Realising the Future of NZ Education - an open letter to all NZ educators (and Minister Parata)

On Saturday I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at The Festival of Education as a supposed 'mover and shaker'. Here is an overview of my presentation on 'Realising the Future of Education' which endeavored to look at why, how, what, when we need to change education and what the government could do (IMHO) to support it. Okay, so not so humble...more righteous really.

Why must we change education?
As Ludwig Lachman stated, "the future is unknowable, but not unimaginable" and whilst we can't see into the future, we can look to a strong body of research to try and divine our present and future learners' needs. Put simply, we need to change education, because the world is changing...and changing rapidly. In the Western world we have moved through the 'Agrarian Age' where the land and agriculture were central to existence. We then moved into the 'Industrial Age', it was in this period that what we know as modern school structures and curriculum really came to the fore...and by and large there they have stayed. We are now however entering the 'Knowledge Age' where increasingly society and the economy is driven by ideas, information, problem solving, creativity and innovation. In a world where our learners are faced with more information, more people, more careers (but fewer jobs available) and fewer resources - our learners need new skills. Add to this the notion that the rate of change is accelerating, see Moore's Law based on Intel founder Gordon E. Moore's prediction that the power and speed of computer processing power would double every year, a prediction that holds true 50 years after it was made. It could be argued that we are, in fact, entering a period of hyperchange. Indeed. As Heraclitus once stated, "the only constant is change".

How do we need to change education?
Firstly we need to change our focus. We need to ensure we are focusing on actual 21st Century skills. This does not mean we need to throw out traditional learning areas with the proverbial curriculum bath water, but we do need to overlay these subjects with skills such as complex communication skills, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation as well as digital and information literacy skills. These are skills that need to be developed in a way that reaches across traditional subjects and silos. With this traditional subjects and silos may also need to be challenged so as to find more authentic connections and contexts to make the learning more relevant to our learners' worlds. 

We also need to address our models of teaching practice. As Scott McCleod highlights in his blog Dangerously Irrelevant three educational shifts are needed which will have the most impact on our students future and their success within it. There is a need to move from low level thinking such as recall and rote learning to high level thinking and complex problem solving. We must engage shift from analog to digital (or I would actually argue 'blended') and as Sugata Mitra states "unlock the power of new technologies for increasingly self-directed education". Which leads us to the final shift - teacher centred to student centred. Critical thinking, digitally rich and increasing levels of self direction will ensure we are developing learners who can survive in the knowledge age and flourish in the age of hyperchange.

I would actually argue that self-direction and developing student agency and efficacy is the fundamental shift. In a sense we want step away from our 'caged' classrooms to develop increasingly 'free range learners'.

Free range learners who are:

  • Free to choose how they learn
  • Free to choose where they learn
  • Free to choose how they process their learning
  • Free to choose how they evidence their learning
  • Free to experience learning that is relevant and responsive to their needs not our limitations
This does not mean the teacher becomes redundant, quite the opposite as they are challenged to provide authentic relevant contexts for learners, with just enough 'enabling constraints' to ensure that our little chickens don't accidentally cross the heavy traffic. Our roles need to change from teacher, to facilitator and ultimately to learning activator. Providing triggers and opportunities to learners to develop the relevant skills needed for their world (whilst somehow pleasing those pesky bloody UE requirements....universities of have a lot to answer for in relation to slowing progress).

I would argue if we are to realise the new MoE catchphrase 'Education, Excellence, Equity' then I would suggest we actually look very closely at the concept of 'Universal Design for Learning'. We need ensure that we are actually using pedagogical approaches that are reaching all learners. We need to ensure all learners are provided with multiple means of representation (or ways of receiving information...think visual, oral and written, offline and online). We need to ensure all students have multiple ways of expressing and evidencing their learning (again think visual, oral and written, offline and online) and multiple ways of engaging. This is equitable, but it is also challenging for educators have not had the methods or means of teaching challenged (in any rigorous way) for some time.

At HPSS we are in our infancy (we only opened this year), trying our best to meet these challenges. doing our best to learn and share along the way (see this earlier post to see how we are going about it). We are looking at delivering secondary education in increasingly authentic and engaging ways, offering up a programme that addresses a desire to develop both personal and academic excellence through a mixture of specialised learning (in both integrated and single subject modules), learning hubs, project learning and a generous serving of MyTime. We certainly don't claim to have nailed it...yet, but I would say we are wearing our future focused nappies rather well. You can check out both Steve and Maurie's recent reflections on our progress. 

How can we lead change in our schools
So how can we all lead this change, particularly when not given the gift of a clean slate. Put simply we will all need to get good at changing. We will need to lead our educators to become adaptive experts who as Linda Darling Hammond states "know how to continuously expand their expertise, restructuring their knowledge and competencies to meet new challenges.” All leaders in schools need to be firmly focused on the future. Future focused leadership is  about change leadership. Luckily, that continuous cycle for developing adaptive expertise already exists within the New Zealand Curriculum, the Teaching as Inquiry cycle in a sense represents an effective model of change management on a micro or classroom level. It is actually just a matter of ensuring that all teachers (and leaders) actually engage in robust, longterm inquiry. They need to be looking to student data, getting to know their learners' interests and needs and trialling new strategies. In fact, they need to become learning designers who are willing to iterate and prototype their teaching practice on a daily, weekly and annual basis. And it is important that the cycle is continuous so as to build on growth achieved from previous cycles of change management. As the Sigmoid Curve demonstrates, long term gains are more likely when transformation happens in periods of growth rather than decline. Put simply, it is better to be proactive than reactive. We simply must all keep evolving and moving forward. It might seem brutal, but quite frankly if you aren't willing to move forward, maybe you should consider moving out of the way. It isn't about innovation for innovation sake. It is about innovation for improvement sake.

