive important feedback quickly.  Feedback is key in any process and Eric believes that the sooner we know whether or not our idea or hypothesis will work, the better.  Now it is not simply rushing to the end as quickly as possible, it is much more measured than that.

We have a problem and we develop a hypothesis to fix/cover/remove that problem.  From here we follow what Eric calls the Build Measure Learn process, which in essence is the scientific method.

ACHPER Presentation revised.079

The build component is our experiment, our prototype.  In the Lean StartUp process, a prototype is called a Minimal Viable Product, defined by Eric Ries as “the fastest way to get through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, with the minimum amount of effort.”  The prototype is not simply a half baked product or process.  For example, an MVP for a school working on redesigning learning spaces could simply be the reshuffling of furniture in an existing classroom to test floor formations.  The time and cost invested to set it up are minimal and so we get through the feedback loop quickly and learn fast.  The Build is easy and quick.  Our Measure for success might be simply sighting and documenting which spaces students gravitate towards or measuring on task time of certain students in certain locations.  A post focussing on metrics (actionable vs vanity) will come shortly.  We might Learn that students work most independently in the United Nations style formation.  To truly validate that learning, we would need to complete A/B testing.  According to Wikipedia, A/B testing “is a way to compare two versions of a single variable typically by testing a subject’s response to variable A against variable B, and determining which of the two variables is more effective“.  For our experiment above, it might simply by testing one class with the new formation and one class without.  It might be testing two different furniture formations against each other.  Either way, it helps to validate our learning.  If our idea works, it should consistently work and add value.  After we validate or invalidate our learning with our evidence, we then make changes, slight adjustments or complete pivots away from the idea.  The power of this approach for all who follow it is the contextual evidence it provides. It empowers teachers because of the value it places on their professional judgement.  It organises that judgement and collectively gives voice to the people who are best placed to ‘innovate’ or develop ‘significant positive growth’.  A great article about running schools like startups can be found here.

Lean methodology is also a part of the Inquiry Oriented Innovation Process, developed by Richard Olsen (@richardolsen).  I have spoken in previous posts about Learner development and developing pedagogical intelligence through the Modern Learning Canvas and the lean process is the action research element of this.  It is the step that tests assumptions and collects evidence (quickly).  Below is an image from my Year 7 Multimedia redevelopment that has been captured by Richard’s Modern Learning Canvas software.

Lean Innovation1

Feedback is the lifeblood of a great education.  Schools know that.  For example, many schools have moved to continuous reporting so that they can get feedback in the hands of parents and students quicker.  The lean process can assist in any area of education to reduce the feedback cycle and to gather more.  The more useful feedback collected, the more informed you are.  I’ll finish with another quote from the great David Culberhouse.

We find that we hide in our successes and insulate ourselves from change for so long that when the real need for change comes along, we are unable to adjust in agile and adaptive ways.  We find that we’ve lost the ability to shift or change, often leading to this ‘drift’ into irrelevance.

Don’t lose your ability to shift or change.  Be agile.

For those who are interested, I will be running a workshop on lean methodology at the upcoming TeachTechPlay conference being held at Ivanhoe Grammar on April 7 & 8.

If you’ve got something to say, say it

In a previous post, I talked about audio learning and the benefits of learning on the go. The evolution of this for me has been audiobooks. My good friend Aaron Davis wrote a great post on audiobooks (click here for the post) recently which prompted me to see what amazing books have been committed to audio. Seth Godin’s book “Linchpin” was the first cab off the rank for me. If you aren’t aware of Seth’s work, please check out his work here. I am a particular fan of his free education manifesto “Stop stealing dreams: what is school for?” Seth is an amazing thinker and I always feel challenged and inspired when I read his work or listen to him talk. I am currently about half through the 8 hours of audio (thank you long drives to work) and I wanted to jot some thoughts about Seth’s provocations and statements.

The first thought was really sparked by a conversation with a colleague who I rate as an amazing educator and friend. We were talking about blogging as a way of consolidating professional thoughts and documenting stories and insights. This colleague has amazing insight and perspective on education, especially on the use of technology to transform learning but he felt that he didn’t think he had anything to say in his blog. The funny thing was that we were having one of our usual in depth discussions about pedagogy. The comment stuck with me and really got me thinking about the ‘why’ of this statement. Was this reservation about what to say or what others would say about what you said? In Seth’s book, he highlights a David Mamet quote at the end of a chapter which I thought was so pertinent to the conversation that my colleague and I previously had.

“You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.”

David Mamet 

I fall into the same category, tending to over brew my posts and trying to get my thinking as polished as can be. What Seth recommends is that we should write to capture a point in time and that this process of writing and connecting helps to grow our perspective and learning. My friend Nick Jackson (@largerama) talks about the greatest learning in a post coming from the comments and he is right on the money. The post sparks the conversation and the back and forth helps the learning to grow.

