Posts Tagged ‘shifting thinking’

Growing complex

April 23rd, 2012

I am on the long flight home from a series of workshops and classes in Boston: at Harvard, at Children’s Hospital, with world-class coaches and consultants. In each of these places, the idea of complexity looms large—not just because I bring it along, but because it’s already there.

I ask my participants about the increasing complexity in their lives and give them time to think about it. They erupt in a storm of talking. Their lives are more complex on every dimension: there are more uncertainties to watch, there are more interconnections among the parts, there are more players in each of the realms, some in person, and some virtually. Everyone has a story of the way their work is increasingly international, from the 20 countries represented in my class at the Kennedy School to the students who have never left the US but are connected to people around the world. The swirling together of uncertainty, diversity, and change leave these people–graduate students, doctors, teachers, and leaders at the top of their careers—all a little dizzy and confused.

While there are no key competencies easily named in these many places, these folks are thinking hard about participating and contributing in a more complex and global reality.

How is it, though, that we can grow better able to deal with complexity? And, if this increasing complexity is puzzling and unsettling these adult learners, what might it be doing for the students in classrooms around our country?  Might it be that woven through each individual challenge (whether it’s finding the problem as Sue writes about or inviting a friend over after school) is a growing demand for our participation and contribution in a more complex world? And would we adults—who are dizzied by the complexity around us—be able to help prepare young people for this uncertain future?

My daughter came home from her year 10 class with a furrow in her brow a few weeks ago. “My teacher told me today that we are preparing for careers that don’t even exist yet!” she told me, frustrated. “How on earth are we supposed to plan for that?”

How indeed. It may well be that helping all of us develop a greater facility for complexity and uncertainty is a core piece of 21st Century education. As you think about your experience as a growing and changing adult, what has helped you get better at that?

Dealing with complexity, Workshop 2012 , , , ,

Shifting Thinking: The Making of.. (Part 2)

March 19th, 2010

In my last blogposting I attempted to give a brief history of shiftingthinking, including some of the key ideas behind its inception, and various ideas/approaches that have changed over time as the project/site has developed. In the next few postings I’ll continue to draw on and share some of the conversations from our recent group interview with the people at NZCER who’ve contributed to the shaping of shiftingthinking. What follows is my analysis/interpretation of what emerged from the discussions, structured around some of the questions we used to guide the group interview. With permission, I’ve included quite a few direct quotes taken from the discussion. Where several quotes follow in direct sequence, they represent the actual sequence of discussion (although I have omitted a few comments or details from the transcript for brevity). As usual, I invite my colleagues and anyone else reading this posting, to offer comments which might correct, contradict, question, complement, or reframe what’s written here.

Q. Do you think Shifting Thinking has met (or begun to meet) any of its original intentions/purposes/ideas/goals?  (which ones “yes”, which ones “no”, which ones “maybe”?)

One theme that emerged from our discussions is that there were a few different (although overlapping) intentions/purposes/ideas/goals for this project/website, and therefore some debate about what kind of site to build, what to put on it, who to engage in the project, and so on.   

The phrase we had at the time [to describe] what this website was all about – and you can debate what each of these words means and what they mean when they are all put together – was: that [it] was going to “equip people (and I’d written next to that, “which people”?) to think critically about what the knowledge society and the 21st century is going to do about education” (team member/blogger)

In the early days there was considerable debate around what the deep goals were within this general description. For example, as mentioned in my previous blogposting, the original name for the project/website was “thinking things through (T3)” but the name was later changed to “shifting thinking”. This name change was a source of some debate – for example, did the name “shifting thinking” imply that we were trying to shift people’s thinking in a particular direction? If so, in what direction, and guided by what theoretical perspective(s)? If not, what was the key purpose for engaging others in collaborative knowledge-building/critical thinking about the knowledge society and 21st century education? Several of the original team suggested “ontological differences” and differences of opinion lingered around some of these questions in the early days.

But out of these interesting human interactions come great things….some of these situations put you in positions where you have to rethink who you are, what you’re for, what you’re doing, why does it matter, and who cares? (team member/blogger)

Some of the ontological differences seem to have eased when the site started to take its current direction in late 2008. (Though we could legitimately argue that these are still valuable questions to ask about the site today).