How can we be supported to make the necessary changes?
Firstly we need to be acknowledged by the present MoE as active partners in our own future and knowledge building (letting educators help select the foundation members of EDUCANZ might be a good start...just saying :-). As Keri Facer stated "the future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene" - please let us all intervene...we are more than capable of doing so. If there is one thing (more like a few things) I could say face to face to Minister Parata, it is this. Be warm but demanding! We have the technical infrastructure (or at least we soon will have that) and for that we are incredibly grateful. I can only look forward to promising developments such as Network for Learning evolving in to an even richer platform and portal (please get ESAA working and mash up a solid range of pre-provisioned SMSs and LMSs for all schools to easily engage with...just a suggestion). We have phenomenal educators - yes some are better than others (just like our learners..we vary), but with the right support we can all fly. We have spectacular students - I actually wish you would stop labeling them so bluntly - your term 'priority' is potentially problematic. I am sorry, but for me, ALL students are my priority learners. I know we have a tail that desperately needs addressing, I am just not convinced that label actually helps. We have a stunning curriculum - don't waste resources and time on changing it...just yet. It is slim, it is creative, it is both freeing and just constraining enough. I adore the NZC from front to back and front again. So you if could just leave it be (for now) that would be ace. Yes, please have high standards for us as we have (and you want us to have) for our learners, and if you must, measure results, but just don't publish them. Use achievement data as you would have us use achievement data, for identifying teachers (who are learners too), school and geographical areas that need your resourcing and support. In publishing that achievement data, all you are doing is creating shame, and you know as we do that shame only does harm. It creates resentment, it creates loss of face, it eats away at confidence and knocks the very communities you claim you want to support and rebuild. This doesn't mean we want you to be soft, quite the opposite - we need you to be firm. Firm, warm and supportive. What we need for all educators and all schools, whether they are struggling or 'successful' (and achingly traditional) is recognition, celebration (The Festival of Education was a good start) but more than anything we need resourcing so WE receive the education WE need as well.
Demand high standards.
Demand excellent outcomes.
But mostly, provide generous amounts of ongoing professional learning and support. Provide support that is as relevant and authentic as the education we must provide for our learners.

Where and when will we make the change?
So whilst my last paragraph might have been targeted at those who support us, I would like to end with a call to arms to all educators. All challenges aside, we are actually more than capable of leading positive change ourselves. We need to set aside any perceived barriers, be it our leadership, our school, our socio-economic situation, classroom or class size - the reality is we can all start making changes in what and how we teach our young people. We can begin by supporting one another by sharing our stories, our resources and our strategies. We can create our own networks and support systems, whether they be the teacher next door or teachers on Twitter across the country or globe. Without resorting to singing some Whitney Houston or John Farnham at you, we need to acknowledge that the change actually starts with you - you wanting to change and then actually, quite simply, changing. As Ford once said, "if you think you can, or think you can't, you're probably right". The change can start here and now… …it’s simply a matter of developing a growth mindset.

In lieu of me attempting a power ballad (my colleagues will attest that it wouldn't be a wise idea), I leave you with this...a short poem by Claire "Righteous" Amos. ;-)

The Future of Education
The educational revolution will not be televised.
It will be blogged, tweeted and co-constructed in code.

The future is unknowable.
Change won’t be slowed.

So hurry up, build your own map.
And whatever you do, at least get on the road.


  1. This is so well-written, Claire. Very powerful and compelling without being accusatory or defensive. I found myself nodding silently as I read your post.
    Now that I have found your blog, I want to read all the posts- pity it is so very late. Tomorrow!

    Bridget, Christchurch

    1. Thank you Bridget! I appreciate your kind words ;)

  2. A very powerful message - a great read, thanks!

  3. On the money! I love how you acknowledge we have the infustructure, educators, students and curriculum. We just need to get on with it.

    You's love "A whole new mind." By Dan Pink if you haven't read it already.



    1. Thanks Rob! I haven't, but I will...and soon!

  4. Congratulations Claire on an articulate and well written post. I missed your presentation at the Festival of Education so it is great to see the slides and read your written ideas. I love the connection with "free-range" learning and of course you know my views on leading and creating change through Teaching as Inquiry (+ I've been known to sing Whitney!). Your creative poem is very apt to end! Will be showing your post to my husband as he'd love this future focussed educational outlook that questions that "traditional" status quo of most schools currently.

  5. Nothing wrong with recall and rote learning. That's why asia dominates education, science and economies world wide. Read the PISA rankings.

  6. Chris, those Asian nations are just beginning to understand that their education systems, while topping the PISA rankings, are not producing the range of skills and attitudes which will see their young people prosper in the world we now find ourselves.

    Your letter is well timed and well written Claire. Many of us are ready to be the change that you so eloquently propose.

  7. This is fantastic Claire! Thankyou. The NZC was what moved me to come to NZ from Uk. Your requests andthinking, aligns with the nzcer research I'm involved in called future of schools now in its third year. I'm going to read with anticipation, what you are doing and how it's going. My Technology faculty is based on these philosophies and so is my current masters. Thank you again. The more of us who walk this path will enable others to walk with us. :)

  8. Thank you Clare for your action oriented thinking. And your comment about "priority learners" is important. I see it as problematic because it points to a flaw in classrooms that are set up in such a way that favours some learners and not others - and then we label them "priority learners" and set out to "help them" by doing the old stuff harder. What I think we need to do is to leverage off all learners diversity in ways that involve and motivate all learners.


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