Beyond Learner Engagement with Valerie Hannon
Hosted by global thought leader Valerie Hanon, this recording introduces research findings and insights around the future-focused design principles for schools.
Explore how these principles are being brought to life around the world and how they influence passionate engagement of learners as agents in their own learning journeys.
Examine the importance of narrative, how the predominant narrative about schooling is holding us back, and how a future-focused narrative needs to be co-created by everyone to have lasting impact.
About Valerie Hannon
Valerie Hannon is a global educational thought leader and co-founder of both Innovation Unit and of the Global Education Leaders Partnership. Formerly a secondary mathematics teacher, Valerie is an adviser to the OECD in its Education 2030 project and a regular keynote speaker and facilitator at international conferences and workshops, drawing upon substantial research and publications.
JUSTINE: I will introduce myself. My name is Justine Mackey and I am a primary school principal and I am Principal in Residence here at the Academy. I am currently working in the Teaching Excellence Program, so it's my absolute privilege to welcome you all here to this fabulous session with Valerie Hannon.
Before I introduce Valerie, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners throughout Victoria and pay respect to the ongoing living cultures of First People. We recognise their deep connections to the places where we do our work for continuous school improvement. We continue to learn from the vibrant and innovative knowledge systems of First Peoples and the depth of their teaching, learning and education practice. We observe their resilience through times of change and find ways to promote this through our work. We understand that each of us has a role in supporting each other to respectfully walk and work together.
So I'm going to share a little bit of an introduction to Valerie and as I said at the start, we really thank you for privileging this time for your own professional learning and we know that you will be energised at the end of this day during your engagement with Valerie.
So Valerie Hannon is a global thought leader, inspiring systems to rethink what success will mean in the 21st century and the implications for education. The co‑founder of both Innovation Unit and of the Global Education Leaders Partnership, Valerie is a radical voice for change, whilst grounded in a deep understanding of how education systems currently work. Formerly a secondary mathematics teacher and then researcher, Valerie now works independently to support change programs across the world. She's advised governments and worked with systems and schools on every continent, from Australia to Finland and from Canada to Singapore. Valerie is an adviser to the OECD in its Education 2030 project. She's a regular keynote speaker and facilitator at international conferences and workshops, drawing upon her substantial research and publications.
Valerie has prepared a dynamic session for you this afternoon that will allow you to connect to her extensive knowledge and expertise while also engaging with your colleagues in breakout rooms and we encourage you to use the chat function during the session. There will be a chance to answer some of your questions that you pose here at the end of the session.
So it's my absolute pleasure to welcome Valerie here today to challenge our thinking as a part of our Thought Series workshops.
VALERIE: Justine, thank you very much indeed and good afternoon, everybody. It's a fantastic pleasure to be with you. I only wish I really could be with you. I do know that this is a far more convenient way, especially after a hard day at school, to come together and I value and appreciate that. It's much more democratising. You can kick back, put your slippers on and have a cup of tea on the side or something stronger and feel, nonetheless, that you can be part of something. Nevertheless, we don't get to have the kind of conversations which sometimes can make these a much more memorable event and learning milestone.
Nonetheless, I'll do my very best to engage you, to give you plenty of time to process what I'm saying, to make sense of it, to challenge it. So please use the chat function. We've got a number of breakout rooms where you can chat with and meet other colleagues and think about these ideas and how they relate to your work.
So I've titled my webinar "What's our purpose? Beyond learner engagement ..." because the overall theme, as I understand it, for this series was this concept of learner engagement which, by the way, is something I've been very passionate about for a very long time. Back in, oh, what was it, 2016 I think ‑ I'll have to look at the dates again ‑ I ran a program in Australia entirely focused on learner engagement and I learnt myself a huge amount from that program working with schools across the country in five cities, including Victoria, about how to boost learner engagement and the importance of that. So, look, I buy it, I get it, I think it's an incredibly important focus.
But I want to say and I want to argue in this webinar that that's not a big enough purpose for us, that actually we have to ask ourselves a more fundamental question about purpose and if you ask that question and come up with some of the answers which seems to me however are relevant, then you go beyond learner engagement big time.
So that's my premise and the structure of the webinar is pretty easy. I'm going to be moving from that question of why, the issue about purpose, and inviting you to think about whether you've really interrogated what your purpose actually is in your school, in the system in which you work and within Australia; moving from that to the what ‑ if that's our purpose, what are we doing, what choices are we making around curriculum and pedagogy; and then, finally, to the how ‑ it's all very well, but how do we go about it? And by the way, let me say I'm doing all of this in the full understanding, the full appreciation of the kinds of system constraints, the regulatory frameworks, the expectations upon you in terms of outcomes and in terms of your reporting structures. So I'm not doing this from a naive point of view that thinks you're completely autonomous and you can do what the hell you like. I understand fully the constraints of working in a public system.
So that's the structure. I hope that makes sense. I intend to stick to it. Let's go and see how we get on.
So as I've suggested, I think we have to start off with the question of what is the purpose, not just of your education system but of most education systems, actually. Why do they exist? Why is it that politically politicians commit to pouring literally billions of tax dollars into mass education systems? And by the way, it's been so long since those decisions have been made, we kind of don't ask the question anymore, but I think we need to.
I think that the underpinning story or, if you like, the narrative around education, and you will hear it in what almost all politicians say, is fundamentally individualistic, fundamentally competitive and pretty much economistic and the story goes something like this: education is what makes nations more prosperous because it increases growth. I'm living in a country right now which is having a huge row about growth. A new Prime Minister comes in and tells us all she's focused on is growth, growth, growth, as though that's a given and as though none of that is problematic, but it is problematic, it actually is, especially when it's measured by GDP, gross domestic product, because surely if we've learnt anything, we now know that we can't have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources. We want prosperity for sure, but growth? And education comes into this because repeatedly politicians will say "and we will improve our education system because we'll get more growth".
