Introducing PPSTACK and what I believe it takes to implement effective change and enable learner agency!

Introducing PPSTACK!

The last few days (and weeks) has had me reflecting on many things: what did it expose in terms of social and digital divides; what did it expose in terms of school systems and leaders and their agility and agency; what have we learned from teaching and learning over lockdown, and what do we need to change moving forward so as to harness the opportunities and how do we ensure change we introduce is effective?

Time and time again I found myself wondering what our recent experiences would have been like had the government of the day taken up the recommendations of Nikki Kaye's 21st Century Learning Reference Group? This was a group I was lucky to be part of back in 2013-2014 and as a group we came up with the report Future-Focused Learning Connected Communities which recommended the following:

  1. Commit to meeting the needs of 21st century learners
  2. Achieve equitable access to digital devices for every learner
  3. Invest in people and innovation
  4. Create future-focused learning environments
  5. Invest in high-quality digital content and systems to make content easily accessible
  6. Build regional capability through collaboration
  7. Build a robust evidence base
  8. Implement a coordinated, system-wide effort to align curriculum, digital technologies, property, infrastructure, funding and legislation
  9. Design a coherent, flexible and robust funding structure to support 21st century learning
  10. Implement a comprehensive five-year plan from 2014
What would the last seven weeks have look like had we acted on the recommendations and we hadn't find ourselves scrabbling to get devices into the hands of learners? I guess as Cheryl Doig highlighted in her recent post Digital Learning 2025, we can now only hope we now get in the near future and that devices will find their way into the hands of learners and will stay there!

The recent weeks has also had me reflecting on those schools and leaders who made the best of it and adapted and those who did not. I absolutely get the frustrations and concerns of leaders who were desperately trying to close the digital divide and were rightly concerned about the situations some students may have found themselves in what has been incredibly difficult times. The latter (i.e. the home situation) is not something we can directly control in education and I get that caring school leaders desperately wanted students back in school so they could look after their young people. I did however wonder about the schools where the leaders have been in place for a long time and have not looked at creative ways to close the digital divide before now? Manaiakalani has proven time and time again that decile need not be determinant of digital access and literacy. Whilst the ideal situation would be MoE (as they are attempting to do now) resource and provide for this access, it's important to note that technological tools without digital literacy and learned learner agency are of little use. If closing the digital divide is so important why has it not addressed before now? Of course in many schools this has been addressed and I don't deny that perceptions around lack of resourcing (and an absence of creative problem solving) will have put this in the too hard basket for others. And as for certain very well resourced schools and school leaders who bleated about not getting an LMS and device overnight from the LMS...shame on you, where the heck is your sense of personal responsibility, agency and vision? 

But back to the positive! These last seven weeks have provided "once in a pandemic" opportunity to look, listen and notice what the wins have been in going remote and connecting with our communities. It has been heartening to see school leaders and educators from around the country sharing what the have noticed and learned along the way. Conducting a number of The DisruptED Interviews was an absolute gift in that it gave me and others the opportunity to listen and learn from a number of folk whom I respect deeply - teachers and leaders who were listening, learning and sharing, highlighting the importance of wellbeing, connection, and what really matters for our young people in times of crisis. The lockdown has also been the spark for teachers to reimagine teaching and learning and has forced them to reflect, refine and think of ways they can work smarter and more sustainably. The Great NZ NCEA Hackathon and DisruptED Facebook Groups continue to blow me away with the educators they attract and the collaboration, sharing and learning  they have provided. There are so many fabulously generous, creative and agentic educators out there that have provided some very real highlights in what could have been a dark period for teachers and learners. 

And finally I come to what is it we have and learned and what will it take to actually harness these opportunities? At Albany Senior High School one thing we learned is that many of our students really enjoyed their new found sense of learner agency, others struggled due to a very lack of learner agency, so really we would have been daft to not create opportunities for learners to both develop and experience agency by introducing more carefully designed opportunities for self-reflection. You can read about our plan here. But in reading some of the public responses and some of the nervousness about these changes I realised there really are a number of factors that need to be in place if you are to leverage your noticings and implement effective change and in our case level up learner agency. 