If we take some of the statements from NZCER’s 2008 proposal and associated meeting notes from those times, does the team think any of the original goals have been achieved?

Here are some perspectives from the team:

I definitely think “promoting dialogue”, I think that still is a main thing that shifting thinking is trying to do. And “connecting thinking”, “generate new knowledge”, I think it’s trying to do all of these things still. “Build partnerships” and “develop strategies”. I think it is still trying to do all of those things, and in fact, it’s become more fluid. (team member/blogger)

So what’s been lost, well… the partnership thing has changed…. The thing of the project (originally) being a partnership with another organisation ….(team member/blogger)

I think the new site is much more in partnership with the community, than the site we were originally envisaging which was sort of [going to be] academics talking to each other. [Whereas] now, there’s this whole set of people who talk, so it’s a different kind of partnership (team member/blogger)

The excerpted comments above were nested within a wider discussion that included reflections about a) who was (or wasn’t) originally envisaged as having something of value to contribute to the kind of knowledge-building or theory-building that the site could (potentially) support, b) how the project (and site) would be structured in order to bring those people into the knowledge-building/theory development process, c) what that process might look like, and d) who ought to be in control of such a process (or to put it another way, what systems for “quality control” would be used). Overall it seemed to us that we’d moved from a more “high control” approach (where there was a desire to have fairly structured, moderated, and quality-controlled processes for shaping and filtering what happened in, on, and through the site, particularly in relation to the idea of knowledge/theory-building), to a more fluid, open, less tightly-controlled approach.

I’ve got one of the early brainstorm pictures of what we thought it would look like, how the bits would all fit together, and it was more segmented out, that theoretical bit (team member/blogger)

That’s what I remember, a lot of discussion about [the project as a way to] generate new theory … and that was part of the “controls” [aspects of the project] that have disappeared…. I don’t know if [that idea] has been lost or if it has just changed, but it was certainly quite a strong focus of original idea [for the project] whereas now it feels more like sharing of ideas, than generating new theories? (team member)

I think that was one of ideas we talked about [at the beginning] but looking back now, I don’t think a website is the most appropriate place to do that anyway. But if I had any motivation [to be part of this project] at that point, that’s what it was [a platform to build new knowledge/theory]. (team member/blogger)

But that’s where I think some of the “control” idea was, with somebody taking what other people were saying [on the website] and then doing something with it to come up with a new theory, or extend theory, or whatever. (team member/blogger)

So we got to about that point, and then we went around in circles for a while, and people kept asking what are we here for, what is the purpose, who is the audience…. Then….the idea of blogs came up. That was a major turning point I think and made it seem doable, it was something we can focus on and do. Then I don’t remember how but it got merged with Shifting Thinking conference, because those two things originally weren’t anything to do with each other. (team member/blogger)

Our conversation then turned towards the point at which we decided to change the direction of shiftingthinking, (as discussed in my previous blogposting). I proposed a list of things which I think have been consistent about the project from the beginning until today, plus a list of things I think have changed over time. My list was as follows.

