The likelihood is
the children will die
without you to help them do it.
It will be spring,
the light on the water,
And though at present
they live together
they will not die together.
They will die one by one
and not think to call you:
they will be old
and you will be gone.
It will be spring,
or not. They may be crossing
not looking left,
not looking right,
or may simply be afloat at evening
like clouds unable
to make repairs. That
one talks too much, that one
hardly at all: and they both enjoy
the light on the water
much as we enjoy
of indefinite postponement. Yes
it’s a tall story but don’t you think
full of promise, and he’s just a kid
but watch him grow.
Each year I’ve prepared a reports for our BOT, outlining what we are doing with IT and e-learning. Term 4 always has a wrap-up of the year and a look ahead to the next. I finished this year’s report with this text.
I’d like to think that every school community across Aotearoa is able to say the same. Our schools are, on the whole, and despite the often downwards spiral around our profession, places where many, many rich and rewarding opportunities occur every day.
We need them to continue to be so.
2013 has seen an ongoing integration of digital technologies. We have made an investment in lifting teacher capacity in the use of these digital technologies and worked with students on using specific tools to support their learning.
Staff and students have responded well to the changes and the pressures that this sort of shift requires. We need to continue to make specific time in our programmes to embed these changes, encouraging playful exploration of these tools, but focusing on how and why we are using them in our literacy, mathematics and integrated studies programmes.
Throughout 2013, we have spoken about this shift being about “how we do what we do” here at [our school]. Despite the hype machine, these tools are not transformative learning devices, instead they are merely an intrinsic part of how we and our students live, work and play.
The reality is that many of our students are comfortable working in both analogue and digital worlds. While there is fear and confusion for many of us as adults, we need to keep seeing the potential of the world our students are moving into, and continue to be the guiding forces alongside them as they do so.
The challenge for the coming years is to balance the analogue means and ways with the digital demands and potentials. The depth to which these digital tools are useful and make our lives more worth living, is a direct reflection of how much discipline and control we continue to maintain over them. Our role as adults is to model that discipline, that critical approach to how we learn and what we learn-to continue to constantly pay attention to what really matters.
Ultimately this shift isn’t about the tools, digital or analogue. It’s about the mental models around the role of a school within a community, and how it delivers the learning experiences that the community demands. What we continue to do at [our school] will be to offer rich and rewarding learning experiences. The tools may change, but that challenge remains the same.
Paul Brislen asked me to write a little piece for the TUANZ blog, and I’m grateful to him for offering to host my writing. I sent him this piece, and he was kind enough to let me run well over his normal word limit. I’ve made a few revisions and now post it here in two parts. Please comment and hold me to account.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
Recently I watched TV3′s The Nation’s piece on the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. I was struck by the Minister’s phrase, from her maiden statement to parliament in particular her comments directed at education.
“We must adopt an uncompromising attitude that failure is not an option. All our other aspirations for economic growth, raised standards of living, and national confidence and pride will flow from getting these basics right.”
“Failure is not an option.”
It is, on the face of it, a fine statement, that speaks to conviction, emphatic-ness and a desire to accept nothing less than the very best. All laudable sentiments from a politician. And I don’t deny that this is just one sentence from a wider speech, but language matters, and I believe a statement like that helps to frame the culture of practice that a politician leads.
Can we actually frame a society wide conversation about public education with that blunt rejection of failure? What happens to our systems if and when we reject failure as an option?
Instead of stating that “Failure is not an option”, and living by that dictum, should we as @therepaulpowers tweeted, consider that “Failure is quite clearly an opinion.” If we start with that perspective, can we then allow considered and critical opinions to shape our conversation about what failure actually is and means in practice?
As a culture, we celebrate moments of success, gold medals and world records. But behind each of those moments are effort, toil and setbacks. Those setbacks are a series of failures, that when persevered through and built upon can lead to success. But as a culture, we don’t often reflect on that effort and that long progression of failure, nor do we celebrate it.
In sports there are many examples of failure being a reality. These excellent basketball players, have never held aloft an NBA championship, while these footballers never even made it to the World Cup .
Would we consider them failures?
