Endless Possibilities (tinkering to Utopia)

Endless possibilities: Liberating mindsets to effect change

Anthony Muhammad, PH.D.

This was a nice start to the day, opening with the big questions: like why do we have a public school system (quoted Tinkering towards Utopia) though pretty US-centric for all that. (grade-point average, college enrolment data etc.)

Muhammad argued that change was necessary for equity (and the achievement gap) and there were two forms of change needed:

  • Techno-structural (skills)
  • Cultural (will)

He argued that the cultural stuff is by far the most difficult. Using a gardening metaphor, he described culture as the ‘soil’, the technology as the plants.

Muhammad was particularly strong against the US model of failing schools, failing teachers, standardised testing etc. ‘Don’t do it’, he said. Yay, I replied silently in my seat. He argued for a move from meritocracy to egalitarian systems, and gave examples of egalitarian systems that education might aspire to. (like medicine, law enforcement and fire services, some of which had big holes in them aka ‘black lives matter’)

He called for a change to change mindsets, and two clashing mindsets (the superiority mindset, and the victim mindset) Schools that have one, or both, of these mindsets, have very big challenges in trying to improve. Superiority mindset is based on paternalism, competition and ‘standard-bearing’ (my construct is the best, and the only construct through which I define myself and others) THe victim mindset has irresponsibility, low motivation and low expectations of self.

He concluded with a liberation mindset with three commitments:

  1. A commitment to equality
  2. A commitment to responsibility as educators
  3. Advocacy (Dont’ be silent, advocate)

It was a good, aspirational, optimistic big-picture session. A great start to the day and not a gadget or gizmo in sight.

Session description

Endless Possibilities: Liberating mindsets to effect change

This session will explore the connection between personal/ institutional mindsets and substantive change. Schools have historically had a difficult time changing with the needs of the society and the primary culprit is our thinking. Technology and innovation are only as effective as the mindset of the people who use them.



Thinking about community

The last staff day for the year. Farewell. Speeches. Long standing staff members with nearly one hundred and fifty years of teaching between them, leaving and taking all that experience with them, before we all went out to lunch together.

They all gave funny or moving retirement speeches, talked about teachers they’d worked with and the students they’d taught, often about getting the job and always about the teams they’d been involved in and the people that had made a difference. The retiring swimming teacher gave a dignified speech, the EAL teacher talked about what she’d learned from her students and the time-tabler read out her old reports from Year 9, to everyone’s amusement.

The Head of Music, who gets everyone to sing every year, introduced us to a new carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter”, a bleak and beautiful song that his father used to sing for him and we all sang it as well as we could, then “Joy to the World”, which we all knew better. There was a tangible sense of community.

I thought of my wife, who works in business, mostly by herself or at bi-annual conferences where they all get together and where the bottom line is everything and where respect and loyalty don’t count for much, and was sorry that she didn’t share in this.

Not all business is like that I know, but there’s something in good schools that is inherently different from that; that creates an sustains community and that makes a big difference for the students and teachers who work there.

Best wishes to everyone for the holiday season.

Below: the carol we tried to learn; sounding a bit better than we managed!

Why resiliency matters

Where Resiliency Matters
Professor Paula Barrett – Pathways Research Centre, ANU, University of Queensland
‘You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck’
Dr Barrett talked about the stigma of mental health and how severe anxiety and depression was much more common than thought; one in every five people will experience severe anxiety at some time during their life, particularly at transitional times in life.
She argued that, unless people had life skills, anxiety can lead to depression. However, she also argued that there were proven clinical interventions that can now help although very few people actually get help.
She also spoke of the problems some students, especially able ones, have with ‘perfectionism’ and that sometimes these anxious students are very able, thoughtful, aspirational, articulate with good family support.
Her argument was that we should aim for prevention, and equipping young people with the skills through curriculum development and gave examples about skin cancer and dental health program that worked. The same is true for mental health.
She talked about ‘human capital investment’ – that, ‘the best investment every government can make is the implementation of evidence-based social and emotional skills programs in the school curriculum’ (James Heckman – Professor of Economics, Nobel Prize winner, 2000)
She argued for the positive psychology approach about resilience – ‘the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity’ and of building on strengths, not just compensating for weaknesses.
Her approach is for schools to deliver social and emotional resilience skills in an engaging way.
She spoke of risk factors and protective factors.
I was a bit worried at the lack of interesting slides; she talked a lot, without helping the audience much, but the content was strong enough to sustain it, and she spoke without notes and with good detail about some of the key factors that she had obviously researched for years.
One interesting thing was the link between physiological evidence and anxiety. One in five babies are a lot more sensitive to things like noise and light, and get distressed quickly and stay distressed for longer. She seemed to be arguing that these were the same children who were prone to anxiety although there are protective factors that are at work here too.
She then moved to the protective factors and why they were important, and how easy they were to implement in schools. ‘Attachment is the most powerful protective factor in life’ (Barrett)
Another important protective factor was ‘attention style’ or what’s sometimes called ‘Mindfulness’. This did resonate with me (it’s a bit like meditation) and it’s an approach that some schools (like mine) have begun to take up, for every student, more purposefully.
The three most important health factors she talked about were: sleep, diet and staying active every day; move for an hour every day.
Finally, she spoke about the future resiliency model she saw that all schools would be offering in twenty years time, if not now.