Things that have been consistent from the beginning Things that changed over time
  • It is exploratory
  • It is linked with NZCER but also a different kind of space from the normal NZCER website.
  •  It’s about creating dialogue/conversation in the “spaces between” people and ideas
  • It’s about taking a “21st century thinking” approach to the way we think about moving peoples’ thinking and practice forward in/about education.
  • We need to be self-conscious and aware about what theories of change underpin this project (i.e. what kinds of change, who is changing, and how do we think they change?)
  • The site should have “things” to “think with” (thinking objects) as well as opportunities to delve into theoretical/conceptual backgrounds/context for these.
  • Developing this site/project requires us to draw on a range of expertises
  • It has potential to expand our international (and national) networks – even if we don’t know precisely who we might end up networking with as a result.
  • To be sustainable in the long term, we need a mechanism that  self-funding or brings in revenue that extends/continues the work)
From a division of labour between conceptual and technical development, to a more fluid interaction between technical and conceptual. Early in the project there was “conceptual” team and a “technical” team (with a few members who were in both teams). The conceptual team’s main role was to come up with the ideas/purpose, framing and the content. The technical team was responsible for figuring out how to design around/for this content and build a site that would achieve what it was supposed to achieve.  From the point at which we shifted to the foregrounding the blogging/narrative approach the conceptual/technical teams dissipated and dissolved into one another, and the development of shiftingthinking began to be more influenced by social media systems/practices/culture/trends. We continuously tinkered with the site, trying new ideas and features to see how the community would respond.From “filter then publish” to “publish then filter” In the book Here comes everybody (2008) Clay Shirky talks about a paradigm shift from “filter then publish” to “publish then filter” that has occurred through the emergence of online social media. While the ability to publish was once a costly and limited resource,  the low cost of self-publishing on the internet enables anyone to create and publish content which can be accessed by anyone in the world. In the old paradigm, there were many quality control filters in place prior to publication, controlled by knowledgeable experts, to ensure that content which was published was actually worth publishing. In the new paradigm, there is less pre-filtering of content. Anything, of any quality or value, can be published online, and so the “filtering” process tends to occur after, and is often determined by the response/reaction of a wide collection of readers/audiences/critics rather than a predetermined group of experts.   In the early days of shiftingthinking, we were more concerned with how to filter/channel the quality of content before it was put on the site. Our later approach was somewhat less pre-filtered. Quality still matters, but the quality or depth of various ideas/content can continue to be discussed/debated on the site, through extended comments and discussions between us and our readers. We operate on a high-trust basis, believing that our colleagues will think carefully about what they write on the site, and using each other as sounding boards for advice/feedback when we need it, but without requiring that someone checks each posting before it is published.

From structuring by “ideas” to structuring by narratives (bedded within ideas)The first version of ST was structured around a set of conceptual “entry points” (which led into theory, blogs, thinking objects, etc). The current version is structured more around the blogpostings and the narratives within them, and the larger narratives that link between them/through the postings over time. These thread and loop back to the theory ideas, but people do not have to enter the site through a “theory first” route

From “make sure the ideas don’t contradict each other” to an “ecology of ideas” Meeting notes from August 2008 discuss issues of “quality control”, and the need to check that ideas “don’t theoretically conflict”. In our AERA paper proposal, we talk about shiftingthinking as a “web-based ecology”, and consider it as a space where different ideas – sometimes contradictory ideas – can bump up against each other. 

So does the discussion above take us any closer to answering the question at the top of this posting?  Bottom line, how do we think we measure up on meeting our original intentions?

Well when you go back to all those things like dissemination, connecting thinking, building knowledge, we’re still trying to do all these things but objectively speaking, if you wanted to measure, how would you measure the extent to which thinking has been connected,  the extent to which we’ve built new knowledge, the extent to which we’ve built new partnerships, etc? (team member/blogger)

That’s a good question. We certainly talked through these ideas to a greater extent than I can convey in this blogposting, but now I’m interested in hearing what you think….

Shifting research , ,

Blurry lines

February 22nd, 2010

Rachel has been writing about our AERA paper and project, and she’s been thinking about how we came to be at this place as a collective—you and me, all of us here at NZCER, all of you who were at the conference, all of us who blog or read or lurk or comment.

I’m thinking today about the methodological implications of what we’re doing here, about what it means to conduct and share research this way.

Some of you who read and write here have been participants in our research projects. Some of you have been researchers. This website means that suddenly, all of us are both—part of the research (into this grand experiment) and also part of the researchers. This makes for rather blurry lines, as Rachel has written about in the ethics blogs. It also makes for blurry lines in the methodology.

When I was a grad student learning research, my teacher (the brilliant and fantastic Reba Page) talked with us about the ways our question and our data collection and our analysis plan all needed to link up and connect our ideas together in a coherent package. We weren’t to make the mistake many researchers (still) make where we had a research question, a favourite research method, and a favourite analysis theory or method which were unconnected to one another except through us, as though we picked them from three different hats. (It always reminded me of those little board books my kids played with, where you could get the head and shoulders of one animal, the midsection of another, and the legs of a third—all now creating an entirely new creature.) This is no easy feat, or else everyone would do it. It has the researcher as a thoughtful composer of the research, intentionally layering on one piece after the next, being sure each instrument is in harmony and each contributes to a rich and satisfying—and trustworthy—piece of research.

