Competence – The Greatest Barrier to Change

A very brief post. Just sharing what I’m thinking about today.

At the moment I’m trying to lead some change at school. Basically, I want teachers to embrace ICT across the board. It’s hard work. There are all sorts of barriers. There are technical barriers (apparently), cost barriers (also apparently), all sorts of barriers. However the barrier I’m thinking about today is unexpected. I work with a bunch of people who are highly resistant to change. They’re resistant because they’re really good teachers who get excellent results in the system as it is.

Teachers whose outcomes are… ahem… less than excellent aren’t a problem. It’s easy to point out to them that we need to change the way we’re doing things. Teachers who just don’t care are even easier; we can ignore them and move ahead. It’s the teachers who are really good who are the problem for me. Until the system in which they’re doing so well changes, where is their incentive to change what they’re doing? They get excellent results out of students, and have done so for years, and show no signs of stopping.

Not only that, but they make me doubt the need for change at all, at least the changes that I’m thinking about. The good thing is that they make me think carefully and clarify why I’m seeking to change how we do things. Also, thankfully, they’re generally supportive and open to new things and improving their practice. However, I suspect that deep down, they’re humouring me when they take my advice.

Why, I hear you ask, and I ask myself, would you want to change the practice of teachers who are getting good results? I honestly ask myself this often. Why should I worry about what constitutes 21st century learning when there are teachers getting excellent results with 19th century practice?  I exaggerate, obviously, but you get the idea.

I think I know why it’s important. Firstly, they are the teachers that others look up to. If they aren’t using ICT effectively, then there is less incentive for others to do so, and I believe that many teachers can improve their outcomes by using ICT effectively. Secondly, just as with literacy and numeracy, I believe that teaching safe and effective use of ICT is the responsibility of all teachers. I wouldn’t dream of saying that I choose not to embed literacy and numeracy into my courses, and yet some really good teachers believe that it’s okay to say that they don’t see the need to embed ICT.

Finally, and most importantly, it is through the consistent use of ICT in all areas of education that outcomes improve across the board, as pointed out by Mal Lee here. I keep coming back to this post. I’ve also written about it here. If strong teachers aren’t pulling in the same direction as those of us who struggle a little bit more, then they’re letting us down, in spite of their excellent individual results.

If we accept Lee’s argument, and I do, then there are some obvious consequences:

ICT infrastructure must be so solid that the use of ICT is never a hindrance. We can’t ask excellent teachers to sabotage their lessons by incorporating sub-standard ICT. Devices need to start up quickly and resources need to be consistently accessible.

The second consequence is that schools need strong leadership to guide these excellent teachers in the direction that is going to be necessary for all students (not just their own) to succeed. This isn’t to say that excellent teachers need to sacrifice their own students results to benefit everyone else. I believe that their own results can in fact be enhanced by the appropriate use of ICT. But they do need to alter their practice and endure some short-term discomfort if we are all to move forward for the benefit of everyone.


* I work with a mixed bunch of teachers. All of them are great people and every one of them has some positive impact on their students. Most of the truly excellent ones aren’t actually a hindrance to my vision for ICT in the school. I’ve take a little poetic licence. Was it worth it? I think so.


Christmas Bauble #1

I teach a lot of lessons in a year. Most of them are very pedestrian. Some of them are better than average. These are the ones with clear learning intentions and success criteria and a solid activity in between that links them. Among this fairly average teaching, however, is the odd exceptional lesson. So, my teaching is a bit like a Christmas tree. Most of it is pretty ordinary, but there’s the odd shining moment. Don’t get me wrong; it’s solid, like a good little tree, but I wouldn’t generally bother to blog about a particular lesson, and I certainly don’t want anyone to get the idea that every lesson I teach is as fun as the one I’m about to describe. So, this lesson is like a shiny bauble on an ordinary tree.

This lesson was inspired by Mark O’Meara’s session at the ICTEV conference in 2013. In this session Mark had us hard at it for the entire 45 minutes collaborating on a podcast. You can find it here. It was a really inspiring session and I swore that one day I’d run the same session with one of my Media classes. Today, in a double period, pretty much on the spur of the moment, we did it.

I had set my year 11s the task of researching and recording a podcast, which I like to do to because it gives them the chance to play to their strengths (talking). When one of them asked how to “do” a podcast I knew the moment to pull Mark’s lesson out had come. So today I walked into class, got them to volunteer for their production roles and then stood back and let them create a podcast.

My highlights were:

  • Refusing to answer questions with anything other than “It’s your show”.
  • The serious looks on their faces in the production meeting that they called half an hour into the session.
  • Looking around the room at 50 minutes in and seeing everyone on-task, even though I hadn’t given any instruction for about 45 minutes.
  • The look of combined terror and exhilaration when I told them that it would really be put online.
  • The audience managing to stay (almost) silent while the recording happened. Something that never happens in my actual class.