Getting some air

Finally got to spend some time enjoying a few days off this week without constantly getting back to the emails, the GTD lists and the world of work. One nice thing was a short walk into a pretty and somewhat secluded beach on the Mornington Peninsula walking along a creek bed seeing kangaroos, an eagle and finally coming out at the empty beach. Refreshing, though I wasn’t entirely technology-less. I took these shots.

What values?

Last night, coming home from parent-teacher-student conferences, I happened to catch Background Briefing on ABC radio, talking about some of the root causes of the economic crisis, and particularly the role that business beliefs and values (aka greed) played in the problems that arose.

The program was talking specifically too about the role of Harvard Business School in helping establish and promote the values of ‘profit maximisation’ at any cost that proved so devastating later on. I’m obviously no economist but I’ve blogged about the hypocrisy of some of the banks and businesses a little before and I’ve often been struck by the gulf between the values that schools promote and celebrate (diversity, collaboration, social justice, environmental awareness, positive participation) and the values lived by some of the business leaders in real life. (competitiveness, cut-throatness, profit over people, exploitation of resources etc)and how that collision is rolled out.

I’m reminded of a somewhat twee little book, which may contain a kernel of truth, called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which argues among other things that the simple social learning of sharing, helping each other etc, emphasised in pre-school, were the important enduring behaviours.

Last night’s program focused on just how some of the business values were shaped and developed and these extracts from the transcript give something of the flavour of the discussion.

Stephen Crittenden: Everyone we spoke to for this program was quick to point out that there are many very capable MBAs, and many good business schools offering sensible MBA courses.

But the number of failed CEOs with MBAs has not escaped notice. Stan O’Neill and John Thane at Merrill Lynch, Andy Hornby at HBOS, and the best-known of all, Enron’s Jeff Skilling who’s serving a 24-year jail sentence, and the former President of the United States, George W. Bush.

McGill University Professor Henry Mintzberg says what we call a financial crisis is really at its core a crisis of management, and not just a crisis of management, but a crisis of management culture.

Henry Mintzberg: It’s a syndrome, it’s a whole attitude. We’ve corrupted the whole practice of management, it’s utterly, utterly corrupt from top to bottom; not everybody, but much too much of it is corrupt. It is a cultural problem. And by the way, it’s largely an Anglo-Saxon problem I think. I think the worst of it is in the US, and second is the UK. I think Canada has been smarter. In England the UK for example, there’s a long history not just of MBAs but of accountants running everything. In other words, what you had is a detachment of people who know the business from people who are running the business.

Stephen Crittenden: Another critic of the MBA is Harvard Business School Professor Rakesh Khurana. He says the business schools have been teaching some pretty anti-social theories which their graduates go away and put into practice.

For example, Rakesh Khurana says it was the business schools who were the source of the theory of shareholder maximisation. They originated the idea of using derivatives and credit swaps to manage risk, and the idea that managers are so fundamentally self-interested that they can’t be trusted to do their jobs unless they’re provided with huge stock options.

Rakesh Khurana: What we taught were very simplified and not necessarily accurate models of human behaviour, that over time become self-fulfilling. And so there was this model that in fact by basically being self-interested to an extreme, that was the appropriate way to behave and act. And what that does over time, because this is not an innocent exercise, it actually over time because it is a professional school, comes to shape the identity of those individuals. That is, they begin to see themselves in those views. And one of the consequences of that is that if you look with respect to executive compensation for example, and the incentives around that, the view becomes that I actually have to be compensated to do the job I was hired for, and on top of that you have to bribe me with stock options to make sure I do that job. In no other occupation or profession is that part of the modus operandi.

Stephen Crittenden: This is also a story about how society educates its elites. Phillip Delves Broughton is a former Paris correspondent for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He recently took two years off to do an MBA at Harvard Business School – HBS – and he’s just written a book about the experience. Here’s the man himself, reading from his book.

Phillip Delves Broughton: A second year student rose to welcome us, and to reiterate the importance of values to our future in business. He told us that simply by getting into HBS, ‘You’ve won’. From now on, it was all about how we decided to govern our lives. What he said would be repeated throughout my time at Harvard. Harvard Business School was a brand, as much as a school, and by attending, we were associating ourselves with one of the greatest brands in business. We were now part of an elite, and we should get used to it. I struggled with this idea. It seemed so arrogant on the part of the school, and somehow demeaning to those of us who had just arrived. Regardless of who we were when we arrived, or what we might learn or become over the next two years, simply by being accepted by HBS, we had entered an über-class. It was Harvard Business School, not anything that came before it, that conferred the ‘winner’ tag on all of us.

The full transcript of the conversation is here. You can also download the audio HERE.


It’s easy to get a bit cynical about politics, politicians and you may even have seen some of that in this blog over the years. But tomorrow’s ‘sorry’ statement strikes me as something forward-looking and idealistic that we can only hope will move the nation forward to a different future.  At our school teachers are being encouraged to take their senior school students to the lecture theatre to see the apology delivered live on TV. It will be streaming live from the parliament website. Here’s the full text of the speech to be given tomorrow:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

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After a hectic last week of term it sure was nice to take some time out and head up to the north-east of Victoria for a long weekend of taking in the Murray river country, tasting some good wine, relaxing with friends and generally slowing down.  I really enjoy visiting the Rutherglen area and it’s amazing how small all those weighty issues at school last week seem from even this distance.

Values Education: Final Report

The report is 231 pages long (Curriculum Corporation documents are like that!) so here’s the key recommendations from the report: Implementing the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools.

1. It is essential to reach agreement within the school community about the values that guide the school and the language in which they are described.

Reaching agreement within the school community about the values that guide the school, and the language in which they are described, is a precursor to successfully embedding these values in the policies and practices of the school.

2. Values education is sustained over time only through a whole school approach that engages all sectors of the school community.

The definition of what is meant by a whole school approach needs to be explored and understood by the school community. Involving more people in the enterprise takes more time but ensures deeper commitment, stronger consistency and durable continuity beyond personnel changes.

3. School leadership is critical in developing values education as a core part of schooling.

Strengthening values education in schools often involves significant school change and reform. In this regard committed and inspiring leadership that models and articulates the values of the school as an everyday occurrence and provides the vision, energy and focus over time can make the difference. At a minimum, to be effective, values education initiatives require substantive support from school leaders.

4. Values must be explicitly articulated and explicitly taught.

Values are intrinsic to all that a school does. The Good Practice Schools Project experiences support the conclusion that effective values education involves the explicit articulation and explicit teaching of the values. This means values education is integrated with the ‘mainstream’ curriculum rather than being seen as an ‘add on’ or something separate to teach. It means the values spoken are the values modelled. It means creating opportunities for students to practise the values. And it means seizing the opportunities to reinforce the values in those ‘teachable moments’ offered in the unplanned incidents in everyday school life.

5. It is critical to student learning that there is consistency and congruence between the values espoused and the values modelled.

Values education is as much about how students are taught as what they are taught; hence the quality of teaching is essential. In this respect consistency and congruence between the values espoused and the values modelled and enacted in the teaching and learning exchange have a critical impact on student learning, understanding and adoption of the values. A number of cases from Stage 1 of the Good Practice Schools Project specifically illustrate the power of engaging students directly in the values education implementation process.

6. Professional learning of all teachers is critical at all stages of the development of values education.

Professional learning is critical at all stages of the values education process, and some of the best professional learning comes from the sharing that schools and clusters are able to promote. The Stage 1 projects reinforce the conclusion that teachers require and respond positively to explicit professional learning in values education. Some of the best professional learning comes from the sharing that teachers, schools and clusters are able to promote. If there is one consistent message from all 26 projects that are the subject of this report, it is the value of teachers sharing experiences, perceptions, issues and ideas about values education and the fact that such sharing is a powerful agent in promoting change in professional practice.

7. Developing positive relationships in classrooms and schools is central to values education.

At the very heart of building values-based schools is the development of positive relationships between students, teachers and parents – in classrooms and schools, and between schools and their school communities. This was central to much of Good Practice Schools Project Stage 1 work.

8. Success is achieved when values education is integral to all aspects of school life.

The greatest success is achieved when connections are made between values education and other initiatives and priorities of systems, sectors and schools. This helps to ensure that values education is integral to and not seen simply as ‘additional’ to other priorities and work.

9. Schools working in clusters can foster effective professional development and quality teaching and learning as well as provide support for values education initiatives.

10. Supportive critical friends and mentors contribute markedly to professional development and the values education work of schools.

Supportive critical friends and mentors can contribute markedly to professional development and the values education work of clusters and schools provided schools and clusters are clear about their needs and are open to critical feedback and advice.

Read the full report HERE

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Generation HECS

A nice comment in the AGE editorial today, commenting on the Rudd proposal to cut the accumulated HECS debt of a science and maths graduate from more than $21000 to $12000, especially if they worked in a ‘relevant’ occupation, in particular teaching and asking, ‘why just science?’

Given that universities are a nation’s grand halls
of learning, should it be seen that some halls are being better
furnished than others? Notwithstanding the skills shortage, and
The Age has argued that it must be tackled immediately, is
it fair to cut HECS for maths and science and not for arts? Does
Australia not need more philosophers, more dramatists, more poets,
more novelists, too? Of course an economy is not powered by the
musings of a sage, but is it any less worthy in higher learning?
Australia’s public spending on higher education, expressed as a
percentage of GDP, is below the OECD average. When this is coupled
with a 25 per cent increase in HECS fees since 2004 and when 20,000
people in Victoria missed out on a HECS place last month, then
there is an urgent demand to look at the issue in its entirety, not
just in a piecemeal fashion.

more HERE

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