129 posts categorized "Leadership & Management"

January 05, 2012

Collaboration 5: Underestimating the costs

Underestimating the costs
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Underestimating the costs

There are environments where people are under the impression that others are just out for their own gain. There is a distrust of “helping the other side”.

Schools might find this in several forms: parents who don't want their children to be in mixed ability classes, where students can help improve each other's capacities; teachers who don't want to share their resources, in case it ends up becoming an ever descending spiral to the lowest quality demoninator in their department or school; students who don't want to share their ideas for a project, lest they "give away their ideas" and let another student gain just as good or better a grade.

Generally, the costs of collaboration are always there, subconsciously or explicitly. The leader's job is working out how much those costs represent for the actors in a potential collaboration, how much the collaboration is likely to bring to them and see whether there is a mental profit leftover for each collaborator. If not, then the costs may be too great, the perception being that collaboration will only go to "help the other side" (and somehow take away from me).

Picture by epSos.de

January 04, 2012

Collaboration 4: Overshooting the potential value

Baguio Airport
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Overshooting the potential value

Sony again made a collaboration slip-up when they went to collaborate with Columbia Pictures in 1989, the idea being that filmmaking and film delivery could be brought together in interesting ways. The problem arises when the films are no good, and any synergy is rendered useless: "Synergy: big wind, loud thunder, no rain." (as cited in Deals from Hell).

When I'm working with startups in a Business Model Generation workshop, inspired by the book of the same name, one of the challenges for them is seeing between who is a potential paying customer and who is a worthwhile partner. The key in partnership is in the name: it should be considered a lifetime commitment, and a partner can never be converted into a client at a later date. Clients are what businesses need, in order to gain results.

In the creative industries, there is yet further questioning of the value of collaboration. The best films (and definitely the easiest filmsets to work on) have one director who just directs. He or she tells people what it is they want. There might be some room for negotiation, or for a "why don't we try it this way", but by and large the director knows what they want and they don't so much collaborate during the shoot as get the thing done before sundown.

I wish it was as easy as that, though. Collaboration is often better than a lone genius going about their art. Gordon Torr spends an entertaining 288 pages struggling between creative examples of where the lone genius has won the day, and creative teams where synergy was the only way to success in Managing Creative People. He never does reach a conclusion, although he does point out that job titles and hierarchy are a key killer of creative potential, something that relates to how collaboration's costs can oft be misunderstood (my next post)...

In an education context, to gain results in the literal or pure learning sense, we need to know who and what resources constitute 'clients', from whom we'll get stuff to enrich our minds, and who we want to view as collaborative partners because the sum of those parts will be greater than the individuals themselves. It's not a given that two people collaborating will offer this secret sauce, so we have to think very carefully about with whom we collaborate, what we get out of it, what they get out of it and the potential for both parties to get something new out of the partnership and collaboration.

Never again should the words "get into some groups" or "partner up" be uttered without some thought by the students, and by their teacher, about who is going to offer whom a genuinely additive partnership for a collaboration.

Pic of the deadly Baguio Airport by Storm Crypt

Collaboration 3: Overcollaboration

Too many cooks
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Overcollaboration

BP fell into the trap of having the emergence of far more networks and subgroups than were strictly necessary to get a result. There was a period where there was “always a good reason for meeting”.

Through social media, particularly in education, it can feel that there are just too many places to go, too many hashtags to follow, too many LinkedIn Groups and Nings to join in order to get some strong, actionable learning out of them.

The result of this over-collaboration can often be disastrous for the student publishing their work or seeking someone to collaborate with - "it's just another student blog", "it's just another wiki of debatable quality" might be the thoughts running through the minds of teachers and students elsewhere when the initial callout for peer support and comments goes out.

Even if comments are made, are they genuinely helpful in the way that structured, framed formative assessment can be within the walls of a classroom, or are they perfunctory "well dones", a digital kiss on the cheek before moving onto the next request?

Photo from B Prosser

January 03, 2012

Collaboration 2: Collaborating in hostile territory

Hostile Territory
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Collaborating in hostile territory

Sony was a company that took pride in its decentralised specialist divisions, divisions whose pride led to them competing against each other. When five divisions were asked to collaborate to create a new music behemoth, Sony Connect, the result was disastrous.