The 2011 All Blacks were rightly hailed as successful as they won the Rugby World Cup. That victory salved the reminder of 25 years of incessant failure. Over that same time period France, competed in three finals while the All Blacks were in two. Naturally we see the All Blacks as more successful, because they won the two they were in, but France have arguably, a more successful RWC record than the All Blacks. It’s just that possibly, as a nation France doesn’t base their entire cultural worth or success on their rugby team.
Consider also, that in those 25 years, rugby fans were privileged enough to witness the feats of some of the most outstanding players to ever play the game. Players with names such as Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Andrew Mehrtens and Jonah Lomu.
Did these players fail? Depending your criteria, absolutely.
Were they successful players who achieved highly? Obviously.
Steve Jobs is lauded as one of the pioneers and visionaries of personal computing and consumer electronics. Not only was he let go by the very company that he helped to found, he continued to make mistakes after his triumphant return and not all of Apple’s products since then have been considered successful.
Richard Branson has had over a dozen major ventures that have gone bust under his watch and yet he is widely and rightly, hailed as a success and an entrepreneurial leader.
James Dyson’s award winning bag less vacuum cleaner “took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get it right.” Even after the success of that original product in 1993, Dyson has continued to refine and continuously improve his product.
All of their failures were a part of the successes these three business leaders went on to create. As Dyson discusses in this article from the Guardian, in business “Failure can be an option”.
But politicians don’t often discuss failure as part of the process of success, even though as these examples show it’s essential.
Sometimes though, those same politicians rewrite the rules and despite failure being the absolute state of reality and being aware of the process by which that point of failure was reached, they choose to define some things as “too big to fail”.
We didn’t allow the banks to fail. The results would have been catastrophic we were told. But 5 years on from that financial crisis, are we any better off? Have those institutes learned from that failure? Did declaring them unable to fail cause them to change their methods? Have our economies become more effective, balanced and useful as a result of not being allowed to fail? Oddly enough the World Bank now hosts a Fail Faire, to celebrate “innovation and risk-taking”, which is an interesting position for them to now take, considering the many failures of the global financial crisis.
Are we doing that in New Zealand? Politicians often call for innovation and risk takers, but do we allow for and explicitly let failure happen, so that we can innovate as a result. Do our public sector environments allow for risk-taking and the possibility of both success and failure? Do we have a public sector culture that lets the individuals within it learn from their mistakes?
In New Zealand education policy, the failure of Talent2 and the Ministry of Education to build and deliver the Novopay payroll system has been widely covered in the media. This failure occurred for a number of technical and contractual reasons, many of which have been laid out in reviews. The recently released Ministerial inquiry lays the blame for failure in a range of places. But in reading some of the timeline details, and the technical review I got the sense that during the process, failure was not tolerated or accepted.
Despite concerns and reports detailing “147 software defects and 6000 errors”, the contract was still signed off, and the project went ahead. The Minister of Education, the Associate Minister of Education and the Minister of Finance all signed off on the project, despite knowing there were defects in the system. Four independent advisors gave the system the go ahead, despite, we can only assume, having a similar level of knowledge about the weaknesses in the system.
On the face of it, it appears, the possibility of system failure was almost willingly ignored and was quite literally, not an option. Why if everyone appeared to know that the system was faulty, was it allowed to be launched? After the fact, it’s easy to say that remedial work is being done, and Talent2 is learning from each cycle of errors, and that more people are on the help desk, and the Ministry is addressing faults in internal systems and staffing, but it’s difficult to avoid the fact that it appears a fear of non-delivery meant a failed delivery from the start.
Obviously hindsight allows us to critique the Novopay implementation process and some of the the technical aspects. I wonder who within the Ministry of Education has learnt from the failure? I wonder how schools have learnt from the failure, and have changes been made to some of their processes? I wonder if their have been any measurable gains or successes provided by the Novopay system, for schools and the Ministry and possibly even the taxpayer?
The Network for Learning, (N4L) is one of this governments flagship initiatives that is another example of where it is arguable, the “failure is not an option” culture is in play. Touted as “unleashing learners” and with a promise to not deliver any school, less than it currently has access too, the Network for Learning has been almost crippled before it is launched, by huge levels of expectation and some levels of entitlement from those within education.
