Posts Tagged ‘november conference’

Thinking Tool 1: Transitions: Neutral Zone

October 28th, 2009

Last week I wrote about the ShiftingThinking tool of understanding transitions, and about how mourning what we’re leaving behind is so important (you can read about Endings, and about the tools in general in past posts). Today I’d like to write about the second stage of William Bridges’ Transitions: the Neutral Zone. I think that maybe this is the most helpful part of the theory, a part that has supported and sustained me though the major changes in my life, and has helped me support and sustain clients through the major transitions for them. For me, the idea of the Neutral Zone is a thing to hold on to when so much else that you might hold on to has dropped away.

A view to the Neutral Zone?

A view to the Neutral Zone?

The Neutral Zone is a place where we can’t see where we’ve come from and we can’t see where we’re headed. I think about crossing the Rimutaka Range from Wellington into the Wairarapa. There is a long and windy and car-sickness-inducing time where you can’t see the Hutt valley and you can’t see the Wairarapa. You’re just winding around, hoping it won’t snow or rain and that the children don’t throw up! There is beauty in the Neutral Zone but it is a wild, untamed beauty, an uncomfortable place where you can’t find a clear idea of what’s next for you.

The Neutral Zone is like the liminal spaces at the edges of landscapes, where one thing turns into another. There’s the marsh that separates the meadow from the river, the rocky shore where the sea hits the land. Some life is designed specifically for these liminal places, and my children and I take great delight in searching for this life as we wander around the edges of New Zealand. There is new possibility in these spaces which are neither here nor there, neither the sea nor the land.

Loving the liminal zone

Loving the liminal zone

But for us humans, the Neutral Zone is a place of discomfort, a place where the water splashes up over us enough to keep us damp but not enough for us to warm in the sea. It is the place where you know that you do not want to be a lawyer anymore, but you have no idea what you want to be. You do not want to be married to her anymore, but you also don’t want to be not married. You have mourned the loss of the lovely sense of power and control you’ll have to give up for these new forms of teaching, but you have no idea, practically, what you’re moving to in the end or what schools will look like.

The comfort of knowing about the discomfort of the Neutral Zone is the reassurance that every transition has this uncomfortable time, and that the time is generative, is like the spring weather which we’re grateful for when the hills turn neon green and our broad beans grow faster than we can tie them up. You might not enjoy days of rain, followed by showers, turning to the south on Thursday. But you know that the rain will end and the sky will be washed clear and turn cobalt blue, that the wet spring will give way to a drier summer and that the seasons will move with some consistency into the future (or so we hope).

Our changes into a new way of having school will have this uncomfortable feel as well. When we begin to give up–really give up—old ways of teaching and learning, we’ll have a time of trying things out and feeling unsure about them, feeling a qualified success or a horrible failure. From my perspective as a researcher and a teacher, I understand that this time must come. From my perspective as a mother of school-age children, I would love it if the time had come 15 years ago and we could have worked out the bugs already.

So we’ll have to help other people understand about the Neutral Zone too, understand about the richness of the transition, about the great benefits in terms of creativity and growth as well as the concerns over not really knowing what’s next. The danger of this period is not, actually, that we’ll get stuck in it forever (which is what it feels like when you’re inside it). The danger is that we won’t spend enough time in it, that we’ll leap out of it toward any new beginning at all (in relationships we call this “on the rebound”) or that we’ll fall back into the past because the Neutral Zone is too uncomfortable. And it all feels too hard anyway. We need to support ourselves and one another in the exciting and unsettling Neutral Zone, to hold fast to our dreams for the future, and learn like mad. It’s only then that we’ll make it through to the other side transformed and stronger and better than we were before. In New Zealand, you should know this better than any other country. Here you’re on the edge of the world, with a country that has landscapes that move from desert to mountain to sea in the blink of an eye, with a culture that blends and changes and shifts and attempts to find the creative and beautiful space that exists as Maori and Pasifika and Pakeha and other cultures bump up against one another. So here in New Zealand, we should be more prepared to step off into the wilderness, to get off the road and walk in the bush. We know about uncertain weather and seasons and heat in a valley which turns to snow on the mountain. Bring supplies for you and a friend and plenty of layers because the weather is uncertain, but let’s not let that stop us. Let’s take the plunge.

Conference: November 2009 , , , , , ,

The Creation of Visual Metaphors: A Workshop

October 27th, 2009

Workshop 19/10/09Last Monday at NZCER 13 staff members participated in a visual metaphors lunchtime workshop. We looked at deconstructing visual metaphors to interpret their complex meanings, and used this understanding to create our own visual metaphors.

We used the well known sign of Adam and God’s touching fingers from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, which has been reproduced and appropriated in many different contexts to create visual metaphors with a variety of meanings, based on the original value of the sign.