And this is how PPSTACK came to be, my brain trying to make sense of what we need in place in order to succeed and goodness knows education always needs another acronym and Venn diagram! 😂

PPSTACK came about as I thought about the models I already really like in education.

TPACK stands for Technological pedagogical content knowledge and is a framework to understand and describe the kinds of knowledge needed by a teacher for effective pedagogical practice in a technology-enhanced learning environment. Mishra and Koehler added technology as a modelling element to Lee Shulman's pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) construct. They proposed that addressing content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technology knowledge concurrently provides a framework for technology integration in the curriculum. Source: Wikipedia

Ikigai Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being". The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one's life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. Source: Wikipedia

Well I would like to add one to the venn diagram mix. It's what I refer to as PPSTACK which stands for passion plus, surplus-theoriser, technological amplifier and content knowledge. These combined are the factors that I think need to be in place if we are to learning from our noticings, implement change and enable learner agency. 

My feeling is, if any one of these things are absent we are less capable of effective teaching and learning, implementing change and enabling learned learner agency. Basically this is this my current distillation of what we need in educators and educational leaders if we are going to address inequities and develop the skills and competencies needed to survive and thrive in a complex and uncertain world. Okay, that's a bold claim, but hear me out.

Passion Plus: Think about the teacher you loved, undoubtedly one of the reasons you loved them is that they had a passion for what they were teaching or even better, a passion for what they are teaching and the act of teaching itself. Passion matters and passion continues to provide that teacher x-factor and passion continues to be infectious.

Surplus Theoriser - Okay, so think I might have made this term up, but you probably get what I mean. We need teachers who are the opposite of deficit-theorisers, who genuinely believe ALL students can succeed. They do not have fixed definitions of success, they are responsive to where their students are at and really really believe every learner, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, decile, and learning diversities can succeed. It's like Henry Ford said "If you think you can or think you can't you're probably right." If a teacher does not believe a student can or will succeed they probably won't and if you do (but here's the clincher) and also have the other factors from this model in place, you most definitely will see greater levels of success.

Technological Amplifier - This is not about technology and devices for technology's sake, this is recognising that every teacher and every learner has a device, a reliable internet connection and a level of digital lietracy means the are in a position to amplify their learning exponentially through access to the technology. This is using technology to enable universal design for learning and assessment, this is using technology to ramp up creativity and collaboration. This is using technology to more agentically engage in complex problem solving. Technology used effectively can both democratise education and amplify learning. But again this is all the more powerful when combined with the other factors. 

Content Knowledge - All the passion, positivity and technology in the world will have limited impact and benefits if not combined with a teachers deep knowledge of content and skills of the curriculum they are trying to deliver. I am a massive believer that teachers have a moral responsibility to know and understand the New Zealand Curriculum, and that means the front end and back end and everything in between. It is deep knowledge of what it is you are actually trying to teach and have your young people actually learn that frees you up to be creative. I have seen wheels fall off time and time again when folk don't know the curriculum and then try and get all creative with it. If you are not crystal clear about learning outcomes, threshold concepts and skills, how do you expect your learner to be? Too often we see educators jumping to ready made unit plans, assessments and NCEA as a proxy for the NZC. It's not a proxy, it's a surface proximation at best - you've got to know the curriculum before you can have fun mashing up and breaking the curriculum. This is particularly true for anyone interested in integrated learning design! As Picasso stated “It took me four years to paint like Raphael,” he famously explained, “but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Don't underestimate the effort it takes to be powerfully and effectively creative. 

Anyhoo, there you go. 

I wonder if we all embraced PPSTACK as a gold standard, where might we in another seven years? 

Personally, as a longtime and unapologetic surplus-theoriser, I think we could just be the best bloomin' education system in the whole wide world. 


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