Going viral with future-focused education

Issue: Volume 93, Number 16

Posted: 8 September 2014
Reference #: 1H9csj

Future-focused learning and digital pedagogies have been around for some time, and there is now a growing sense of urgency around the need to shift these practices from the periphery to the education mainstream. Recent sector workshops explored the possibilities.

Young people are globally connected to an unprecedented degree. Knowledge and networks are at their fingertips, and digital technologies continue to transform their everyday lives.

It’s also commonly accepted that our education system needs to keep up to ensure that we are equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in this world of rapid change.

To explore just how that can be done, leading exponents of future-focused education, including principals, board of trustees members, teachers, researchers, and policy-makers, got together recently at workshops in the four main centres.

These were organised by the Ministry of Education in response to the interest generated following a workshop earlier in the year with leading Canadian educationalist Michael Fullan. His workshop examined current trends in education.

“Michael Fullan reassured us that work on future-focused learning is new everywhere,” says Margaret-Anne Barnett, the Ministry’s principal adviser for learning with digital technologies.

“We are in uncharted territory. There are pockets of innovative practice nationally and internationally, but no country has figured out how to use new technologies to maximum advantage for learning. Future-focused practices are critical if we are to equip our students with the skills they need for success in a rapidly changing world. So we have to be fearless as we grapple with how to take these practices forward.”

Creating a shared understanding of what future-focused practice is all about was the first task asked of participants by facilitator Dr Brian Annan, from the University of Auckland.

“What term motivates, inspires, and enables everyone to share an understanding of a schooling system that better equips young people for the future?” he asked.

There was agreement that digital technologies enable students to learn in different ways. Reflecting discussion amongst principals, Paraparaumu College principal Gregor Fountain said technology is transforming education as it allows students to learn anywhere, anytime.

“The challenge is to take the community with you, to build a narrative that defines what education is all about,” Gregor said.

“What are the attributes of graduates? What skills and competencies do we want kids to leave school with? Is the school framed in a way that allows these competencies to grow?”

Rose Hipkins from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research made a strong plea for schools to “take The New Zealand Curriculum seriously”.

“The key competencies in the curriculum are a good stepping-off point for conversations about how students learn and the future of schooling,” she said.

“Unless we put the purpose of what learning is about in the centre – why we are doing this and what we want kids to be capable of being and becoming – we won’t move forward,” Rose said.

Chris Theobald, deputy principal at Sacred Heart School in Petone, where more than half the roll is Māori and Pasifika students, has been involved with future-focused practice for several years. He is excited about its potential to reduce cultural barriers.

“I want to break down the barriers between home and school and the situation where kids come to school and leave their culture behind. Kids can only be fully engaged if they bring their culture with them.”

In Chris’s view, modern learning environments help.

Sacred Heart School has changed the learning environment very simply and cheaply with resources found on Trade Me. For example, students are made to feel comfortable with the addition of a communal table, which allows them to work in the way they might at home.

Throughout the day, the excitement and enthusiasm of participants for their shared vision was tempered by an appreciation that innovation must evolve alongside the realities of National Standards, NCEA, the competitive marketplace in which schools operate, and the fact that many families expect schools to be in charge of learning. There was acknowledgement that there is a lot of positive change already underway.

While finding the way ahead was not always clear, some general themes emerged about generating the momentum to transform pockets of innovative practice into systemic change to raise achievement for all students.

These included:

  • Sharing stories of what has inspired change in schools
  • Focusing on building skills for life-long learning
  • Acknowledging that students are increasingly taking control of their learning
  • Collaborating rather than competing
  • Using technology to better interact with families, whānau and community.

The Ministry welcomes comments or questions on this rapidly developing area. Email: learning.digitaltechnologies@education.govt.nz or visit the Enabling e-Learning website(external link)

Thoughts from workshop participants

Chris Theobald, deputy principal, Sacred Heart School, Petone

“How we turn this exciting talk, ideas, and connections into practice is definitely challenging. Even within schools, it’s just in pockets rather than systemic. It’s linked to individuals. More has to be done in terms of organisations of networks and disseminating ideas of what is going well.

“The barriers are societal and it is hard for the education system to change on its own.
Future-focused practice enables us to get whānau and the community on board and that’s where I see a positive chance for a shift. Re-imagining schools needs a cultural input that reflects the cultures that exist in schools.”

Anne Coster, deputy principal, Wellington Girls’ College

“An inspirational principal challenged us to open up our thinking, and instead of thinking about what has been and the way we have done things, to think about the big ideas about learning and what really matters.

“When The New Zealand Curriculum came out, the key competencies really resonated for me. I am a languages teacher, and while many of my students may never be fluent speakers of German, using it on a daily basis, I realised that there are other equally important things they learnt.

“The quotation in the curriculum – ‘One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions’ – is what I want my students to experience. Once you start to think like that it changes everything. As a teacher, you step back and let students have the experience of problem solving and having their mind stretched.”

David Waters, chair, board of trustees, Amesbury School

“When young people enter the workforce, employers have a range of expectations. What they want to see is someone who can collaborate, is a good team worker, problem solver, critical thinker, and can think outside the box. That needs to be the focus of education.

“As a new school, we identified we wanted to do something different, to bring innovations from other disciplines. We had a year or so researching to get a deep understanding of what 21st century practice looked like and the technology required to underpin it. We developed a vision which we knew was not a natural fit with the experience of our community, so we spent a lot of time exposing them to modern teaching practices. Then we were very fortunate to find a principal who shared our vision and could take it forward. The key is getting the right principal.

“It is very good now to see coming together of thinking, some common language emerging. There is still a lot to be done and my personal view is that we need more of revolution than evolution to this – it’s not more of the same, it’s fundamentally different.”

The New Zealand Curriculum identifies five key competencies:

  • Thinking
  • Using language, symbols and texts
  • Managing self
  • Relating to others
  • Participating and contributing.
  • People use these competencies to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:06 pm, 8 September 2014

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts