Future focused education: transformation and agency

This post is me thinking out loud about transformation, learner agency and future focused education - all areas that I am currently very interested in and am learning about from and with colleagues and the school leaders that I work with. I reckon that everything in this post is worthwhile thinking about for clusters!

Future focused education

There are a lot of ideas and thoughts about future focused education. My original favourite was this 11 minute YouTube video on Futures Thinking and the Future of Education by Claire Amos. Here is some other future focused education information that I like to review and rethink: 

As well as this (and this is very important for education), knowledge’s meaning is changing. Knowledge is no longer being thought of as ‘stuff’ that is developed (and stored) in the minds of experts, represented in books, and classified into disciplines. Instead, it is now thought of as being like a form of energy, as a system of networks and flows – something that does things, or makes things happen. Knowledge Age knowledge is defined—and valued—not for what it is, but for what it can do. It is produced, not by individual experts, but by ‘collectivising intelligence’ – that is, groups of people with complementary expertise who collaborate for specific purposes. These changes have major implications for our education system. 

When exploring the current situation in a cluster or network, I think it is important to consider the latest thinking about the future of education or future focused education. I try to include time to talk about this as we explore evidence during the Scanning and Focusing phases of Spirals of Inquiry and beyond. That means we need to work on splitting our cluster work into thinking about now, and about the future so that as we build a picture with our communities, we include aspirations and consider the trends in education and globally. As Claire Amos says in her video, the age of change, or hyperchange is upon us and we need to support our learners to build skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration so that they can innovate, have high productivity and communicate effectively as well as navigate their way through the vast amounts of knowledge they have at their fingertips. 

Kwok-Wing Lai has written an excellent article in SET 1, 2014 called "Transforming New Zealand schools as knowledge-building communities". This article discusses the use of the knowledge-building model developed by Scardamalia and Bereiter (2010), and it seems to me that the model encompasses all of the above thinking (and more) about future focused pedagogy and learner agency. It moves educators beyond inquiry learning (enhancing individual knowledge, content and skills) and into the space of creating new ideas and public knowledge communally. Idea improvement seems quite key to this approach and design thinking in education really lends itself to this too. I'm no classroom teacher but I think I see elements of this when I engage with people at Hobsonville Point Secondary School and also with Diana-Grace Morris' Pirates work. 

Transformation & Agency

I have written a bit about transformation in my previous post. Just as we have moved from the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Age and now into the Age of Hyperchange, we have at the same time moved in education from conforming, to reforming to transforming and we continue to sit in all three areas. At ULearn this year we heard from Quinn Norton. Quinn is interested in "social structures that emerge around issues that people care about - how they operate, the agency they foster, and what this means" (ULearn14 Conference booklet). To me, Quinn represented the links between and within transformation and agency. When she talked about lateral structures and groups of people leading, I could see that this is where we are heading and what we are preparing our learners for in the future as political structures are challenged and implode or explode further. You just need to watch the movie, We Are Legion to see how young people have started to disrupt and transform the way we think and act in relation to collaboration, knowledge and problem-solving. All of this thinking that I do about transformation and agency is passed on to the school and early childhood service leaders that I work with. We are using the information to explore possibilities in cluster work and to rethink cluster vision, goals and plans including whose perspectives are counted and why.

When we recently worked with Dr Louise Taylor (see my previous post) - Louise shared a great frame for (facilitation) practice to ensure that you are supporting transformation. I found that I was unconsciously using parts of this frame, but have now decided to think and plan more explicitly to ensure that I am doing this and enabling it with the clusters that I work with:

  • Have multiple perspectives, contrary views - challenging views.
  • Deliberately disrupt anything that establishes a norm (why do you think this? why are you doing this?).
  • Always include a discussion around equity.
  • Voice - give the platform to another voice. Step into others’ shoes.
  • Allow for conversations - dialogue (Freire)
  • Be clear on purpose - why are we doing this? (moral purpose?)
  • Be changed and changing: by others, with others, by learners - what am I seeing differently? how is what is happening changing me??
  • Ask questions - why? (post modern - looking for questions not answers)

Student or learner agency is something I've always been interested in since I trained to be a teacher. Derek Wenmoth talks about it in Trend 1 for 2014 and we often hear a range of definitions for student agency. Things like kids having the power to act, being self-regulated in their learning and being able to build from strengths. Having an appreciative view of ourselves as learners is also linked to learner agency and there is a shift in schools towards involving their learners in curriculum design, planning and review which may or may not equate to definitions of agency depending on how these things occur. 