The personal computer division based in Tokyo, the portable audio team behind the Walkman, the flash memory player team, Sony Music in the US and Sony Music back in Japan just couldn't work together, so strong was their competition. The PC and Walkman groups released their own competing portable music players, and the Music and other electronics divisions of the company released three competing music download portals. The US group wanted to use flash memory and the MP3 format. The Japan group wanted to use minidisc and Sony's proprietary ATRAC format for music downloads. By May 2004, a very disconnected Sony Connect finally launched and was taken apart by the media and users.

In the meantime, Apple innovated its narrow, well thought-through line of MP3 player products with no competition worth the name. Apple's divisions had, through Steve Jobs and a culture of unity, collaborated on one perfect player. Sony's interior competition had decimated any chance of creating one dream competitive product.

Competitive units (within an institution) cannot collaborate.
(I've added this note after a great comment, below: competition within an institution breaks collaboration. But competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. If a leader can unite an organisation in collaboration and turn competitiveness to the outside, then the collaboration will work very well - think: football teams, corporations, or a country of school districts uniting to realise the benefits of scale that come from a nationwide online learning community, rather than letting commercial organisations pick up the financial benefits by uniting to pick off 32 Local Authorities at once.) 

So, then, what does this mean for education? In a school there are many competitive units: individual teachers have, traditionally, been the kings or queens of their manor, the closed-door profession meaning that what happens in their classroom, good or bad, is their responsibility. The result can be a competitive one - "my kids", "my class", "my results". Where teachers are recompensed on performance in any way, even in the form of feedback from superiors, this heightens the sense of competitiveness, making collaboration between teachers in a school impossible. The ingredients of competition - closed doors, one-teacher-one-class, rewards and praise for good performance - may have to be dismantled first, before collaboration can be encouraged.

Between schools within a district, a similar competitive nature exists, if not more so, as schools vie for finite resources from one source - the district. Therefore, for a district to enable collaboration between schools yet more ingredients need removed or altered: funding has to be allotted strictly on a per-pupil basis, not on projects or bids, for example.

Update: Peter Hirst points out further examples of school systems removing competition to enable collaboration, notably in Finland:

Thought I'd link you to an article that intrigued me... The main basis is that by removing competition in Finnish schools collaboration thrives and they succeed - there's no private schools, no school league tables, no performance pay and no standardised tests...

It is no surprise, therefore, that international collaborations of the kind that eTwinning encourages might work better for teachers and schools than collaborating closer to home, but the question that now remains, is collaborating for what? If there's nothing to be lost through competition, there is also, perhaps, a perception that there is nothing to be gained. Cue: collaboration for collaboration's sake.

Pic from Andrew Becraft

Collaboration 1: Collaboration is the key influence in the quality of teaching

3588106574_864b1baf76_z
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. The Microsoft-supported ITL Research revealed in a large-scale study:

"Innovative teaching happens more in environments where teachers collaborate. In schools where teachers report more frequent collaboration with one another on teaching practices, innovative teaching scores tend to be higher... Teachers told us that collaboration can be an important mechanism for sharing teaching practices and for mutual support toward improving them."

 Anecdotally, this has also been the prime driver in the continued growth and success of the TeachMeet movement since 2006, and EdCamps since then, providing environments in which teachers, for whatever reason, feel comfortable sharing. We'll explore over this series of posts what makes collaboration work sometimes, and fail others.

In education, the ITL Research mentioned earlier offers some light as to how further barriers might be approached.

"If innovative teaching is not yet commonplace, under what climates and conditions does it flourish? For a host of reasons, ecosystems (be they educational or biological) have strikingly different features in different places. Accordingly, we might expect different approaches and conditions to be driving factors in the different parts of the world represented in this research. We report here on factors that emerge as salient across countries, drawing from both survey data and qualitative reports.

Collaboration relies on a supportive culture, alignment of incentives, and times built into teachers’ schedules during which collaboration can take place."

And when John Hattie undertook his study of 800 reviews he found that the most effective teaching practices included a reliance on "the influence of peers, feedback, transparent learning intentions and success criteria... using various strategies, attending to both surface and deep knowing:

  • Reciprocal teaching (teachers enabling students to learn and use self-learning)
  • Feedback (specific response to student work)
  • Teaching students self- verbalization or self/questioning
  • Meta-cognition
strategies (awareness Problem-solving and knowledge of one’s teaching

In short - the most effective teaching requires the most effective collaboration. The challenge, I believe, is that in education, as in the world of business, many or most collaborations are not effective.

Morten T. Hansen spent years trying to work out why leaders sabotage themselves by promoting more collaboration in their organisation:

"In their eagerness to get people to tear down silos and work in cross-unit teams, leaders often forget that the goal of collaboration is not collaboration in itself, but results. Leaders need to think differently, focusing on what Hansen calls disciplined collaboration."