Seth has inspired a few ideas for posts and I plan to do as I have done here.  Think, write, post all in the one sitting.  I do have something to say and I will get better at saying it…

Thanks for reading

Some thoughts on professional development

[Image: Flickr user Denise Carbonell]
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about professional development. Over the past month I have presented at the DLTV conference, ran an all day workshop on transformative learning to staff from around Victoria and have completed numerous training sessions with staff from my school. After the exhilaration of such challenges, some amazing conversations and plenty of reflection I was left with a few lingering thoughts. So what better way to flesh out my thoughts than to jot them down in a blog post.

“It’s all about the networking”
It wouldn’t be a conference without this line being spouted numerous times. Are conferences merely vessels for networking? Are the sessions just background noise while we chat amongst ourselves or through back channels? For me, yes and hats off to DLTV for providing a conference where you didn’t need to go to a session to be inspired, learn and connect. I spent time in the Games space and the Scootle lounge lost in Lego poetry, discussions with Kynan Robinson about theories of knowledge and listening to Eleni Kyritsis talk about Genius hour. All the while I was hanging out chatting with my good friend Aaron Davis. It seemed the richest conversations happened on the way to a session so sometimes we just kept walking even if that meant we missed out on a session. Sessions can be hit or miss. Looking at the crowd at our session, there were definitely people that would have felt like our session was a hit or a miss. So if the conference is all about the networking and the sessions can be a hit or miss, then what does the conference look like? Can you build a conference around networking or do we need the sessions to amplify the conversation? Is school like this for our students? As usual I’m left with more questions but I would love for some thoughts and feedback from others.

“What are you prepared to give?”
One conversation that really got under my skin was with a colleague who felt she had to justify to the other teachers at her school why she was speaking at DLTV. “Why are you presenting?” “How come they asked you?” “You’ve only been teaching for a few years, what could you share?” This mindset infuriates me. Within a PLN that spans the globe, this teacher is revered but within the walls of her own school she is questioned for speaking out of turn. Her response to the situation was right on the money…”I wasn’t asked, I asked to present!” The best professional development requires giving, whether it be your opinion, your story or your skill. The more that I give to my PLN, the more I grow. Whether it be contributing to the #aussieED chat on Twitter, presenting at a TeachMeet or having a beer and banter at #beerpedagogy, the contributions that I give grow me as a learner.  Preparing my perspective for a blog post or planning a workshop helps me to evolve but it also contributes to the evolution of other learners. One of my favourite quotes is “without contribution, we don’t have true collaboration”. In a classroom, we strive to have everyone engage and contribute however, there are times at PD sessions where we simply rock up and sit back. My challenge to you is to throw your hat in the ring. Give your two cents, reach out and connect with other perspectives and challenge your learning. Aaron Davis wrote a great post on whether or not PLN was a verb or noun in your world.  Make PLN a verb and like my colleague said, just ASK!


Staff Learning hub – Professional Learning Communities


Professional learning has a huge impact on the performance of teachers as well as the hip pocket of the schools.  In an ideal world, schools would send teams to conferences and PD sessions regularly as it is a powerful way to assist with strong post conference learning momentum and learning culture impact.  However, the challenge is balancing this with the impact on class time for students and the cost (conference fees, replacement teachers, resource purchases, etc…).   How do schools ensure that staff are inspired to grow as learners, are provided equitable access to learning and that the school budget is kept healthy?  I believe that the development of the school as a staff learning hub or a professional learning community is an essential step.

The first place that many teachers look to for professional learning is outside of the school walls.  We look to experts or conferences and attend in the hope that we learn a few things along the way.  Don’t get me wrong, conferences and offsite professional development sessions are great for learning and I have had some of the best learning moments during these sessions but I do often wonder why our first move when thinking of professional learning is not to look in-house.  I work with some of the most amazing educators and I am often blown away by their capacities and knowledge and I know that this is also the case for about 99.9% of teachers.  Why is this?  In a word, context!


Context has a huge impact on the growth of a learning culture and so professional learning framed with this in mind can be richer.  Knowing the conditions of your environment coupled with the knowledge of the ingredients that work in that environment will allow for greater learning impact to be achieved.  The challenge with offsite professional learning is that the presenters are not aware of your context.  They can’t be expected too!  The learning can then however, be “lost in translation” as learners transition back to their school environment.  Knowing the staff, student and parent body, understanding the vision and goals of the school and continuity of learning are huge contributing factors in the growth of a rich learning community.

How do schools do this? 

The first step is the acknowledgement and celebration of the skill and knowledge contained within the school environment.  Ask staff to list their strengths, skills and areas of expertise and generate a list that is accessible to all.  Have staff list all their capacities, not just the educationally relevant areas.  A strength based approach empowers all learners and by focusing on the diversity of skills and attributes a community has, schools can create rich learning environments for all interests and skill levels.  From this list, look at the PD schedule of your school and clear the way for staff to lead the professional development sessions and determine the professional development structure.  One idea that has worked really well at my school was a Workshop night, where staff volunteers proposed session topics and staff who were not running a session signed up for a session of their interest.  The buzz from seeing rooms filled with colleagues learning from colleagues is something to behold.  What I also loved about it was that it was just the beginning of the conversation.  If you are like me, sometimes that great idea or question appears post session and if you run in-house PD, then you can catch that friend and continue the conversation.  Staff also generated rich resources and then these were made available on our intranet.  This starts to build a purpose built learning repository for your school.  Some other in-house learning ideas that I know schools run are “Techie Brekkies” before school or lunch time drop in sessions where the focus is on shorter sharing.  I am also a big believer in student run workshops. Witnessing how your teacher conducts themselves on their learning journey in the face of learning roadblocks and challenges is a necessity in every classroom and school.  It generates a culture of “learning respect”.  The saying “guide by side” doesn’t specify an age or level of life experience and creating an environment where students often teach, helps to complete the cycle of learning.  For the student, teaching the content helps to deepen their understanding, develop greater empathy for learners and learn how to learn by watching an older learner.  For the teacher, they are learning the student shared content as well as sharing how to learn by role modelling.