The second part of the narrative is that education is the route to the best jobs; thirdly, that it's the route to social mobility, higher social status. Success actually in education, though, is about getting qualifications. Now, you may hear the odd bit of rhetoric thrown in about, you know, character and TAL education, and so forth, but when it comes down to it, systems are really judged around how many qualifications kids are getting and the next one, the subject‑based academics are the qualifications that really matter.
And then finally, the key success indicator is at the personal level either getting into university or if you're a school, or certainly a high school, getting kids into university. Excuse my throat. And at the end of the whole process, if you haven't got a degree, really you're second class.
Now, when you let it out there like that it's kind of ugly, isn't it? I suspect that not many of you would put up your hands to say, "Yeah, I embrace that, that's our purpose", but colleagues, I want to say to you I think that that is the tacit narrative that holds in place the systems that most countries usually run. There are some interesting exceptions to that, but most systems in an inexplicit, tacit way utilise this narrative to hold the system in place.
Now, if that's right, I think we need to find a new narrative for education and it has to be one that starts with our purpose, what is education for, what is learning for.
Bill Gates ‑ you may have a number of views about him, but the man is a seer, that's for sure ‑ remarked in his blog in 2018 that our biggest worry is not an attack by rebellious robots, but actually our lack of purpose and I think this is a very insightful remark because I think it's true at both the individual level for us as people ‑ you know, what is my purpose in life, what am I doing, you get to a certain point in life where you really do start to ask that question ‑ but it's true of systems as well. Are we just about getting and spending and consuming more, particularly if there is no religious basis for the way in which you conduct your life or if there is no shared value frame for systems? What is our purpose?
Well, I had a bash in a book I wrote back in 2017 to suggest that we need to explore this issue of purpose and I called it "Thrive: The purpose of schools in a changing world" with my colleague Amelia Peterson, whose work on assessment you may know, and I suggested a simple idea that our explicit purpose, our actually explicit narrative should be that education needs to be about learning to thrive in a transforming world.
Now, you will notice there's two parts to that equation, if you like. One is about thriving. What do you mean by thriving or flourishing ‑ getting and spending, or some other set of objectives and goals? What do you know about thriving lives and thriving communities? And what is this transforming world of ours? Is it transforming or is it just changing, the way it has done in every other era. If you'd been not just your kind of Victorian, but a Victorian living in the 1800s or even in the 1500s, before Australia had been colonised, people would have said "change everywhere, we're in a transforming world". I want to argue with you that our world is transforming at a pace and with a style that is utterly unknown in human history, utterly without precedent.
And I'm going to make that case now because there is good evidence to suggest that what is coming in the next 30 years or so has not been witnessed before in human experience and it's about an existential pivot point in our history and this matters because the nature of this transforming world is what needs to determine what it is that we're doing in our schools. Our business as educators is the future. We can't just be living in the present because your moral responsibility is to your young people's future.
So can you talk about evidence or what's coming about in the next 30 years? Well, you can because you can look at Trendator. Obviously things can throw that off ‑ there could be an asteroid, there could be another pandemic that completely ends progress, who knows ‑ but we do have some evidence about the way things are going, trajectories, if you like, the direction of travel and what are they?
Well, Klaus Schwab, who is the founder of the World Economic Forum Davos, said "The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril" and his concern is that "decision makers are too often caught in traditional, linear (and non‑disruptive) thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future", and I think that is true in spades about education.
So the evidence suggests that actually there are three major tipping points or, if you like, pivots that will distinguish this 21st century of ours. One is around our planet; the second is around the apotheosis of technology, technology acquiring almost god‑like status; and a pivot point around our own evolution.
Let me take the first of those tipping points, our planet, and I think there are three. The evidence suggests that we are facing the sixth great extinction, the entry into the Anthropocene age and the climate crisis. I'm going to say a little bit about each one of those drivers of change, if you like, which are combining, as you see in this graphic, to lead us who knows where, who knows where.
The first is the sixth great extinction and many of you will now have become aware, especially if you're biologists by training, that we are facing now an era in which we are busily violating the planet that we cohabit with other species such that we are almost systematically eliminating large portions of mammals, reptiles and birds. Is that a problem for us? Yes, it's a problem for us. Leave aside the moral issue about whether we have the right to do so, but some of you will be familiar with this UN report on biodiversity and ecosystems in which they concluded that the essential, the interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed and this loss is a direct result of human activity, constituting a direct threat to human wellbeing in all the regions of the world.
So even if you had a pang of regret, you know, about the disappearance of the bees or reducing ourselves to three or four species of butterfly, actually it impacts us as well and human wellbeing is now, and will be, increasingly impacted unless we change course.
The second pivot point is what is known as the adventures into the Anthropocene, this new era of human life. We've been through the Jurassic and all the rest of them. Now we've entered into the Anthropocene, and there's a clue in the title, anthro, human made, human influenced. It is what we have done to the planet which is now changing its very structure ‑ boring down kilometres into the earth for more fossil fuels, doing the same to mountain ranges, levelling them to get at more fossil fuels, acidification of the oceans, so many shifts in the very structure of the planet which are taking place because of human activity.