A process for supporting transformation and agency

Over the past eight months I have had the privilege of working with and learning from Liz Stevenson at CORE Education to deliver learning and development workshops around New Zealand. As a team of facilitators at CORE, we focused our work on helping participants to build team and groupwork through a process that involved use of the Learning Talk capabilities (Dalton & Anderson, 2010). We also supported participants to not only think and communicate about their current situation, but to create new ideas and possibilities together using an imaging/mapping process. The idea was that our adult learners would be empowered and have a sense of agency over their learning and their work with others, and also that space would be created for them to create new ideas. Liz also explains that "mapping activities are collective, and they help us reveal previously hidden data". Since learning more about the process from Liz, I use this with clusters and networks that need to rethink their common needs, vision and goals. 

I first saw this type of process in 2010 when Dr Brian Annan and John Clark used a "mapping" process with a Lower Hutt secondary school to help them to visualise their current situation in relation to student engagement. The process was done with groups of leaders, teachers and students who also then mapped their versions of what the future could look like for engaged learners. I believe a similar process is used with Learning and Change Networks now. 

Since then I have learned a lot more about how to help learners and adults to create space so that good ideas can emerge to inform transformational change. I often use this clip from Steve Johnson to engage people in this space and I explain how we can process images thousands of times faster than we can process words - allowing that space in our brains for innovation, ideas and inventions to emerge. Liz Stevenson is in the process of writing an article from her doctorate work about the imaging work she has taught me. I will share that as soon as I can! In the meantime, Patti Dobrowolski provides a piece of the puzzle here as to why this visioning/imaging process works so well. Dan Roam's site also provides a good explanation of this process.

Below, the blue picture is a principal's image of her school's current situation (Jenny Washington from Roydvale of the Hereora Cluster in Christchurch) and the yellow picture is a learner's image of what supports her current learning in literacy (produced with help from Liz Maclennan and her team at Breens Intermediate).

Building goes beyond acquiring, discovering and sharing personal understanding of existing knowledge. It is a communal process of producing and improving new ideas of value to a community.
(Kwok-Wing Lai, 2014)

Reference List:

Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert, with Sue McDowall, Ally Bull, Sally Boyd and Rosemary Hipkins (June 2012). Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching - a New Zealand perspective. [New Zealand Council for Educational Research]

Dalton, J. (2010). Learning Talk: Build Understandings

Halbert, J., and Kaser, L. (2013). Spirals of Inquiry. http://noii.ca/noii/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Spiral-of-Inquiry-Guide-to-the-six-phases-2014.pdf

Lai, K-L. (2014). Transforming New Zealand schools as knowledge-building communities: from theory to practice. SET Research Information for Teachers (1): 33-41. 

Scardamalia, M., and Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 37(1). Retrieved from http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/574/


Becc said…
More Great Links:
Derek Wenmoth on Transformation vs Improvement (clustering vs networked system): http://player.vimeo.com/video/88565218

Inquiry paper from Nikki Kaye: http://www.parliament.nz/resource/0000243164

NZCER Paper 1: http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/supporting-future-oriented-learning-and-teaching-new-zealand-perspective

NZCER Paper 2 (more for teacher needs etc): http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/swimming-out-our-depth-leading-learning-21st-century-schools

Maurice Young said…
Hi Rebbecca, I really enjoyed reading the blog thanks. Regarding student agency I stumbled across a video from students at Monument mountain high school in the states and how they are designing their own learning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RElUmGI5gLc if you haven't already seen it it is worth a look.

I'm trying to get my head around how student agency could/should look in the primary setting.
Becc said…
Hey Maurice - thanks for your comment! I have seen that clip before but had forgotten about it. It's a great example. One thing that I think is very important is that we don't just set goals and use terms like "agency" in them, but we also define what these terms mean and look like before we start planning and taking action. Look forward to hearing how your exploration goes! :)