Developing a professional learning structure together as a staff is good way to ensure buy in from all staff members.  However, the biggest challenge is always TIME.  There is never enough time in the day for the dedicated teacher and there definitely is never enough quality time in the day for the dedicated teacher.  How do we fit in rich professional learning around yard duty, parent meetings, assessment and reporting, staff meetings, committee meetings, lunch time clubs and last but not least a full teaching load?  Schools need to redefine how time shapes a teacher’s day.  Why can’t a team of teachers be given a block of time to complete an action research project?  Why can’t some of the money in the budget that has been allocated for professional learning be used to release teachers to review, create and innovate?  I believe that schools who shift and flex to open windows of time for staff to push the boundaries of their professional practice are highlighting to staff how valued their continued improvement is.

Of course, there is also nothing else like seeing a great teacher in action.  Some of my most inspired teaching and learning has been when I have team taught with another teacher or a group of teachers.  Seeing how they frame an inquiry, manage a class transition or qualify a student’s interpretation can provide new ideas, help refine practice or reinforce your own methodology.  I also believe that more teachers need to sit in on another teacher’s class sessions.  Sitting and actively listening and watching a great teacher in action can provide great professional learning for both teachers.  It begins a rich dialogue and if time is structured carefully, doesn’t cost a cent.

One of the last pieces of a Professional Learning Community is Parental involvement and learning.  Opening the doors to the parent body and being transparent about vision and practice are essential to the vibrancy and collegiality of a school community.  School’s boast incredibly diverse parent populations and this diversity should be celebrated and harnessed.  Parent run sessions on areas of expertise could be offered to learners of all ages and backgrounds.  Parents should also be offered access to some of the learning offered at school.  Run iPad workshops or Reading workshops for parents and garner buy in to your whole school philosophy on digital technology or reading.  Involving the learning of parents shapes the school as a hub for community learning and this should be celebrated and aimed for.

This post has taken me quite a while to write and flesh out.  I would love to hear some feedback so drop me a comment and lets begin a conversation.

Staff learning – #TeachMeet & #SchoolMeet

“The more the student becomes the teacher and the teacher becomes the learner, then the more successful the outcomes.”                                                                                 Professor John Hattie

To learn in my opinion is to be alive.  I love the challenge of learning something new.  I do personally like to figure things out for myself but I have also made some of the greatest strides forward due to collaborative work or great sharing.  In my previous post, I spoke about a Genius hour for staff.  Genius hour would serve to spark an idea or provoke a challenge amongst your staff but without a rich sharing platform/s, then I don’t believe that the learning is as rich.  Having different perspectives and vantage points analysing your learning can give you greater clarity, inspire new directions or provide critical feedback.  In schools, the greatest ideas are shared ideas.  A school that has collective buy-in from all staff in regards to vision for teaching and learning is a rich school in my mind.  Sharing is one key element to this.

#TeachMeet or #SchoolMeet

According to, “TeachMeets are meetings/un-conferences where teachers share good practice, practical ideas and personal insights into teaching with technology.”  TeachMeets provide opportunities for like-minded and inspiring/inspired learners to come together and share.  If you haven’t attended a TeachMeet yet, then do yourself a favour and get to one.  Great conversations happen both face to face and online and there are always plenty of good ideas and resources to take away and share.  If I was ever in a position to start a school, I would begin searching for staff amongst those who attend TeachMeets.  Why?  Well, I have always believed that the best teachers are those that are forever challenging their learning and thinking and these are the individuals that attend TeachMeets.  However, the challenge with great professional development that is done away from school is how to bring it back and apply it to your own context.  How do we keep the wave of inspired momentum going?  Well, why not apply the concept of the TeachMeet to your school.  Call it a #TeachMeet or a #SchoolMeet and challenge staff to volunteer to share their practice, expertise or skill in a 2minute, 5minute or 7minute slot.  How often have you worked next door to someone or down the hall and had no clue about how they go about their craft?  #SchoolMeets would help to create a professional culture where staff openly share their own practice and learn from colleagues.  It would spark conversations and possibilities for collaboration.  It may also encourage staff to sit in on a colleague’s classroom as a learner.  The #SchoolMeet is the beginning of a learning conversation.  It helps to pique interest and gauge understanding but this is just one element of the chain.

In my next post, I will be talking about the ways to evolve the conversation to encourage learning application.