Everyone worked in groups to deconstruct the messages they interpreted from a range of images that used the sign of the two touching fingers. Then each group created their own visual metaphors using the same sign, through either creating their own or reworking the one that their group had been deconstructing. This resulted in a range of different visual metaphors, from an advertisement to an educational visual metaphor (pictured).

If this is of interest to you, you might like to attend the Visual Metaphors workshop and the Shifting Thinking Conference next week (no drawing skills requried), which will explore similar ideas with an educational context.

Conference: November 2009, Shifting literacies , , ,

ShiftingThinking tools

October 20th, 2009

Ok, see I’ve promised that the thinking tools that we offer at the ShiftingThinking conference will be the best that I can find, which has me pouring over books and past presentations, and working with most of the conference organisers and the Act I cast to figure out what it is that would be most helpful—in the smallest space—for you to hold on to and be able to use, not only at the conference but into the future.

So there’s lots of evidence, from a whole lot of different places, that change is super hard, that shifting your thinking is, for a whole lot of reasons, NOT what your brain and body and our society are wanting you to do. In fact, we know a couple of cool things from brain studies about this.

Our brains pass right over novel data, or refigure it to be less novel and more familiar.  We ignore things in personal ways (like the you your friend ignores all the ways her partner treats her badly and focuses only on the three ways her partner treats her well) and in big systemic ways (like the way scientists ignored the hole in the ozone layer and figured the data that showed the hole was just wrong).  This means that while there are some things that humans are great at learning, unexpected change is not something we’re wired to go toward.

Thinking about learning as something our brains push against is sort of a bummer for those of us in education, and thinking about change as something our brains resist is a bummer for those of us who work on organisational change. Ah well.

In education, we’re really used to the swinging of the pendulum, which is like a kind of change, and it can seem (and certainly did seem to me as a teacher),  like the fad of the day would swing us one way until there would be some backlash, and then we’d swing the other way until there’d be backlash in that direction. And we could carry on like that for, well, forever it seemed to me.

But with all this swinging, nothing is really shifting—we’re just getting kind of car sick.  Teachers tell me all the time that the fads come and go but nothing really changes. But there’s lots of agreement with lot of people that in fact, we really need things to change. What tools could we use so that we could stop swinging and start shifting, start tipping over into a new space?

Imagine this basin, and that you have a marble that you’re dropping inside it:

one basin

one basin

You can imagine where the marble would go, right? You drop it in at the top and it swings back and forth and back and forth, and eventually rests on the bottom. This is NOT an unusual experience for us, eh? Swing one way, swing the other way, finally settle near the middle. The story of most great change initiatives I’ve seen in education and in organisations.

So the question is, how do we get the marble up and over the edge of the basin and into a whole new basin?

over the edge?

over the edge?

How can we stop just flipping back and forth up the sides of the one we have, and begin to move in a whole new direction?

If you pictured the marble, you’d imagine that you couldn’t just DROP the marble in, because if you did that, it wouldn’t have enough energy to make it up and over the hill to the next place. You’d have to THROW the marble in, hurl it, and see what happened next. The thinking tools are supposed to help us all do a little throwing of ideas into the basin with such newness and force that they might slip over the edge and into the next place.

So really, it’s the crest of the hill we need to talk about, and it’s the power to get us over the crest that we need to find. Let’s see if these thinking tools can help.  I have a handful of tools in mind and I’ll try to blog about them in the next week or two before the conference (have you registered yet??). But I’m wondering now what changes you’ve seen in your life and how they’ve actually worked with the energy to tip the change over into the next place. Any advice for the rest of us rolling marbles?

Conference: November 2009 , , , ,

3 weeks til conf – an update for you

October 13th, 2009

Just 3 weeks to go til the Shifting Thinking conference, and registrations are continuing to roll in. We think it’s time to give you an update on things you can start to do – and things you can start to think about – in the leadup to November 3rd.

1. Get registered for the conference! (If you haven’t already)

If you’ve been thinking about coming to the conference but haven’t actually registered yet, why wait?  Simply click here to be taken to NZCER’s registration page. Spaces are filling steadily, and we’d hate for you to miss out.

2. Join the shiftingthinking community (If you haven’t already)

Part of the goal of the Shifting Thinking conference is to start building a community of people who want to think together about the shift to 21st century ways of thinking about learning and education. One way to signal your interest in thinking together with us is to register as a member of the Shifting Thinking online community, where you can add bio details and photos of yourself which are only visible to other registered Shifting Thinking users. You can get involved by commenting on blogpostings, and we will continue to look at ways our registered users can contribute to Shifting Thinking further.