In Collaboration he examines companies like Hewlett Packard, Proctor & Gamble, Apple and BP to find out how the best teams know when to collaborate, and when not to.

In education, the sign of a bad collaboration might be summed up flippantly with the line: "Oh no, not another wiki…" The web is littered with "collaborations" that may have made the teachers involved feel fluffy and warm, but which added little to the results of the learning process.

Morten T Hansen outlines from his decade of research six key reasons for most collaboration's failure, and over the next six blog posts, we'll explore each one in turn.

Pic from Andrew Wong

January 02, 2012

Free up time by freeing up the timetable

One of the schools we're working with has just redesigned its timetables from scratch, based on the energy of the students, and negotiates most of each day with every student at the beginning and middle of the day.

When we're working with our Design Thinking Schools there is one challenge that is guaranteed to come up through the initial empathy and observation phase. It's symptoms are often first cited in great numbers: time, energy, curriculum coverage. We use a period of structured observation of every aspect of the school and a building blocks exercise to discover these issues, to get observations, not just opinions or perceptions:

The problem itself is actually far simpler: the constraint of the timetable.

So, whether it's an independent girls school in Sydney or a family of primary schools in South London, we get them to reimagine what the timetable could look like, based on how energetic and "up for" learning children (and their teachers) are, and on how much time is required to make the most of certain activities.


Timetable - danger!We discover different surprises in every school. At MLC School, through a colour-coding exercise on everyone's timetables we discovered that both teachers and students were low in energy and thinking capacity for the first couple of hours on a Monday morning, with other low energy levels at the close of the day (and little humour for learning that was foisted upon them, as opposed to learning of which they were in control). No surprise there, really, except the timetable tips an unfair disadvantage on students that have mathematics then, rather than a session of phyiscal education or another practical subject with some movement. Students learn that projects need long tracts of uninterrupted time, but maths needs short, sharp, high energy time to keep concentration levels up. Or, when studying maths at a higher level, students yearn longer sessions on maths to get deep into new concepts, try them out and create something from them that contributes to another project.

TimetableAt Rosendale School, South London, the teachers there have got around to publishing their two class timetables, clearly showing in light blue the 70% or so of the timetable that is up for negotiation, up for problem-finding and -solving.

This framework was designed with students, in much the same way as we did with high school students at MLC School in Sydney, to spot which parts of the day would lend themselves best to which kind of activity, and which activities were unmoveable, mostly down to visiting specialists needing these times, in the short-term at least.

As always, our brilliant teachers there are sharing their journey on their own blog, so if you want to see how this pans out through early 2012, just give them a regular visit or follow their posterous blog.

December 27, 2011

Ignoring What Works in Education, The Umbrella Man, and The Challenge of Framing

The Umbrella Man

Earlier this month I wrote in my GETideas blog about how in education we have a great talent for ignoring what the research out there says about what we know works in education, opting instead to largely continue with a status quo for which there is little supporting evidence of success at all. It's almost as if we strive for mediocrity in the face of proven excellence:

For example, formative assessment – student-initiated, self, and peer assessment – is far more effective at raising test scores than teaching to the test. Not putting any grades on student work at all, strictly limiting feedback solely to comments, is the most effective means of students eventually gaining top scores.

Go Google it and ye shall find.

Yet I haven’t heard one piece of discourse on formative assessment in the U.S. in 2011 that actually shows an understanding of what it is (the description is nearly always the precise opposite). And I do not know of any schools, anywhere, that have a policy that says that no student receives a grade until the examination (and I would love to be corrected on this).

Those making the decisions nearly always fall for the trap set for them: Our minds are built for ignoring the facts.

George Lakoff, the political strategist, sums this up most eloquently in the first chaper of his book, Don't Think of An Elephant (you just did, didn't you?):

When I teach the study of framing at [UC] Berkeley, in Cognitive Science 101, the first thing I do is I give my students an exercise. The exercise is: “Don’t think of an elephant! Whatever you do, do not think of an elephant.” I’ve never found a student who is able to do this. Every word, like elephant, evokes a frame, which can be an image or other kinds of knowledge: Elephants are large, have floppy ears and a trunk, are associated with circuses, and so on. The word is defined relative to that frame.

When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame. Richard Nixon found that out the hard way. While under pressure to resign during the Watergate scandal, Nixon addressed the nation on T.V. He stood before the nation and said, “I am not a crook.” And everybody thought about him as a crook.