So, here’s the podcast. It’s rough, and the facts expressed are questionable at best, but it was a great learning experience for all of us and I’m looking forward to the reflections they write tomorrow.

Big thanks to Mark O’Meara for running the session last year. It was seriously inspirational.

The girls would love it if you could give it a like on Soundcloud or even better if you could leave them an encouraging comment (even if you can’t be bothered listening to it).

Blog on Blog #2

What is our responsibility as bloggers?

I’m reading a few blogs now, ranging from very brief reflections on classroom practice to academic papers that just happen to be posted on a blog. I hope that my own humble offering sits somewhere in between. My question is, how much responsibility to we have to cite sources or to base what we write on research?

My lovely sister is a naturopath*. She’s very careful to only work with treatments that are supported by serious scientific data. So, for example, she won’t touch homeopathy. There is no hard evidence for its effectiveness, so why use it? I’m sure her job is made harder by people who have read blogs that happily state that dipping your nose in a bucket of cat’s urine is a sure-fire cure for warts with no evidence or liability for the ill-effects of cat’s wee up the nostrils.

I like to think that I’m a professional. So, what is my responsibility here? I don’t think that everything I write should have to be peer-reviewed and backed up with hard data, but nor do I think that I should be able to bang out blatant untruths without regard to the possible consequences.

So where’s the line? What lines do you have for your own blogging?


* I have two sisters. They’re both lovely.

Beyond the Best App For…

I’m learning a lot this year. Actually, it’s thanks to the TL21C PD program that I’ve realised that there’s a whole world of professional discourse going on out there that I can tap into. The latest epiphany I’ve had is almost completely thanks to this article by Mal Lee*. I found it so compelling that I thought it was worth summarizing my understanding of it, and what I see as its implications for my job.

There is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment.

Mal Lee, 2014

An excellent painting app hasn’t improved my illustrations.

I must admit that I’ve often had trouble articulating how I think digital technologies improve student outcomes. I have no doubt that they do, I just haven’t been able to clearly say exactly how they do this. When there has been talk of evaluating the 1:1 program at work I have been quite worried that we are not getting “bang for our buck” even when the NSSCF funding is taken into account. What I’ve been wanting, and I suspect many people would like, is a Hattiesque “effect size” for the 1:1 program. Mal’s opening statement, above, seems to express what I fear: That we could remove the computers from almost any class in the college with no obvious adverse effect on outcomes.

I was therefore relieved to read on. Mal states that while there is no “significant linear connection between… digital technologies and … student attainment” there is a significant, positive, non-linear impact of a school ecology where the use of digital technologies is infused into “all facets of their operations”. So, although we could remove computers from any individual class and not notice the difference for that particular class, as soon as digital technologies aren’t being used consistently across the school, results across the board would deteriorate. The question is, why?

The answer isn’t simple, and I’m not going to try to simplify it. I strongly suggest that you read Mal’s article as it goes into detail about the mechanics of the relationship. However, I will suggest that the positive impact is partly due to connections; connections between students, teachers and course content, connections between home and school, connections between schools, and connections between course content and the rest of the world.

So how does this effect my job? As an elearning coordinator my discussions with other teachers often revolve around what programs or tools they can or should be using. It is a part of my role at school to know and understand the different software that each learning area uses or should use. This aspect of my role often troubles me. Why should I understand Geogebra if I don’t understand geometry? (The fact is that I don’t.)  And can I understand a piece of software or a web tool if I don’t understand the subject area in which it is being used?

Mal’s article suggests that this shouldn’t be my role. At least, it shouldn’t be something that I’m too worried about. In the long term it’s certainly not something that should take up too much time for anyone. As teachers’ expertise and familiarity with edtech improves, my role should change. What my focus should be is on changing the “ecology” of the school so that digital technologies are “infused” into all aspects of our work. Obviously the role of ICT in teaching and learning is a huge part of this, but it is still only a part.

Mal suggests that the same things that make teachers and lessons effective are unchanged, however the integration of ICT across the school amplifies them. So my role should be to look at how technology can do this. For example, there are obvious ways that technology can be used to improve feedback loops between teachers and students.

So, the next time someone asks me “What’s the best app for…” I’ll tell them what I know. But I’m not going to be staying up late into the night trying to keep up with the latest, best apps, or learning geometry. I’ll be looking at a much bigger picture.

I’m not certain if this has made my life easier or harder. Thanks, Mal.


*Mal taught for some years with my aunt. He lives just up the road from my parents, and I played with his daughters as a youngster, so I’m going to feel free to call him Mal from now on. I hope that’s okay, Mr Lee.

Blog on Blog #1

I’ve decided to put posts about blogging as “Asides” and not publicize them.

Today I experienced how blogging is changing my teaching.

I told my year 12s that they needed to elaborate as much as possible on their answers. I found myself saying something like:

“The more you write about this the more your mind will work on clarifying what it is that you’re thinking. By writing about something we’re forced to think more deeply and more critically about it.”