And then thirdly, and I don't need to say anything to this audience about climate change ‑ not change, emergency, crisis, our collective failure to limit the extent to which our emissions and greenhouse gases are raising temperatures of the surface of the earth, and lord knows in the last year every continent on earth has been impacted by this climate crisis. The terror is that it will suddenly shift, there will be a disruptive change from which there's no going back, and of course the worry about that is around the polar icecaps.
So those are the three ribbons of change, if you like, which are bringing our planet to a point perhaps of no return, a pivot point in human history. But there's a second one, another pivot point, which is around technology, the technology which we have created, the phenomenally powerful technology, and there's three parts to it ‑ job disruption by robotics, artificial intelligence, and global connectivity ‑ and I'm going to start with this third one because just in case you think I'm being kind of catastrophic in this thinking, everything is a catastrophe and everything is dire.
Global connectivity, you know, is the most extraordinary benefit from which we humans now can benefit in a way none of our ancestors ever could. This is what some writers call global mind, the creation of global connectivity so that we're almost reaching the point where the 8 billion people on earth can be connected mind to mind and it's made the work of science so much more extraordinary.
Take, for example, the invention of a vaccine for COVID‑19, which most observers thought would take years to create, actually decades, but global minds, the instantaneous connection of data sets, of experimental methods, meant that within 18 months a vaccine was invented, and this is an extraordinary achievement and could mean that we solve many of the problems confronting us which today seem so dreadfully overbearing. So global mind is the most fantastic invention.
But we also face job disruption by robotics in ways that may not seem apparent at the moment. But the penetration of robotics and automation into every aspect of life, which is charted here in this book by McKinseys, show that this is no ordinary disruption and the disappearance of jobs because of robotics will not necessarily be replaced by others, meaning all kinds of implications for how we conduct our societies, including the professions, by the way. This book by Richard and Daniel Susskind, a father and son team, charts the way in which technology will completely transform the work of human experts, whether that's in medicine, in law, financial services, wherever it happens to be. And writers like Richard Baldwin have called about the globotics upheaval, the way in which globally robots will be able to work alongside humans to disrupt the landscape of work in ways we have yet to see.
This chart gives you a sense of the proportion of jobs across all sectors, but particularly picking up on transport, finance and health, by the mid 2030s and it's the brown line in the middle there that shows that 30% of jobs will either have been rendered redundant or impacted seriously by the increase in job automation, and this is not me making it up, this is PwC, one of the big finance companies, who've explored the data.
And then finally, the third pivot point for us is humans' enhancement technologies and this is the one that gives me the shivers really because this is the point at which we recognise that humans are taking a hand in their own evolution. This has never happened in human life before. We're getting to the point now where gene editing is making it possible for inherited traits, and of course first up are inherited diseases, to be edited out of human life. Now, where this leads we can't know. We know that in some labs perhaps in China right now parents are choosing not just to have edited out ghastly diseases which otherwise would have been inherited but also some other traits too, and we're not just talking about simple things like eye colour or hair colour or height.
The other issue around our evolution is how we start to interface with our internet and with the World Wide Web itself. Elon Musk has had for some time a company called Neuralink, you can Google it at any time, which is looking at how it might be the case that we could connect every brain, every brain, through implants with the internet. So most of us carry around our phone now and feel a sense of ghastly loss or panic if we haven't got our phone in our hand. It would suggest, I think, that soon we won't have to have it in our hand, it will be implanted. So if we look at Neuralink, they're thinking about three issues ‑ understanding the brain, interfacing with the brain, and engineering with the brain. So that third point then is this shift in the way in which humans impact their own evolution, and I hope you would agree with me that is a change in human history.
So we're at the age of hyperchange and disruption and much though we'd prefer ‑ I know I would ‑ to live in an era where you've got steady incremental progress, things just getting better year on year, decade on decade, it may well be that that is not the case and even if they are improvements, they will be phenomenally impactful, hyperchange.
So I'm going to pause now and invite you to think about what I've said and we're going to launch a poll. I'm going to ask you to think about this selection, some of the things that I've talked about, this selection of change forces, and invite you to say what do you think will have the greatest impact on your learners' lives, your learners: climate crisis; the loss of biodiversity on this ongoing 6th great extinction; job disruption by robotics, what's sometimes called the 4th Industrial Revolution; artificial intelligence; genetic engineering; more pandemics; and something that I haven't mentioned, and growing inequality you'll all be aware of, but living on the continent of Europe, as I do, more conflict and violence.
So there's a range of change forces and I'd like you now to look at the Slido, which should have come up on your screen, and vote which of those do you think will create the greatest impact on your learners' lives? I think that's been launched now. Ready to go, Justine?
JUSTINE: Yes, it's working. We can see that people are adding their votes, so we can see that it's moving.
VALERIE: Great, okay. Let me know when that's done.
JUSTINE: It's great to actually watch it in real time. So I can say to you that as it's coming up, we have 57% at the moment growing inequality, violence and conflict and that is actually leading at the moment, closely followed by the climate crisis, and job disruption by robotics: 4th Industrial Revolution.
VALERIE: Mmm‑hmm. Okay. Well, I'm not going to dwell on that for much longer. You know, the outcome of the poll is neither here nor there. It's your thinking that matters.
So what I'm going to suggest now is that you move into breakout rooms to think about why it is that you have chosen that particular theme and what the implications of that are. So if I can just move us along.
Here's your breakout discussion suggestion. Firstly, how great do you think the scope for disruption is on the reasons behind your thinking? Have any change forces been omitted? Is there something that I've left off that slide altogether, for good or for evil? And which of the change forces do you believe might be most affected by what we do in education?
So I'm going to give you around about 15 minutes. It's coming up to the hour now. Could you start bringing people back into the room, the main room, at 12 minutes past and we will gather together to think about this at a quarter past the hour.