You can read more about this notion of framing in my GETideas post.

Since writing this post, I've seen other examples of framing getting in the way of seeking out the facts that explain things, and of the facts not being as appealing as the frames through which people have already chosen to interpret an event. Really getting to understand how people frame seems key to helping move educators and education departments forward in adopting practices that the facts tell us work better than the status quo.

Take, for example, President John F Kennedy's assassination. This whole event, for large numbers of people, is framed, along with sadness, with the words "conspiracy theory". Thus, when The Umbrella Man was noticed on the street at the point of the assassination, despite the fact it was a beautiful day not requiring a black umbrella, people assumed that he was somehow part of the plot, providing many lavish explanations as to how so.

What emerged years later is a factual explanation and, as the author who coined the phrase The Umbrella Man puts it, a cautionary tale about frames:


View the whole clip, and explanation of The Umbrella Man with Errol Morris.

  • How are frames of those you're trying to convince to change their approach to teaching and learning getting in the way of adopting what we know works best?
  • What is it works best, in fact?
  • What challenges do researchers have themselves to overcome before educators start paying more attention to what they say works?
  • And what's the role of the teacher action researcher to start definining the agenda of what is known to work best?
  • Should it always be the PhDs that tell the teachers how to teach? Should all teachers strive to be researchers? Do you need to be a researcher to know what works best?

December 04, 2011

The stark truth about everything stopping you doing what you need to do

"When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money...

"That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact:

"Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build things that other people can use.

"Once you discover that, you'll never be the same again."

Steve Jobs' Vision of the World

November 29, 2011

TEDxLondon: The Problem Finders [VIDEO]

In September I gave my first (and maybe last!) TEDx talk in London, on something I believe passionately about, and something I do not believe we're getting right, at scale, in schooling.

It's a linguistic nuance that requires significant changes in a teacher's pedagogy, approach, way of thinking and way of of collaborating. It's a change that we're enjoying working through with hundreds of educators on at NoTosh, throughout Australia, the Far East, Europe and, from next year, the USA.

Not on the video, now released by TEDx, is the pledge I was asked to make:

I pledge over this next twelve months to help 10,000 young people discover a problem-finding curriculum, through the development of confidence and skills in their teachers.

Well, with some help from some friends, we did manage to get 10,000 young people discovering a problem-finding curriculum: and we did it in 21 days.

We're working every week now with schools across the world in building The Design Thinking School, a pedagogical framework that borrows from enquiry-based learning and problem-solving curricula to bring new meaning and relevance to students, and we're finding that such a framework works regardless of curriculum, country, culture or language. In independent schools with parents wanting top marks, in city schools where students are disengaged, in suburb schools were students are successful but bored... in every case it's leading to more engaged students and better academic performance, in both elementary and high schools.

These Are "The Problem Finders":

I’ve been lucky enough to see our education system from several sides. I’ve been a teacher, an education advisor for government and I’ve worked as a talent spotter for TV companies and digital startups in the creative industries. I’ve noticed something in the way that we teach our young people that has a negative knock-on effect on their very ability later in life to contribute to a creative, sustainable world. With my teams of educators all over the world I’ve also seen the impact of a simple mindshift that every teacher in every classroom can make.

When I worked with the television corporation, my job was to seek out ideas that people had come up with and invest in them. The key: they had to find a problem that no-one else had solved. Out of 3000 ideas, this past three years, I think I’ve recommended about 30 of them. That means that our most creative people have about a 1% success rate in finding problems that need solving.

Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.

I’ve discovered just how many per cent of our learners are working in a problem finding curriculum. This summer, I met Simon Breakspear, a young educator from Sydney living in Cambrdige. He told me that the biggest headache he had in his current venture was finding a problem that no-one else had looked at. He went on to point out that he had never had to find a problem like this until this very moment, 25 years into his life. Simon was part of the one percent of us who undertake that bastion of quality learning: a PhD.

Another educator and good friend, Alan November, told me story a little later this summer. He once taught a Community Problem Solving course where, on the first day, he set students the task of finding a problem in the local community that they could then go off and solve using whatever technology they had available.From the front row a hand shot up. “Mr November?” began one of the girls in the class. “You’re the teacher, we’re the students. It’s your job to come up with the problems and give them to us to solve.” This was in 1983.

All our students, their parents and the people teaching them, have been indoctrinated that is teachers who sift through all the things we can learn, find the areas worth exploring, and make up theoretical problems for students to solve. On top of this, most educators believe that it is their job to invent problems at just the right level of difficulty to appeal to every one of the 30 children in front of them.
So we see this disingenuous belief that framing fake problems in different coloured books (the pink ones for the clever kids, the yellow ones for those “who need support”) is the best way to create problem solvers.