After the failings of rolling out Novopay, the government and the N4L itself is moving quite slowly through the procurement and implementation process. Is this to avoid being seen as a failure, or to avoid failing to deliver? This slowness and at times lack of communication has been criticized by some in the education sector. The same education sector that can be notoriously demanding. Will high and entitled expectations mean the N4L is regarded as a failure when it finally arrives? Or even before it finally arrives.
Will it be a success if the network and services can be built and delivered, but be unaffordable for the schools that need these same services the most? In the quest to create a “something” that will raise student achievement, will the N4L be defined by test scores and measurements that it has little to no quantifiable way of affecting? Or will the assessments be designed to reflect the delivery mechanism of the N4L and in effect measure the N4L’s services, rather than the particular student abilities and needs that we actually want to address.
At its heart this Network for Learning is just a collection of wires and boxes, that allow schools to connect. What those connections allow are varied and exciting, but the network cannot make change of itself. How each individual school community actively and critically chooses to use those connections to meet the needs of their students will make the most difference.
I do hope the premise and promise of the Network for Learning succeeds, but I’d rather call it a ‘Network for Education’. It’s a provision to support the delivery of education in New Zealand. What learning emerges from that network could be amazing, could be plain and useful but ultimately should just be a part of how we in Aotearoa provide for our young people as they move through our education system. It should be as important as the many other procedures and practices that schools are currently using to keep our children safe, engaged, and participating in the world around them.
Let me be clear in saying I’m not defending teachers or schools that display signs of failure. I’m conscious that there are poor practitioners in the education sector, that poor administrators exist and that our students can be let down by the choices of those whom we entrust to guide and support them. Failures do occur and we need to address these failings in our education systems promptly and transparently.
But I don’t believe any teacher or school leader actively sets out to fail their students. By stating “failure is not an option”, the Minister sets up a false assumption that anything less than constant success, means our teachers and schools are failing and thus wholesale and sweeping changes are necessary.
So let’s change this conversation in which we are constantly defining success and failure points, and measuring to meet those standards. Let’s have a broader conversation that starts with saying “In education, success and failure are part of the process of learning. That while we don’t aim for failure, we don’t deny that it may occur. That we will constantly look to build on our failures and successes, to refine and make ourselves and our places better.”
If as adults, we’re OK with both success and failure, neither too emotionally distraught nor enthusiastically hyped, our students may come to see that gratitude in the face of success, and resilience in the face of failure, are key to determining our well-being in this life.
All of which will make for lives worth celebrating.
Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office is, as far as I can tell, hosted exclusively on Facebook, which is problematic.
One of the services they offer is an SMS text in case of tsunami warnings – which is pretty handy, if you live like I do one of the tsunami zones around Wellington. So in the interests of those not on Facebook, here’s the details for how to set that service up on your phone. I trust WREMO don’t mind me sharing.
Receiving Emergency Alerts on Your Mobile
You can sign up your phone to receive Wellington Region Emergency Management Office (WREMO) Text Alerts which are sent ONLY in potentially life threatening emergency situations such as tsunami warnings.
To sign up text follow WREMOalert to 8987 and then reply with set discover off
Text alerts are free. It only costs you two texts to sign up.
- We use Twitter as a platform for the Emergency Text Alerts. When signing up you will receive a text saying thanks for joining Twitter. This does not make you an active Twitter user with a Twitter profile.
- When you receive an emergency text alert spread the word. Forward it to your contacts, post it on FaceBook, and re-tweet on Twitter.
- This Emergency Text Alert system only works with Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees. Unfortunately, WREMO cannot influence this.
- If you are not with one of these mobile providers we suggest you ask your provider to connect with Twitter.com
- You can get the alerts by asking friends and family who are using Telecom or Vodafone to sign up to receive the alerts and forward them on.
- You will receive 3 – 4 test messages a year and any other message will be a real alert.
We were at the Embassy,
Susan said, “Watch this, then go home and hold your children tonight”
Uncle Ritch said, with a laugh and a croak,
“I got treated to a manicure today, that probably makes me a bit of a poof”
He meant my Mum, who was up visiting for the final time
She’d been looking after him he said
And that out of the bad, many good things could come
He was on the phone, at home waiting for his body to stop
Bucket list done
Now just living each day
“Don’t call me Uncle any more mate, I’m just Ritch”
Except that soon he won’t be
What’s that Boo? I said
It was breakfast, a messy rush into the day.