What we are finding now as we play with this new kind of research is that it’s more like inviting a whole lot of people to a jam session than composing a concerto. Here we have much less control than we had once. We go public with our research questions at the beginning, and others begin to shape them with their questions. Is this the research design stage or are we already collecting data? We go public with our initial analysis, and others start to reanalyse—sometimes even those who were research participants in the first place. When one of your research participants begins to add new categories to your codes, is that more data or is that analysis? And is that research participant now a research partner in a different way? What principles or techniques do we use to choreograph the whole performance of the research?

All of this means that the typical pieces we’ve long thought of as research stages—which yes, we always knew weren’t iron clad or utterly bounded—are more fuzzy than ever. We used to know when data collection was (mostly) finished and analysis and drafting of outputs had begun. Now we put those initial ideas out (does that make it an output?) and others comment (does that make it data?) and we rethink and reshape (more analysis!). The filter-then-publish world has some great benefits in its clarity.

Of course, even before the internet, some people were wrestling with these issues. When I was in grad school, we published Reba’s sophisticated and courageous piece of research about what happened when she reported her findings to research participants who might not like what she had found (Page, Samson, & Crockett, 2000).  Still, Reba kept control of the process—it was hers—even as she shared that control with others. How do we negotiate control with you in this blog space? How do we share with you things you might not like to hear? How do you tell us things we might not want to hear? (And how do we do this in an international setting which is also still mostly the intimate New Zealand society where we may well know one another in several different contexts?) How do we stay courageous and help you be courageous too (and how can we en-courage each other)? And what does this mean about power and the creation of knowledge and what is good and trustworthy research?

See, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but together we can play with them. Or maybe you could add new ones. I’m not sure what phase of research this is, but it does seem to be helping to shift my thinking about research…


Page, R., Samson, Y., & Crockett, M. (2000). Reporting ethnography to informants. In B. Brizuela, J. Stewart, R. Carrillo, and J. Berger (Eds.), Acts of Inquiry in Qualitative Research. Cambridge, MA Harvard Educational Review.

Shifting research , , , , , ,

NZ Curriculum in Action PD Day

February 3rd, 2010

NZ Curriculum In Action was a professional development day created for two purposes:

  • To bring together the isolated pockets of educators already working in the direction of the new curriculum, and connect them with educators looking to develop their teaching in that direction but wanting to be inspired by what was possible.
  • To build a professional learning community that fostered interest in the theory and practice of 21st century teaching ideas.

Originally envisioned in a traditional workshop model, the organisers soon realised that it would be incongruous to run a PD day looking at 21st century ideas in a very traditional, 20th century way. So we adapted the concept of the World Café to give us an opportunity to run the day in a very different way.  Gone was the single presenter lecturing to the audience. Instead the room was set with five table clusters, and each presenter session saw five different presenters, one per table, leading a more intimate group discussion of what they were about, enabling more questions and discussions to occur than during a traditional style presented session. Flat screens were available to make anything on laptop easy for the group to see. These sessions were interspersed with discussion sessions around provided open-ended questions. The questions were designed to enable thought-provoking discussion and debate about some of the philosophical ideas underpinning the direction that the new curriculum allows education to go.

In order to minimise as many barriers as possible to people attending, the day was provided at no cost. The venue was generously made available by the Foundation Studies Dept of Manukau Institute of Technology, tea and coffee was generously provided by Team Solutions, and all participants were asked to contribute a plate of food for an ongoing buffet table that people could help themselves to whenever they wanted. There was a structure and timeframe to the day, to enable workability, but the overall intention was to create an atmosphere of inclusivity, flexibility, and connection, to encourage people to communicate what was important to them about the direction of education, and to learn from each other.

Held on November 26th, the day was promoted through email contacts, the most productive email lists were the Team Solutions Secondary Science list and the Specialist Classroom Teacher list. I hope to find access to other similarly effective contact lists to be able to reach more teachers in future. The original aim was the secondary sector, but across all subject areas, as the concept of inclusivity and connectedness between learning areas is one aspect encouraged by the new curriculum that I find particularly encouraging. However, as the planning for this day went on, it soon became apparent that building the connections and understanding between primary, secondary and tertiary sectors is as important as building the connections and understanding between subject areas in secondary schools, or between syndicates in primary schools or departments in tertiary institutions. I was pleased to have presenters and participants from all three sectors of the education system, and hope to be able to have a more balanced representation of all sectors in future events.