VALERIE: Great, how was the discussion in your group?
JUSTINE: Oh, it was fabulous, what a great group of educators. So, yeah, absolutely privileged to be part of it.
VALERIE: Good. Are most people back? Shall we kick off?
VALERIE: Welcome back, everybody. I hope your discussion was as lively as the one in Justine's room. I can't tell you how frustrating this is. Here am I in London broadcasting into the void. I can't see any of your faces so, you know, this is the thing I miss most and I can't get a sense of the buzz and where your thinking is at. But I hope you oriented yourself through this first breakout in what I've invited you to think about, which is this disruptive world that your learners are about to enter in their maturity, in not just their adult lives but their teenage lives too, and what I've tried to argue in the previous kind of 15 minutes is that this is a transforming world. We cannot think about it anymore in terms of, you know, being pretty much that which we've had in our adult lives. And so the question becomes in that context, what's our purpose and I've tried to suggest that this notion of thriving is where we ought to start directing our attention now and that's where I want to go next.
I think that schooling systems are currently inadequate for addressing the scale of the challenges that we face because learners are just not acquiring the knowledge and the skills and the values, put together called competencies, needed for this 21st century era. They can pass exams, or some of them can, and they might even be really engaged in that, some kids get really into it it's for sure, but are they learning how they will thrive? And for me in my life I reckon that is now our absolute moral responsibility. I'm not saying we ignore the whole issue about formal exams, throw them out the window or try to pretend they don't count, but I am saying that we need to readjust our thinking about the values and purposes for our systems in the context of transformation that I've tried to outline.
And I'm not alone in doing it. So if you think I'm some kind of crazy wild‑haired woman just, you know, dreaming up this stuff, a whole stream of reports now from a number of intergovernmental agencies ‑ the latest one to come out is this UNESCO one here called "Reimagining our Futures Together: A new social contract for education" ‑ set out pretty much the landscape that I've put in front of you today. So there is a deal of consensus in terms of the lack of fit between education systems that are fundamentally fitted to the early part of the 20th century to what we face now and a lot of thinkers and writers are trying to address this.
The UNESCO one is an interesting report if you ever get your hands on it, "Reimagining our Futures Together", and the title, this notion of a new social contract for education, is really intriguing because what they argue in there is that we need to move now from thinking about the I to thinking about the we, our collective future, a new social contract, what is education doing for us as societies, and I guess that comes back to that issue that I put upfront in this talk about the narrative that underpins education ‑ is it about I, just me, or is it about our collective good?
And so this brings us to the next question, which is what will it look like then to thrive in this new context in the next 30 years? Is success, you know, just racking up your high school qualifications, your degree, getting a good job, earning a lot of money, and what? Getting a bigger house, getting a bigger car? What's your notion of how a good life really looks, and it's an ancient question, it goes back to Aristotle, what is a good life, you know?
Well, I want to put it to you that you need to think about thriving at four levels and that these four levels are absolutely interconnected. They're indisoluble in a sense. And this is not just me being kind of ideological, there's good grounds for arguing this. The first level, of course, is the planetary and the global level because, plainly, if our planet doesn't thrive, we cannot. If we turn it to toast, then so are we. And maybe you hold out hope for a human enclave in Mars, I don't particularly, I don't see that as awfully attractive, but this is the only one we've got and we are violating it. So our learners must learn how to protect and promote a thriving planet, which means very differently living on this planet, adopting the kinds of values actually the Indigenous people have done for millennia, understanding that we are part of nature and not aside from it and respecting that.
But I put there global as well because at the planetary level, the global level, there is the issue of peace and unless our young people learn how to coexist with each other with other cultures, with other value frames, then we are not going to sustain global peace and for the first time in my lifetime, I'm very old and I never thought I'd start to hear yet again talk of nuclear war and on this continent that talk has arisen once again. So we have to educate our young people, do we not, to learn to thrive both in terms of driving towards a peaceful coexistence as well as a physical planet which can once again thrive as it should as its destiny one hopes might be. So that's the kind of frame in which all the rest is held.
The second level of thriving is of course societal because we live in communities and, well, yeah, I guess I suppose you could manage if you shut yourself up in a kind of gated community and ignore what's going on in the rest of society. Well, that's kind of a choice, not a very attractive one. But surely what we all ought to be driving towards is more thriving communities, more thriving societies, whether that's at the national level or the subnational level.
And it's funny, you know, because here we do actually have a bit of evidence about what makes a thriving society and you'd think, wouldn't you, that it was the most prosperous or the richest which would make the most thriving societies? And actually it's not true because all the data from analysts show that it's not the overall wealth of a society that makes it thrive. Well, what do I mean by thriving here? A whole series of indicators which I don't think anybody could argue with ‑ for example, things like postnatal mortality rates, maternal ill health, levels of hunger and famine, suicide, levels of suicide in the society, levels of homelessness, levels of incarceration in prison.
Now, these are pretty bedrock indicators and when you look at them and how they're distributed, it is not the richest societies who do really well on those indicators, it's actually the societies who distribute their resources more equitably. So it turns out that the most equitable societies are the ones which thrive on those indicators. How do you get to equity? I would argue through more powerful democracies. And are we educating our young people to reinvent and refresh and argue and fight for democracy? I don't feel that we are.
Now, the third level of thriving is the interpersonal, the creation of great relationships between us as individuals, and again, this is a research‑based finding. Guess what? It turns out, according to longitudinal data, that the best lives are the ones with the strongest relationships. Well, you could say who knew, ha, did we need a longitudinal research project to tell us? It's certainly true in my life, I hope in yours too.
