Category Archives: Personal

‘Change at the Chalkface’ in the AFR’s BOSS Magazine

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Today The Australian Financial Review has published a short article on the need for change in schools (also available on their website). It’s the first piece I’ve written as the executive director of The Schoolhouse Centre for Progressive Education (or be our friend on Facebook).

Great response so far – I’m very excited about getting more out there to encourage this kind of important conversation.

The Schoolhouse Project

While I’m very excited to have an incredibly short opportunity to share some thinking at TEDxSydney today, unfortunately it doesn’t give me much of a chance to explain the ‘why’ behind my comments on education innovation.

On the off chance that you have stumbled here after hearing me speak and are curious, it’s all about The Schoolhouse Project. Here’s the blurb…

The Schoolhouse Project is an initiative to open a K-6 primary school in 2016. The project is inspired by many different and amazing progressive education projects around the world, and motivated by our desire to raise kids with competencies and attitudes that prepared for the world they will inherit. Rather than being informed by a particular philosophy or style of teaching, the project draws on many different ideas and learnings to create a truly unique educational environment.

The project is a community endeavour – we’re always looking for people who want to get involved, whether that means parents who are looking for a school for their kids that aligns with their ideas, or creative and passionate people who want to be involved in a truly inspiring and audacious project. We look forward to hearing from you.

Things are only just getting started but I’d love to keep you informed if you are interested, and hopefully get you involved. To stay in touch you can like us on Facebook or drop me an email at brett@schoolhouse.org.au

TEDxSydney: What would school be like if we invented it today?

Looking forward to 30 seconds on the TEDxSydney Stage tomorrow, as part of the Fast Ideas segment. I’ll be talking about education innovation, saying something like…

What would school be like, if we invented it today?

Would school buildings look more like prisons or cottages?

Would we have thirty kids in a class, or ten?

Would problems come out of text books or imaginations?

Would diversity be a challenge, or an opportunity?

Would teachers be trying to control kids, or inspire them?

We take school for granted, but it shouldn’t be that way. We need to create schools that teach the skills kids really need, like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.

What would school be like if we invented it today? Well, what’s stopping us?

 

What’s next?

So earlier this year I made a deal with myself that my education oriented projects would be on hold so that I could focus managing digital and youth strategy for the Labor party’s federal election campaign. Given that this has come to a sudden halt in the wake of some ill-informed, over-enthusiastic, misguided journalism, I guess it’s time to move on – and back to education.

The two projects I will be working on with be;

  • creating skill building course content to enable parents to be more effective volunteers in the primary classroom
  • developing games for the classroom, to deliver on the new national curriculum (with an initial focus on History and Mathematics)

Watch this space.

Oh, and vote Labor. No hard feelings, Kevin.

‘Do It. Post It.’ A calendar for artists in need of a little inspiration.

Last year, my mother (who is and has always been an artist, primarily a painter) was enrolled in a TAFE course that had her doing everything from painting and drawing to ceramics and printing. While the material was very basic, it gave her the nudge needed to get her out of the house (or garden) on a regular basis and into her studio to actually ‘do some art’.

In their infinite wisdom, the government decided to axe the course as it was apparently not one that would lead to viable workplace prospects. Leaving my mum (and other students) without a source of inspiration, support, challenge and structure that had become over the year an important part of their artistic process.

For Christmas I wanted to try and at least give a little of that back, provide some impetus over the coming year to get her back in the studio. The result was ‘Do It. Post It.’, a calendar where every month presents an artistic challenge – something to do over the course of the month and then post on Faceboo0k. I also created a Facebook community so that she could potentially share it with others and they could collectively upload and share their efforts.

She seemed to like it, so I thought I would put the calendar up here in case anyone else felt the need for a little inspiration. Download it, print it, do it, post it. Join the community. Share it with your friends. Make your own version. Whatever helps bring a little more art into the world.

‘Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action’, (Massey and Snyder, 2012)

It’s always nice to be cited by other authors, particularly when they are writing interesting work. This is definitely the case with a fascinating analysis of Occupy Wall Street on Design Observer.

Check out ‘Occupy Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action‘ by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder (who tip the hat to my paper on digital repertoires of contention in their discussion of the online elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement).

Some Assembly Required – Teaching in a Constructivist Context

This morning, my son Jem walked – arguably for the first time. By this I mean that he confidently took several steps in succession without our intervention. It won’t go down in his baby blog however, because it didn’t meet the exacting standards of ‘first steps’ that stipulate no supporting devices – he pushed his little block cart which provided enough resistance to allow him to walk.

Watching this reminded me that walking is not something we do by ourselves (and I owe a debt here to Andy Clark amongst others). When Jem walked this morning, it was actually an ‘assemblage’ that did the walking;

  • the particularly cute little boy
  • the shoes his grandmother gave him yesterday that have nice, large, flat soles
  • the cart with its handle at just the right height, and
  • the rough, uneven stones in the backyard. Only within the balance of this whole system could ‘walking’ occur.