3. Get familiar with the conference programme & castlist

If you haven’t already found it, the most up-to-date version of the conference programme is available here. (Please note that ongoing small changes to the programme are occuring as scriptwriting for the conference continues – so keep checking this page for new details!). You can also find out more about our “cast” – the speakers and facilitators who will be gracing the stage of Circa Theatre on Day 1 (Act II) and facilitating breakout sessions across Circa, Te Papa, and Mac’s Brewery on Day 2 (Act III).

4. Contribute to Act I (it’s happening right now!)

We’d love you to explore and comment on the many pages and blogpostings already up on this website – the more ideas we have from you, the more we can integrate them into our planning for the two days of the conference.  Jennifer Garvey-Berger has already put out a call for contributions to her dastardly dilemmas list. These dilemmas, challenges, and tensions for 21st century learning will form the backbone of our work together as a learning community on Day 2 (Act III) – so start thinking and posting your comments today.

You’ll also find some suggestions for parts of the site you might like to explore in relation to some of the breakout strands on Day 2 (Act III) here.

5. Set yourself up on twitter

If you’re already a twitter user, we hope you are following us (@shiftingthinkng – note the missing “i” in the word *thinking*). We hope to have people twittering their thoughts and ideas during the conference, and we will have a live twitter feed so you can see what others are saying. We’ve got a wee issue with Internet access on Day 1 at Circa Theatre, so ideally we would like all twitterers to set themselves up to be able to twitter directly from their cellphones via text messaging. Check out this blogposting by Hugh, our Twitter helpdesk go-to-man. If this all sounds completely confusing to you, don’t worry because Hugh and his team of helpers will be available at registration and during morning tea and lunch breaks to help you get set up to twitter by text. However,  if you know your way around Twitter, you can save time by setting yourself up to be Twitter-text-ready ahead of time. (Hint: Twitter has lots of helpful videos which can teach you what you need to do).

6. BYO laptop, especially if you think you’ll want to liveblog!

If you would like to bring your own laptop, we’ll have a couple of places where you can connect wirelessly to blog, twitter, or surf the Internet during Day 2 (Act III). As mentioned above, Internet connectivity at Circa theatre on Day 1 may be more limited, so please don’t be disappointed if you can’t get online that day. We’re trying our best, but we might have to come up with a suitably 20th-century solution (perhaps a wall of post-it notes where you can paper-blog your thoughts?). If you’ve got your own sneaky way of getting online (for example, if you have a Telecom T-Stick, a Vodafone vodem, or anything similar, you might like to bring it with you to guarantee Day 1 Internet satisfaction:)

7. Still got questions? Get in touch with us

We’re always happy to help you with any questions you might still have about the conference. You can post your questions comments on the blog, or email us at

Conference: November 2009 , , ,

Delicious, dastardly dilemmas

October 6th, 2009

At the ShiftingThinking conference, we’ll be thinking together about the various things which get in the way of our transition to the future of schools and schooling. Our read of the 21C school literature shows us that if we’re really going to invent schools for the new millennium, we’ll face changes in all kinds of different ways. We’ll have to really think through issues like:
•    Purpose: What is the most important purpose of schooling in the 21C? What current purposes are you willing to give up?
•    People: Who are the people in these learning spaces and where do they come from? How are the older people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and the younger people? How are the younger people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and with the older people?
•    Process: What happens over the course of the day? How is the day defined and organised?
•    Place:  Where does this thing called “school” happen?
•    Content: What is the learning content of schools and how do people engage with that content? How do we know when people have mastered that content? Who gets to decide what the content is?

We’re guessing that from this set of questions, a set of dilemmas will emerge. You could take just about any question from the above list and imagine that people might have very different answers to them—and that those differences might expose competing commitments right down into the fabric of our society. On this rainy school holiday day, for example, one of the core purposes of school seems to me to be: Get the children out of the house and in some supervised activity where they’re not bored all day and driving me crazy! Now, in my life as a teacher and an educational researcher, I would never put “child care” on the list of major purposes of school. But if I am really honest, in my heart-of-hearts I have to say that I know that if the “child care” component of schooling were absent, that would be a big problem for me as a mom.

At the ShiftingThinking Conference, we’re going to be looking at some of these core dilemmas and why they’re so hard to change (see my thinking about one issue here). We’d like readers to contribute what they see as some of the most difficult and intractable (and thus most interesting and important) dilemmas which face us in the Shift to 21stC schools and thinking!

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Conference details – where to find them…

September 23rd, 2009

We’ve added a new page to the site where you can find everything you need to know about the November Shifting Thinking  conference.

You’ll find it under the “conference” tab on the menu bar across the top of the shifting thinking homepage (or click here to be taken directly to the page).

We’ll continue to post more news and information on this blogstream as well – so keep checking the blog, and keep checking the conference page!

Conference: November 2009 , ,

Shifting Thinking conference: Tell me more!

September 8th, 2009

Who is the conference for?