But then that question arises do we think that learning how to make great relationships and keep them and make new friends and sustain those relationships, make loving relationships with a partner, respectful relationships is a matter of luck or good fortune or just maybe your family background, because I don't. I think it's a fundamental issue for education, for learning how to make great relationships.
And then the final frontier, or possibly it should be the first, I'm not sure, intrapersonal thriving, the individual herself or himself learning how to find that sense of personal purpose, have a sense of calm, of serenity even, in the face of difficult times. You all know what's happening to levels of mental ill health in our societies, the levels of anxiety, depression, ideation about suicide, actually, levels of medication for mental ill health. If you look at the data, this is truly disturbing, truly worrying. So surely one of the objectives of our learning systems has to be not let's just call it "wellbeing", which is a kind of gloss here, but thriving as an individual in the world, knowing who you are.
So if I'm right about this, I think these four levels of thriving are absolutely interconnected and our education systems in this context of a transforming world ought to be focused not just on qualifications or getting a job, but on all four of those levels because they interconnect and they relate to each other.
So I'm going to suggest you break up once again because I want you to bring that other discussion from your first breakout group into this new one. In your group, pick one level of thriving, whether it's the planetary global, the societal, or the interpersonal or the intrapersonal. Pick one and ask yourselves together what would it mean to you to see thriving in that domain? I don't think you should try all of them, but give it a go. Just choose one. And then if you had to identify a learning goal that was attached to it that you could be explicit about in your school, what would it be? I had the good fortune to be in a discussion on that one which I really enjoyed and thought very interesting, I hope you guys did too.
So just to recap, arguments so far, okay, where have we got to? We've got to this point. I'm arguing that we need to think about purpose more broadly than learner engagement. I'm arguing that our purposes for education at the moment are too narrow, are inadequate for the 21st century. I'm arguing that if we rethink our purpose, I'm suggesting that should be something in the style of learning to thrive in a transforming world. We've talked about the way in which that world is transforming and now we've talked a bit about what it might mean to thrive in such a world.
So that, if you like, is the why and I want to move us on now, if I can, to the how. So this is all very well to talk about it in the abstract, but what do schools look like that are setting out to be fit for the future enabling young people to thrive?
Well, I've done some work on this, which I guess is why I'm up in front of you. In 2019 I got invited to be the Australian Learning Lecturer. There is this thing called the Australian Learning Lecture and I was invited to give the lecture on the theme of what does the future school look like, which I was thrilled to undertake. I had a good research team working with me on this and we spent four or five months researching what future schools might look like.
You might say how can you research a future school because they don't exist, and note it couldn't just be me saying "aha, I think it's like this" or "I think it's like that", giving my own personal opinions. So I did develop a methodology, which I'm just going to share with you in a minute, which would take us into the issue of how you might pick out schools which are a good bet for being future fit, but I want to reassure you it wasn't just my personal opinion, there was a methodology underlying it.
And if you want to dig into this in a bit more depth, it's now out in a book by Routledge called Future School with my colleague Julie Temperley, who was part of the research team. So that's the book and that was the outcome of the research program that we undertook in 2019/2020.
By the way, the lecture didn't happen because COVID hit, the tour was cancelled, but the book did happen, so there it is. And as I've said, what I didn't do was to go to schools first of all. I went first of all to a set of organisations, and here they are, which were all about the future. So these are a variety of types of organisations. Some, like the OECD, are cross‑national intergovernmental agencies, some are philanthropists, some are advocacy organisations, some are institutes. You can see there the Institute of Applied Neuroscience. Some are philanthropists who were running things like challenge prizes, like Chan‑Zuckerberg, the Yidan Prize and XQ Institute.
Here's what they had in common. They had in common that they'd all had a good look at the crystal ball and the way in which I've set out for you today some contours of the future and they were asking themselves well, if the future is going to be something like that, leaving aside there will be wild cards ‑ if the future is going to be something like that, what are the implications for education, what does that mean for the way in which schools are designed?
So, what I did with my research team was to synthesise all this thinking and what we decided or could discern was that there were a set of design principles that really were being looked to by schools who wanted to be fit for the future. And what are design principles? Well, designers will tell you they're known as laws with leeway, laws with leeway. So it doesn't mean you're absolutely rigidly stuck with it, but it gives you a sense of the principle that you're working towards and how you might design in that direction.
I'm going to show you a short video now of a head teacher not from an Australian school, but from an English school, somebody working up in Yorkshire in the north of England, a very deprived community, actually, but he was convinced of the need to start again and decided to found his own school, so I will say I know straightaway it's very different trying to do something with an existing school, as distinct from starting from scratch. But he had the opportunity to start from scratch because he felt he couldn't just carry on doing what he was doing, and you'll hear from him, but he thought that the idea of design principles was a really smart one to go with. So listen to what he had to say. His name is Gwyn. (Video played):
GWYN: I have a design background in designing computer software and music, two of my passions, and when I visited a school in San Diego, High Tech High, who said that they had design principles and they based the school on design principles, I totally did not believe them, you know, I said "I know what design principles are. You've just got a mission statement or just some values", or whatever.
And then they told me what the design principles were and I thought yeah, whatever, and then I spent three days working around this school seeing those design principles manifest and there was no way I could go back, start a new school without starting from design principles.
And the difference is, you know, really design principles affect your decisions, almost every decision you make. Whereas mission is more about defining a goal, whereas in the design process it's the process that's important and the goal is just a consequence of the process that you follow.