This was emphasized when we came back inside and the kitchen floor was too smooth, allowing the cart to roll away from him. I took a screwdriver and tightened the wheels until they would not turn, and once again he was able to ‘walk’.

This broader perspective of walking is not only relevant to those of us learning to walk. We all believe we can walk, but how many of us can walk in ice skates, or on top of a moving train. It’s easy to forget that everything we do, we do as part of a larger assemblage of parts that include not only ‘ourselves’, but other objects and other people.

Taking this perspective raises questions about how we should teach. If we (as pure individuals) never do anything, except in association with other elements, how does this change what we should do ‘in the classroom’. Some of the answers are obvious – there are certain partial assemblages that are socially important, such as using a pen or pencil, and we spend time building those connections through rehearsal.

Beyond the purely physical, the idea of assemblage can be extended into social and academic spheres – and here we arrive at something very close to constructivism (which progressive educators since Dewey have been espousing). Our notion of the lone scholar, independent of any external resources, may be exactly what our ‘exam culture’ focuses on – but it is a completely unrealistic depiction of any reality!

The work we do in life – from physical to social to intellectual – is always done as part of an transitory assemblage of heterogenous parts. Just as important as building any ‘internal’ skills within the individual is nurturing our ability to engage and articulate with other people and things in order to create and maintain productive assemblages. This should be a focus for our teaching.

Two simple examples of this are optional resources and project based group work. The former involves setting tasks (often in mathematics) and providing various aids (from physical blocks to drawing apparatus to calculators, as is appropriate) that students are encouraged to access if they wish to. By placing the onus on the student (rather than dictating what tools must be used) students learn to create assemblages that are most suited to arriving at a solution.

The second example involves bringing together small groups (about four students in the case of primary aged students) for defined projects. By doing this repeatedly, students build their understanding of assemblages that include other people. They learn about the kind of people they work well with, and what types of productive output will be created by engaging with different people in different ways.

While these are only two very simple examples, they point to a type of fluid, student-focused classroom that spends less time putting knowledge into kids’ heads, and more time letting them discover, experience and learn from new ways of coming together with other students, tools, and bodies of knowledge. In this process of forming, maintaining and dissolving assemblages, they will be developing critical competencies for existing in our complex, heterogeneous and interdependent world.

Why I’m still pro KONY2012

I don’t know enough about African politics to know how great an evil Joseph Kony is.
I don’t know enough about charity financials to critique Invisible Children’s accounts.
But I do believe the KONY2012 campaign was an important moment, and indeed a force for good.

We are supposed to live in a democracy, for the most part. That doesn’t just mean we get to put a ballot in a box once every few years. It means that we, as the people, get to contribute to the way our society operates. And an important part of any democracy is the people understanding the mechanism through which they can exercise that power, and believing that power is real.

Once, we believed that we truly exercised that power through voting. In its purest form democracy is driven by the popular vote and our elected officials. And that still plays an important role. But last century many lost faith in government and we saw the emergence of protest movements. A new generation found power through new means – the march, the sit-in, the hunger strike… the tools of the protest generation.

The anti-war protests during the Howard years were a clear demonstration that the protest era – the time of ‘people power’ in that sense – was past. Social movements that wished to contest the actions of their government had to find new ways to do so. When groups of citizens decide to act on their beliefs and try and change things for the better, they draw on a ‘repertoire of contention’ – a set of tools and techniques for bringing about change. This repertoire is constantly evolving – we see new types of organisations, and new ways of contesting power. The protest march was an 19th century European innovation in response to particular situations that then diffused around the world to be deployed by many groups in many contexts.

I believe the KONY2012 campaign is significant not because of the impact it had around a particular issue, but because of the way it expanded the repertoire of contention. It showed us how affordable, accessible skills can be more successfully deployed to engage people and work toward change. It pulled aside the arcane black curtain of marketing a little, to democratise some of the techniques and strategy previously reserved for corporate advertisers.

The largest impact of KONY2012 will not be the swelling of Invisible Children’s coffers. It won’t be the additional international pressure on Joseph Kony. It won’t even be the dramatic increase in engaged popular discourse around Uganda, and Africa more broadly. The largest impact of the campaign will be the way it influences the next Amnesty campaign. The elements that find their way into the next World Vision campaign. The communications thinking that starts to inform the work of local action groups and special interest lobbies.

You might not agree with what all these groups are working to achieve, but their ability to draw on tools that provide access to power is what breathes life into democracy. In a time when people are increasingly disaffected with party politics, as we explore new ways of shaping tomorrow, we are best served the broadest repertoire of contention possible .

Who knows, you may need it one day too.