It is not.

Teachers, for too long, have actually been doing the richest work of learning for their students. Teachers find problems, frame them and the resources young people can use to solve them. Young people get a sliver of learning from coming up with ideas, based on some basic principles upon which the teacher has briefed them, and the teacher then comes back on the scene to run the whole feedback procedure.

How about something different?

In the classrooms in which I work, students explore the twenty or so themes upon which our planet really depends, immerse themselves in the ideas and information their teachers, peers and whole communities can impart, find the problems they feel are worth solving, theorise which ones will work and then try them out in a prototype. In their world, we don’t just write an essay or create yet another wiki or blog to describe what our idea is, but we actually build the solution to the problem with our own hands – in this case, these seven year olds built the world’s youngest TEDxKids event, and talked about their research and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing – or simply most interesting - problems. Do animals talk? Do babies have a secret language? Which cancer should we invest in curing first? Why do slugs needs slime?

Others in a Brisbane primary school we’re working chose to explore living for 24 hours without technology to immerse themselves not just in what makes technology so vital, but also the challenges and problems to our wellbeing that technology brings.

It takes courage for a teacher to let go of the reins of learning sufficiently to inspire problem finding where no textbook, teacher or standardized test knows the answer, where the teacher’s voice is but one of 30, 300 or 3000 others chipping in, guiding, coaxing and coaching through the ether. But this kind of learning surpasses the depth of thinking demanding by any traditional textbook, teaching or standardized test.

I began with a story about my friend Alan’s class, his students protesting that “he was the teacher, and they were the students”. Well, he persisted. After a year of problem-finding, those students insisted on the school opening up over the summer vacation so they could continue to find problems and solve them. When a new computer arrived, a student broke into school over the vacation – he didn’t break in to steal the computer, but to practice coding it. It’s rare we hear of students breaking into school to learn. But, I guess that’s what Problem-finding does to people.

October 30, 2011

Tweeting for Teachers: Improving CPD through social media [Pearson & NoTosh report]

Tweeting for Teachers

It's six months since Tom Barrett came on board with me on Ship NoTosh, and in that time we've done a hugely varied amount of work, much of it under wraps due to the nature of our clients, and some of it high profile.

In the latter camp, we were delighted last week to launch Tweeting for Teachers, a report (that covers a lot more than Twitter) showing policymakers and school leaders some simple recommendations that will help more teachers than ever uncover the potential for turbo-boosting their own professional development through the use of social media and offline unconference events, such as TeachMeet and its younger cousin EdCamp. From the NoTosh blog:

Tweeting for Teachers – key recommendations

School leaders should:

  1. learn about and engage with the social platforms that their teachers, parents and pupils are using every day;
  2. use a social media tool as part of their communications with the school community;
  3. validate and support their staff in using social media tools for ongoing professional development;
  4. turn online activity into offline actions, in order to harness the benefits of face to-face interaction alongside those of online interaction;
  5. implement robust systems for evaluating the impact of CPD on teacher effectiveness and student outcomes.

National and local policymakers should:

  1. publish guidelines and support for teachers and leaders to help them use social media in schools;
  2. consider how they will begin to unfilter social media sites for use in schools;
  3. recognise and celebrate self-directed professional learning by teachers using online tools, and the role of social media in this learning;
  4. create a common online space where the whole education community can find each other;
  5. ensure that all Initial Teacher Training courses demonstrate a strong focus on the use of social media tools for ongoing professional development.

NoTosh undertook a significant piece of working in bringing together case studies of teachers and heads who are effectively using social media to take control of their own professional development, and making these accessible through film as well as integration to the report.

The report is one seeking feedback for constant improvement – starting with the 500 tweets during the one hour launch event – and films will continue to be shot and uploaded to the report over the next weeks and months.

 

We also undertook case studies of how businesses are using social media for professional development, and what education could learn from this. Finally, we developed recommendations for how teachers, heads and policymakers could further exploit the potential of social media to help teachers develop in a cost-effective way.

  

There are plenty more videos that I may well find the time to go through on the blog, but you can dive in yourself over on Vimeo now and come back over the next few weeks as more education and business video case studies are added. You can read the report on the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning site, and read more about our role in building it on the NoTosh blog.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

Ewan’s education keynotes & MasterClasses

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Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?

In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.

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