Over the last two, two and a half years we've been obsessing with simplification, simplifying our practice and what we do. So we've been looking at alignment and how things can align rather than fit together, because education is so complex. It's not a jigsaw puzzle, you can't just take one piece out and swap it with another because everything is connected.
So we looked at aligning things and, you know, a lot of people, a lot of schools talk about three dimensions, you know, hand, heart and head, or academic performance, character growth and beautiful work and these things are all aligned, and as we were aligning all our practices, we realised we'd not aligned our design principles. So we just went back and had a look and it literally took us five minutes to totally change them because of all the work that we'd done prior.
So our design principle is this, at XP we build our community through activism, leadership and equity, sharing our stories as we go. So activism, leadership and equity align to the curriculum, academic performance and character growth. Building our community is about our environment and our resources, what we need to survive, sustain and thrive. And then sharing our stories is about our governance, communications and technology, our strategic thinking.
We realised that we were sharing our stories, but it was sort of like we didn't realise how important it was. And I don't remember hearing someone saying, "You know, that maths work sheet changed my life", you know. They talk about stories, they talk about narrative, this is what we remember. This is who we are as human beings, we are nothing but stories. When our stories, go we go.
So activism is our curriculum, yeah? We have these guiding questions for each element. So for activism it's how are we contributing, how are we actively contributing to building a better world, right? So when we're measuring the quality of our curriculum, that's the question that we ask.
And then from activism, if you say, well, activism is our curriculum, you go well. What would that curriculum look like? It wouldn't look like English, maths, science, history, art, Spanish, yeah? It would come out of, you know, how would we actively contribute to build a better world? Well, we'd look at our community, we'd look outward at the world, so we'd look at our world and then we'd look inward at ourselves, so our community, our world, ourselves, and then we'd look at the real big questions, the real big things that we want to tackle. So with community it's about social justice, it's about how can we make things fair for everybody in our community, how can we make things better for everybody in our community.
For the world, well, we've got a climate emergency, right, and I don't know of any science that can't be taught through that, through looking at the world and where we live. And then ourselves, it's about diversity and belonging, equity and how we have to change ourselves in order to affect the world positively.
VALERIE: So while your screen is dark there, I just want to point out one thing about Gwyn and XP School's approach. They didn't start with curriculum and pedagogy, they started with their design principles, and that is where our research took us, the notion that schools trying to be fit for the future were actually adopting, identifying and adopting, design principles in three clusters: one, a set of design principles around their values; secondly, a set of design principles around their operational philosophy, and that's where things like pedagogy and curriculum and assessment come in; but thirdly, and this is really interesting, a set of design principles around their learner experiences because if the learners don't experience something which is aligned with those other values and the operational philosophy, then the whole thing has been pointless.
So these were the categories that we found in three clusters ‑ values, operational philosophy, and learner experience ‑ and I say again if you want to learn more about these, the book Future School goes into some depth, but I'm going to take a bit of depth now because I would like to put these in front of you and help you think about them and interrogate what you might take from them as something of value.
So the first set is design principles on values, and here are the five that we found when we looked at schools doing this work. The first is that these schools are absolutely explicit about their purpose. They think about their purpose and they set that purpose out explicitly for everybody involved, so people coming to that community know what that school is for, know what they're trying to do and are explicit about it and live by that value.
The second design principle on values is that they are equity focused and this is very interesting to me because it is more now the case that people understand equity to be a fundamental value on which you must base your work. We used to think about equity I think in a very kind of reductionist way. We looked at our ‑ well, certainly when I was teaching and when I was a head, we looked at the outcomes and just checked, you know, were people from different racial groups, from different genders, and so forth, getting roughly the same kinds of outcomes, or did the outcomes suggest that some were not doing so well? Well, what a pathetic kind of interpretation that now is. Equity is fundamentally about what we value culturally, what gets valued, who gets valued, and respect and inclusivity. It's so fundamental.
The third design principle on values was that these schools are about promoting identity, promoting their own identity being clear, but promoting the identity of each and every young person and, indeed, every teacher who comes to that school, enabling people to find out who they are. They're strength based. The school isn't there to find your weaknesses and fix them. The school is there ‑ yeah, sure, partly about that, but in particular to help you find your strengths and your talents and your capabilities, which are unique. Any of you who've read Todd Rose The End of Average will know that we all of us have different kind of profiles of ability and capacity and a school in this set of values is actually about finding strengths and building on them. And then finally, these schools who want to be fit for the future are clear that they must be relevant, relevant to today's world, relevant to the issues of their own community, broadly defined and narrowly defined.
So those were the five values that we found at work in schools trying to be fit for the future and they translated them into design principles. So in the book we look at schools who take each one of these values and say well, if you follow that through, what does it mean for what you do?
And here's the next lot, design principles on operational philosophy. Now, the first of these is a really, really interesting one. It's learning focused and you may say, "Well, that's a no‑brainer, obviously every school is learning focused." I wish it were true, but actually it's not because what this means is that the school as an organisation makes it its business to be about learning as its enterprise. That is to say, its expertise is in learning. It makes it its business to create a learning community so that everybody, from the principal to the cleaning staff to the dining staff to every form of person involved, is a learner, point one, and point two, that they make it their business to understand what's going on in the learning sciences, in the research about learning as it is evolving, whether that's about small group work or about how the brain works, neuroscience, and bringing that learning base, that evidence base, that knowledge base about learning, into their designs for the school.
So being learning focused is serious business, serious business. You have to put time and resources into it. It means you don't just do what you did last year or the year before. You are getting really focused on what is now known about powerful learning and bringing it into your environment.