How did this day dream itself into being? I was in the early stages of a community leadership course run by Landmark Education, and had already selected a project to create, when I was introduced to the new curriculum in such a way that I actually saw it for its full potential.  For myself I saw the way to bridge the gap between my personal philosophy about what education should be, and what I instead would find myself putting into practice in my classroom – a disparity that I always felt but had little idea how to do anything about, and so had always ignored and made the best of. More importantly I also saw that the paradigm shift required to move from the traditional concept of education to what the new curriculum makes possible is not going to be easy for a lot of our colleagues, and so this gift to education could so easily fail to achieve its potential. And so I became determined to do something to help encourage forward thinking and action. My original project idea was shelved in favour of what became known as NZC in Action. What I was surprised by was the so very positive response to this professional development day, right from the outset. It then evolved and grew into something bigger and more valuable than my original idea, and the proof of this pudding was the 50+ presenters and participants that travelled from up to two hours away to attend, the large numbers of positive comments people made to me in passing across the day, the energy present in the room, and the wonderful feedback and supportive suggestions made on our survey forms. Even before the day itself, I had people contact me to say that they couldn’t make that date but wanted to be kept informed for the next one.  People clearly saw a need for an opportunity like this.

What was presented? In no particular order… Kate Slattery (M.I.T.) - Higher order thinking and questioning strategies that get students thinking for themselves; Dr Karen Dobric (One Tree Hill College) - school structures and qualification pathways and what needs to be addressed to allow us to better meet the needs of our students; Larraine Barton (Pakuranga College) – the thinking and planning behind how the Science Dept at Pakuranga College developed their new and different programme in Junior Science;  Melanie Wiersma (Clendon Park School) - using digital tools extensively and to very positive effect to develop independent learners in the classroom; Ang Whitlam (St Mary’s College) - using ICT in innovative ways to support learning in Science; Sarah Painter (Team Solutions) – integrated and contextual learning, cross-curricular teaching; Oriel Kelly (M.I.T.) - using the internet as a teaching tool; Sharra Martin (Alfriston College) – what’s been happening at Alfriston College; Sandy McGivern (One Tree Hill College) – the Shifting Thinking Conference for those who missed it; Anna Gibbs/Harold Russ (King’s College) – integrated units and Harvard’s Teaching For Understanding; Diane Hartley and Toni Shaw (Albany Senior High School) – what’s going on at Albany Senior High School; Jenny Pope (Team Solutions) - Empirical vs Rational Thinking, educational philosophy;  Libby Slaughter (Monte Cecilia School) – Enquiry-based learning.

Where to from here? The survey showed an overwhelming enthusiasm for more of the same, the two most popular suggestions were a blog site and a continuation of the NZC in Action days, at the frequency of once a term. A large number of people signalled their interest not just in attending again, but in being a part of bringing the next PD day into being. I will be getting in contact with those generous people in the New Year so that we can put together the next NZC in Action day with many hands making the job effortless.

My particular thanks to the key supporters and organisers, Mike Stone, Harold and Linda Russ, Sarah Painter,  Anna Gibbs and Jenny Pope, and the numerous people I met and talked with from Team Solutions, Shifting Thinking, M.I.T, and schools around Auckland who answered my opening question of “So who do you know that’s doing edgy and innovative things that I can show to the world?” with great enthusiasm and support. And finally to the group of presenters, who were the embodiment of NZC in Action, generously sharing their ups and downs, breakthroughs and hiccups to help support and encourage others as to what can be done. You really made our day!

Note: This really was much easier to bring into being than you’d think! And so rewarding, being part of building a community of like-minded people. If anyone wants to see something similar happen in their area, please get in touch with me, I’d love to help support other similar professional learning communities getting underway, in other parts of the country!

Sandy McGivern

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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 , , , , , ,

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!