Coco-pops for her and coffee for me
“That’s a dinosaur Dad, a dinosaur called Happy”
Oh yeah, I said, what’s he doing on your paper there
“Well, he went to the pool Dad, to have a drink, because he’s thirsty”
“He’s the colored up one… wait Dad, I have to do the dinosaur stomp”
So she did, a little two step-half-step stomp around the kitchen,
While I realized I’d forgotten to email the office about that thing
What about those, I said
“Those? Those are teeny tiny feet Dad, because there’s not much space on the page”
And that, what’s that, I said, checking the phone for the meeting time, Is that a tree
There was a look
“Dad, don’t be silly, that’s me, dressed as a dinosaur.”
Yeah mate, as I glanced at my watch
“Your Uncle Ritch is going to die soon isn’t he?”
Yes B, he is
“I hope you don’t go away soon Dad.”
Susan said “Hold your children tonight”
“But it’s a corruption to start giving people what they want in story.
Because the truth is, the audience is like a child. That’s not to say that they’re children, the audience is made up of a lot of different people.
Some of them smart, some of them stupid.
But if you ask them as a collective, ‘What do you want?’, they’ll always say ‘I want more of what I saw before that I liked.”
- David Simon : The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme
How often do we as teachers focus on what we actually, truly honestly need?
For our students?
For our schools?
For our selves?
Currently we’re doing statistics and graphing in class, and I’ve enjoyed putting challenging visuals and infographics in front of students, and getting them to consider and critique them.
I’ve used the wonderful Information is Beautiful site, in particular the really mind blowing Billion-Dollar-O-Gram. The ‘Mountains out of Molehills’ interactive was a challenge to their knowledge of recent history. In particular the gap at the September 2011 period took a while to sink in. The ‘SnakeOil’ visualisation really confused quite a few, for the sheer scale of it, but many were really intrigued by the manner in which very complex data was represented. Each of the graphs produced interesting conversation and a chance to tell a story.
I shared Keith Ng’s fantastically engaging NZ Budget 2013 the day after the actual budget announcement. His work got 11 year olds interested in all that stuff that politicians and newspapers talk about. Their reactions when they saw who was getting less money, in relation to the overall pot, were intuitive and honest. For obvious reasons, they were particularly interested in the education section, and the design of the graphics, gave us the opportunity to discuss what each of those small boxes represented in real life. And what those figures actually represented.
I’ve made it clear that all of these are very complex and challenging infographics, and that it was OK to be confused initially. But I encourage my students to see them as telling a story, that we can read and consider. Each of the graphics allows us to notice things, and to wonder about the issues outlined in them. The challenge to students has been to make valid statements based on what data is directly on display in front of them. All of these visualisations have the collected data behind them, and being able to show those datasets to students is important, so they don’t just see the visuals as an exercise in making pretty pictures.
Lastly I’ve tapped into excellent blog from Auckland University Stats Chat – for my own learning, but also for the odd tidbit to put in front of my students. This Ignite talk from Noah Iliinsky entitled, “Data Viz: You’re Doin’ it Wrong” – was much enjoyed.
As spelt out in this tweet from @evelynrusli “Does the nsa commission 5th graders to draft their power point presentations. What is this y-axis?”
I’m glad to say, my 6th graders could point out quite a few errors.
Exhibit A: Ministry of Education/ERO: Accelerating Learning for Priority Learners
The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) has established a goal to increase the proportion of learners achieving at or above national literacy and numeracy standards. To achieve this goal, outcomes must improve for key priority groups, including Māori students that are not achieving well, Pacific students who are not achieving success, special needs students and those from low income families.
Exhibit B: New York Times: T.S.A. Screening Is Not Objective
“The Transportation Security Administration has little evidence that an airport passenger screening program, which some employees believe is a magnet for racial profiling and has cost taxpayers nearly one billion dollars, screens passengers objectively …. The managers wanted to generate arrests so they could justify the program, the officers said, adding that officers who made arrests were more likely to be promoted.”
Exhibit C: Speed Kills
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
- Ferris Bueller
Not my thoughts though.
The thoughts of Eric Schmidt, head guy at Google, in an interview with the BBC Radio 4′s Start the Week.
Hat-tip for the link to the always excellent Stats Chat