And that links with the second of these design principles, which is about being flexible and dynamic. So again, you don't rely on what was done last year, and didn't we find out, my God, during COVID that the schools who could be flexible and dynamic really could thrive and flourish and those who were stuck in their old methods were really stuck? So these schools make it a principle that they are prepared to be flexible and dynamic, depending on circumstances, depending on their own new learning, depending on developments, for example, connected to new forms of technology that they introduce.
And that brings me to my third of the design principles here, which is around technology enhancement. You know, people who talk about schools for the future often think oh, well, it's all tech and it's all thousands of computer screens or augmented reality, immersive technological environments, kids with headsets, yada yada, and you know that might be a part of it, but above all, as I shall argue in the next section, these need to be human places which use technology to enhance what they do, not to drive what they do, and as that technology advances and becomes more useful, then they need to combine that with being flexible and dynamic to change their forms of pedagogy.
And then the fourth design principle in this space was about being ecosystemic. What do I mean by that? Well, the school explicitly designs itself as being part of a learning ecosystem, or you could say learning ecosystems, because the first thing, linking with the technology point, is that any smart school for the future understands now that they can draw upon learning resources from around the world. You can pick up on lectures from Harvard on physics, you can get in touch with the best minds in the world on historical perspectives, and why wouldn't you bring all those terrific resources and learning programs through technology into your school, not rely just upon the knowledge base and the understanding of individual teachers, because brilliant though those teachers might be, no teacher these days can be on top of the evolution and the new developments in their own field. So the important thing is not to be expert in physics or expert in math, but to be expert in children's learning. The expertise of teachers needs to be learning and applying that in different spaces.
Now, being ecosystemic enables you to bring into your school all kinds of resources which are not part of the expertise of the teaching staff, but that's true okay globally and through technology, but also locally in your own community, making use of, exploiting in the very best sense the expertise of parents, of carers, of local businesses, of local community organisations, being an explicit ecosystem with permeable walls ‑ not fortress school, but collaborative school.
Now, of course, for donkey's years schools have been trying to create great partnerships and this, I think, is a bit beyond partnership. It's understanding that you are really part of a broader local learning ecosystem. And much now is being written about this. Again, it takes time and effort, but it is an important feature of schools for the future.
So I've done two clusters of design principles now, one around values, one around operational philosophy, and the third set, as important as any, I'm going to expand in a great more depth and that is learner experience and here we found five design principles. You can see them there. I'm not going to read through those now. I'm going to take each one in turn.
First of all, personalised, what does it mean? Personalised means where a school is operating this design principle that the learner's experience is related to her personal needs, her passions, her development and purposes and they're at the centre. It's not the institution or the teacher or external bodies of knowledge. And this goal of becoming much more personalised I'm sure many of you would be familiar with and it's a tough one, but my God where it is in play does it empower learners. You talk about learner engagement. This is the high road to it.
Here's a quote from one of the schools that we studied. It's the Liger Learner Leadership Academy, it's actually in Cambodia. And this student said, "At Liger, I fell in love with marine biology." She created her own year‑long project called Artificial Reef in Cambodia to provide a habitat for marine ecosystems, establish an anti‑trawling reef, restore marine species populations and increase the local knowledge, and they designed two types of artificial reefs and they were deployed then off the island of Koh Seh Kep ‑ talk about relevance ‑ and this student said she's so honoured and proud to have the ability to make changes happen. She fell in love with it because it found her passion, and she went into depth in that research extended project to pursue that passion and make it relevant. So that's design principle 1.
The next one is integrated. What's that mean? It means that the learner experiences meaning through learning that transcends the silos of the disciplines, but it builds connections within and between disciplines, building connections, making meaning, and that doesn't mean we throw disciplines out the window, of course not. Hey, I'm a maths teacher, you know, I get that students have to comprehend and internalise basic concepts, but this is about utilising many forms ‑ disciplinary, interdisciplinary and cross‑disciplinary.
Here's a kid Joshua in the US from our research who said, "School wasn't going well for me. I was struggling in most of my classes." And he said, "I learn by seeing things and by interacting with things." And then they introduced this program called Sci‑gebra: integrating science with algebra and it helped him get deeper ‑ I mean, his language is pretty inarticulate really, but he got deeper into this stuff "and learn things and really understand them". The longer interview shows how he understood how things connected. So algebra wasn't just out there as disconnected from everything else, he could see how it related to what he was really interested in.
The next design principle under learner experience is that the learner is experiencing the culture as respectful and welcoming. How central is this, the culture is experienced as respectful and welcoming whoever you are. Here's Salma, who's a kid in a year 8 school, and she said, "When I come in in the morning the first thing we do is talk about what's happening at home and in my community. The teacher is trying to understand who I am and my values as a person." And feeling part of that community, feeling respected for who you are, is so fundamental to enabling young people to thrive in that learning community.
And that's related to the next of my design principles here, which is social/relational, individuals are known, good relationships are the basis for deep learning. And collaboration is the norm. It's not exceptional, it's what is done as a matter of course because that, by the way, is the basis for how most businesses, most enterprises pursue their work in the 21st century.
Here's a student, Grace. She's actually from XP School and you heard Gwyn earlier in this talk. Grace said, "For me crew means" being part of a team. I should explain when students get to XP, they get put in a crew of 12 and the crew is their kind of reference point. They're not in classes, they're in crews. When you're in crew, your job is to help everybody else in that group. Everybody's success is everybody's business. You're not out there to compete. You're out there certainly to do well, but also to help others do well. And Grace said, "For me crew means to be part of a team, that we're all in the same boat, all on the same page, and if someone falls behind it's our responsibility to make sure they're on the same level as us." And I saw in practice at XP when I spent time at that school the social/relational dimensions are absolutely fundamental.