Conference: November 2009 , , , , , , , , , ,

Communities learning together

September 23rd, 2009

Our school is participating in the Families’ and Communities’ Engagement in education research project. In this blog I describe the “lever” we are using to generate opportunities for community engagement.  Our school’s research has been around investigating further what our student researchers meant when they said “ learning happens if you feel confident”.  Our intention has been to work with three different student groups in the school to firstly define confidence, to identify ways it is already built in school and to investigate how it might be developed further. The students will then report their findings back to their parents and others in the wider learning community. The purpose of this forum is to create a focus for discussion about the learning capabilities parents would like their daughters to develop –in particular around confidence and resilience. We are hoping parents will have ideas about the strategies they use to help develop confidence and how we might work together to build and maintain confidence. We are also hoping that by discussing a specific capability that the parents ( in earlier research)  have also identified as being important we will be able to more readily engage them in discussions around the changing needs of learners of the 21st century.

In our Wellington discussion workshop Jane Gilbert spoke of the importance of collective decision making given that the ‘knowledge experts’ may no longer exist. The intention of our ‘confidence forum’ is a first step in modelling communities learning together.  

During this research project we have also read widely around concepts of confidence, why it is important and how it might be demonstrated both in and outside the classroom. Of course the best information has come from the students themselves. 

 We also decided to use three different research methods to collect the information. With the Year 13 students we presented them with the Year 9 findings from the year before and asked them to develop a series of survey questions that could be given to two tutor groups (approximately 45 students). They trialled their first survey on their own tutor class. This highlighted the need to ask less questions and to eliminate redundant questions. At this point we asked Josie and Rachel (NZCER researchers) to advise us. The second survey was then given out. During the analysis sessions that followed they quickly realised that their survey still needed further refining. The initial data from these surveys was not as reflective/deep as we had expected from Year 13 students but it did indicate clear trends, some of them unexpected. The discussions about the data with the research group was much more useful.

With the Year 10 group (student researchers of 2008) we interviewed them as a group using similar questions that the Year 13 group had designed. The information gathered from this was more as we had expected – deeper and more reflective – probably because there was opportunity to ask further questions. There was certainly some obvious similarities about the responses but also some interesting differences highlighted between the experiences of the two age groups.

The third group of Year 12 students (student researchers of 2007) we simply presented  with the summarised findings of the other two groups and asked for comment. Their responses were more far reaching, less structured and therefore probably more genuine than the other two groups because they were not constrained by giving expected answers to given questions.   

So in summary: Research Process Evaluation

  • Writing survey questions is more difficult than it seems! It is often not until you see the results that you begin to understand what questions really needed to be asked. These questions need to be constantly refined.
  • Data gathered from surveys is often interesting because it highlights possible trends and may provide some unexpected issues but only really becomes enlightening after opportunities to discuss and reflect on results is given.
  • Sometimes the unexpected data highlights a group of students whose experience is different to the majority and this could lead to the need for further research to explore what made their experiences different to others.
  • Gathering data through focused discussion and interview provides deeper analysis. 
  • The most genuine response came from presenting the group with summary findings and asking for comments, rather than responding to set questions. This seemed to be because the questions weren’t already leading the responses. There were no expected answers.

Community engagement , , , , ,

Beginning to unpack my research assumptions

September 7th, 2009

This learning conversation outlines some of my thinking in undertaking a small, exploratory research project.  Throughout the process of conducting this research, I was forced to consider deeply the contradictory and ambiguous intersections between different research and knowledge traditions in ways that challenged me to push the boundaries of my own thinking about research, my position as a researcher and what research is supposed to look like and to whom. 

Unpacking some of the often hidden assumptions in my own thinking often felt like invasive surgery.  My attempts to hold onto and most importantly to learn to let go of my own limits of not knowing, was at once disruptive, uncomfortable and unsettling – yet in retrospect strangely made sense.  One of the insights that I remember being particularly surprised to learn of was my natural tendency to want to reconcile many of the tensions that I faced so that they would ‘fit’ within my own social and cultural understanding.  I also often felt torn between maintaining a sense of professional loyalty to the organisation alongside a deep seated cultural obligation to provide research that would be useful to the kura and their whänau community. 

Interrogating the many different spaces I held at any one time beyond reflection and adding to my existing experiences and ideas, encouraged me to reconceptualise not only how to change my own practices and thinking about the work that I do and in the questions that I ask, but also to think about how to collectively engage and negotiate in the discourse of research in more different and meaningful ways.  This is because doing what we’ve always done to get us here won’t get us there, so I invite you on a journey to come to the ‘edge’.

Shifting literacies, Shifting research