I’m pretty sure that this is coming straight out of how I’m feeling about blogging. If nobody ever reads it, it’s still allowed me to clarify, refine and question what it is I’m thinking about my teaching.

The Adult in the Room?

A few years ago I used an online collaborative whiteboard (I don’t remember which one) to collect student’s opinions about something (again, I’ve forgotten what). It was going really well until one of my charmers drew a lovely big willy in the middle of the screen. These were year 12’s and, frankly, I found it a bit funny, so it wasn’t a discipline issue. Still, I shut down the session straight away and moved over to WallWisher. “Right! you can write your ideas down.” Almost instantly someone put a note in the middle of the screen that just said “Willy!” I, of course, was juvenile enough to still think this pretty funny.

Now this is the first question I have:

I know that I can moderate my padlet walls, but are the students really getting genuine student voice if they know they are being moderated? If they know they’re being potentially censored, will they start self-moderating, and is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I self censor all the time. Perhaps it’s a good thing that they learn to do so.

At the start of unit two this year I decided to ask my year 11s how I could improve my teaching. I actually did this on the fly, but padlet was in the front of my mind thanks to this post and these comments by and with Aaron Davis. So I told them to tell me how I could improve and this is what I got:

How I can ImproveNow there’s quite a bit to be embarrassed about on this. I do tend to be pretty late with my marking, and I do tend to leave a lot of theory until the last minute. I obviously haven’t taught my students how to spell excursion, either. I’m quite happy with the fact that one of my cherubs had the thought to tell me about a lesson that they thought was particularly good.

Encouraged by this, I then asked them to write down what they thought they could do to improve. Here it is:


What struck me about this is how little the students have any idea about what they can actually do for themselves. I know dozens of ways that I can improve, but all they can come up with is “try harder”, in essence. I get PD all the time about how I can improve my general teaching, but (question 2):

When and where do my students get PD about ways in which they can improve their general learning? Is this a problem for other people, or is it just me?

Finally, what I’m pleased about with the examples above is that, despite the fact that students were anonymous, and despite that I was actually asking for a critique of myself, nobody was untruthful or nasty. In fact, I’m sure they pulled a few punches. I think this comes down to having positive relationships with them, and that comes down to their feeling of agency in our classroom. Their feeling of agency makes them able to have an adult exchange, which improves their feeling of agency, and so on.

Am I really the adult in my classroom?
Am I really the adult in my classroom?

As the adults in the classroom it’s up to us to allow our students’ voices to be heard. If at first their voices are nasty and unpleasant, that’s because they’re not used to using them. The more they use them the nicer they’ll become.

At least that’s what I hope.

World-Class or Just Global?

With my deadline for reports looming, I thought I’d just quickly take on Khan Academy.

At the opening session of TL21C Will Richardson presented this slide.



He briefly questioned what “world-class” actually meant. My immediate thought was “I’ll bet it means that it’s in English.” Now, this isn’t really a huge problem. One of the great things about online content is the possibility of media being automatically translated and there are benefactors paying to have Khan Academy’s content translated. However, for me it does highlight a more serious issue; what voices are under-represented or completely missing in the online world and what might the effects of this be?

There have always been Big Voices in education, but until now they have been restricted in their reach to regional, or maybe national levels. Occasionally there have been some Very Big Voices who have influenced educational practice internationally, but their influence has been at an organisational level. I don’t know (and there’s a lot I don’t know) of a voice so big in the past that it has influenced on an international level the minutiae of what is being taught at a classroom level, and how it is being taught.

Let me be clear; I think what Khan Academy is doing is excellent. I think the object of bringing education to the entire world is totally noble and I’m really glad that it is being done. I am in no way critical of Khan academy. What troubles me is this: I had a conversation with a maths teacher in which I offered to teach him to screencast some content. He basically said “No, there’s heaps of that stuff on Khan Academy”. This teacher was happy to outsource his teaching and focus on assessment. Again, I’m sure that he wasn’t proposing to outsource entirely, however the fact that he could only name one source of online content was troubling.

I drew this!
I drew this!

Our students deserve a diversity of voices. All our students deserve this. If we choose to outsource our teaching, and fail to effectively curate diverse content, then we are failing our students.



Moreover, effective learning should be a social endeavour, and the most important relationship our students should have is with us. If they are not hearing our voices, and we are not tailoring our teaching to work specifically for them, then we are also failing them.

Our students need to hear our voices in the classroom and online. If we want them to be learning anywhere at anytime, then we need to make our little voices available to them as well as guiding them to a diverse range of bigger voices.

I feel as though I’ve failed to really say everything I wanted to here. Globalising education, while noble, must have some long-term effects. Our own little voices must be present to provide diversity, and therefore we must develop the skills to make all our voices present.

I refuse to outsource my teaching, however, If Salman Khan wants to drop by and do my reports for me, he needs to get cracking. They’re due in 36 hours.