And then finally, this design principle around the experience. Future schools build and leverage learner agency or self‑direction, providing opportunities for learners to take increasing responsibility and ownership over their own learning. Here's Abigail, who says, "I feel like school makes you feel like you can make change happen. You might not change the world ‑ but you can change something. In traditional school you're thinking, this is the highest I can go, there are no further things I can do. When you take yourself outside of that box of traditional school you find there's endless possibility. Why do I have to wait until I'm an adult to take action and do this?" And that is a damn good question. So learner agency, the empowerment, the creating learning experience so that young people know that they can make a difference is fundamental.
So that is the set of design principles that we found in our research for schools of the future and here is your final opportunity to discuss this. From the design principles related to learner experience, identify one that really speaks to you. You might want to just take a quick snapshot of that, take a screen shot or remind yourselves, personalised, integrated, inclusive, social/relational, or empowering.
In your group, identify one that really speaks to you, what are you doing already to ensure that your learners experience school in this way? What are your thoughts on building it further, because all schools are down this path in one way or another. One of those design principles will speak to you. What more might you do? And as a group, identify the learner experience design principle that you think is hardest to realise. What ideas have you got as a group about some way in which you might edge it forward, take it forward a bit? So I'm going to suggest that we take 15 minutes on this again.
Well, I was lucky enough to be in a discussion there with Liesel and Emma and Jenny. They raised a point that was actually fundamental, which I should perhaps chuck in, and maybe should have done before we started the breakout group, which is that those design principles I've just put in front of you are not a recipe, they're the ingredients, and schools are combining them in different ways and they will look different. So as Liesel in particular in our group mentioned, you know, the nature of your community will influence and condition the selection of design principles that you think are really, really important, but I do think that they capture something important about what's going on in the world of education today and I think give us something of a kind of North Star to aim for.
So look, we're nearing the end of the session. I know it's been a lot. I was a bit worried that Emma in our group said that she'd found it all a bit overwhelming and that's not my intention, but I hope I've given you plenty of provocation and plenty of stimulus to guide some of your journey from hereon in.
It would be great if we have a bit of feedback from anybody or a particularly burning question. We've got a few minutes left, I think, before we're due ‑ it's been a long session I know. Thank you for hanging in. I hope you've found it engaging.
But Justine, if you would like to invite anybody to either choose something from the chat or something they'd like to chuck in at the end here, that would be great. I think probably I've said enough off my own bat, but over to you.
JUSTINE: Thank you, Valerie. I can see you there, Neil. Would you like to share something that has resonated with you this afternoon? I've just come from a great conversation with you and Jeffrey.
NEIL: I think something that's resonated with me is the strength of the Victorian education system and this particular workshop has really encouraged me to think beyond just my own remit and beyond my set of partner schools to the benefit of not only just, you know, my own institution but for the planet, for the students, for the broader ecosystem that we're all part of.
JUSTINE: Thank you, Neil. Is there anybody else who would like to have a final word before I share my appreciation to Valerie? All right.
JEFFREY: Perhaps not a final word, but just a very big thanks, Neil, it was really great being ‑ I really liked that breakout format that Neil and I were in the same breakout, but we had a different extra person come in each time and all three conversations were really invaluable and enriching, so just thanks. That's what I wanted to say.
JUSTINE: Jeffrey, I think that's a great final word. I think that that notion of appreciation can be underrated and I want to pass on my appreciation to everybody who has made the time to privilege your professional learning this afternoon. It is an absolute ‑ you know, it's not a given, but we know how important it is. In terms of that prioritising these conversations is really valuable and, Valerie, to share your expertise and all of the research that you were able to present to us in such a clear way, but really purposeful and really going back to that sense of purpose, but those design principles are really key and the opportunity to talk to colleagues I think has been really valued.
I know that in the conversations that I was privileged to be a part of that I learnt more about our educators, but one thing that I know is the care that our educators have and our school leaders have for their students and for their communities. And, you know, seeing some of these comments that are coming through, some appreciation for, you know, "a great opportunity to listen and share with some great leaders", so thank you, Neil, and to Liesel, who's saying that "the session has really brought to mind the great responsibility that our profession has in supporting and guiding young people forth in a transforming world with a shared purpose". Liesel, I think that's a really lovely way to finish.
So a really, really big thank you to all of you and really thank you so very much, Valerie. It's been an absolute pleasure and I'm looking forward to learning more.
I also just want to, as we're sort of saying thank you ‑ and Viv Tellefson said, "so much to reflect on and a timely and thought provoking session" and yes, I too loved that video of XP and the focus on equity, really important. I certainly took a number of notes based on those design principles as well.
So I think as we are wrapping up and saying farewell for the afternoon, thank you again and there will be a follow‑up email that will be sent to you shortly with some of the resources from today's session as well as a short survey. And always remember that there is always a lot going on at the Academy and we really encourage you to engage with the learning. Keep an eye on the website and, you know, follow ‑ see what opportunities there are for you and for your team.
I couldn't leave this afternoon without reminding that the Teaching Excellence Program is coming up for next year and our next intake for connect for assistant principals is coming up tomorrow. So always great things happening at the Academy and, as we know, fantastic things happening in your schools and your settings. So thank you so very much.
And just for the last word, Cindy, "So excited that our approach to teaching and learning might be proactive, innovative and adaptive instead of reactive. Love the concept of thriving". Thank you, Cindy. Thank you, everybody. And thank you, Valerie.
VALERIE: You're welcome. Bye, everybody.View full transcript here.