Many will be teachers and school leaders, but also people in the business, arts, creative and community sectors, researchers, and policy makers.  The conference will find a motivating balance between examining where current educational thinking comes from and tapping into inspirational alternatives already happening or being dreamed of.  The conference will move between the past, present, and future, and between the voices of invited speakers and participants.

What will happen on Day One?

On Day One conference participants will listen to four key note speakers and be guided through a series of discussions based on the ideas presented by each speaker, including Michael Young, Jane Gilbert, Cathy Wylie, and Keith Johnston.  The day will support participants to surface some of the assumptions that guided education over the previous century to consider which of these assumptions could still have a place in today’s times, and which are no longer relevant or useful in the 21st century.

What will happen on Day Two?

On Day Two conference participants will embark on a learning journey through a range of activities to pursue an individual and collective inquiry.  Learning coaches will support small groups of participants to clarify their intentions and plans to navigate the day and present back a synthesis of new thinking towards the end of the day.  There will be a range of concurrent activities to take part in, all of which provide an access point into themes that could begin to take centre stage in education over the next decade.  The day will model aspects of what we think schooling could look like.

Conference: November 2009 , ,

Shifting Thinking Conference (new thread)

August 19th, 2009

Hello everyone – we’ve added a new blog thread to keep you updated about the Shifting Thinking Conference, November 3-4, 2009.

Keep an eye on this thread as we slowly and tantalisingly release further details…. :)

Of course, keep reading the other threads too, because the conference will be drawing on (and building on) many different ideas and themes that are developing across shiftingthinking.

Conference: November 2009 , ,

Binding–and releasing–metaphors, images, and rituals

July 7th, 2009

Back at the office now, and the sun is shining in Wellington! I had almost forgotten what that looked like. Here in the southern hemispheric winters, I’m constantly reminded about both how far I am from the place I used to call home (Washington DC–so hot this time of year) and also how connected we are instantly to people everywhere.

Thinking about Rachel’s comments on the comments to my last posting, I’ve been thinking about, well, thinking together. And as I want to have conversations with those of you on this website, those of you in this office, those of you who were at the hui (and those of you I’ve never met actually or virtually), I’m also thinking about the conversations we have with things in our individual past, things in our collective past, in the metaphors and symbols and rituals that we’re so immersed in we can hardly see them. We’re gathering images and stories for our November conference, and so I’ve been thinking about what our individual and collective images about schooling might be. Here, oddly, is the first one that comes into my head.

A 21C kid but a 20C teacher?

A 21C kid but a 20C teacher?

When my daughter was not quite 6 years old, after dinner she would take her baby brother (about 2) and our friend’s son (1.5) and play with them in that big-sister way she had. Often they would “go to school” after dinner, and the parents would watch the ritual played out in the lounge–three children, only one of whom had ever been to school, and the school that these kids would collectively create.

Naomi would sit the boys down on cushions on the floor, and she’d drag an ottoman over to be her table. Scene set, she’d grab something to teach about: a globe or a book. She’d stand in front of the seated, quiet boys, and ask them questions. Pointing to a random spot on the globe, she’d ask, “Does anyone know the name of this country?” The boys, who were not yet speaking much, would gurgle something or another. “No, Aidan. That is NOT the name of this country,” Naomi would sometimes admonish. “It is Heppalongabarah,”  she’d explain confidently (she couldn’t read much, either). The boys would try to pronounce whatever word she had just made up, and eventually they would get something she was satisfied with, and she’d congratulate them. They’d smile delightedly and sit quietly for the next question to come.

Searching for a new kind of school for the future?

Searching for a new kind of school for the future?

I would watch, amused and also horrified. How did we expect anyone to change their visions of schools if my 5-year-old daughter–who had been to an alternative, cooperative preschool and was now at a funky Spanish/English public school–had the most conservative and conventional images of school! And these boys who couldn’t really even talk were being inculcated into this thing called “school” which involved their sitting quietly while someone stood up, asked them questions, and told them they were wrong all the time!

This image of the captivating ritual of school, the ritual that goes back to our earliest memories, stays as one of the strongest ones for me about the challenge of moving to more 21C ways of thinking and teaching. As I have conversations about 21C teaching with my now biggish kids and my colleagues all over, I wonder how we can see the force of traditional forms of schooling–a force so strong that it shapes the thinking and practice of kids who have never yet been in a classroom. How do we admit this gravitational field, examine it, and then make choices about it rather than playing out this play written by another set of people in another country and another time?

What images–from your own lives and from public events, etc., stick with you as you think about shifting schooling in a new direction? What enables your thinking in new ways or constrains it? What images or rituals or metaphors can you share with the rest of us (feel free to upload here too) that help you think expansively–or which you’d like to purge in some way (or reknow in some way) because the image or metaphor or ritual limits your thinking?

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