The ‘Non-Negotiables’ of Next Generation Learning.

As a part of my recent work I have visited a number of schools. Among many things, I have enjoyed listening to students confidently articulate “where I am with my learning” and “where to next”. With regards to reading, written expression and other core skills of listening and speaking, students know precisely their capabilities. They are also acutely aware of their ability to use other core skills, for example, graphing in Mathematics, mapping in Geography and, of course, their ability to use apps to demonstrate their learning. However, as good as they can articulate their strengths and areas for further development, they are less sure of “where they are at” and “where to next” as a collaborator, creator, thinker, team player or problem solver.

A key indicator of when next generation learning has arrived will be when students can self-assess, peer assess, record and report about the ‘non-negotiables’; those ’21st century skills’, often called ‘soft skills’, that are now undeniably required for students to be happy people and successful workers enjoying their vocation based around their passion. On a side note, I don’t think there is anything “soft” about the perseverance and effort required, for example, to be a critical thinker and problem solver as part of a group of individuals all of whom possess different abilities and interests.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have already stated, I am impressed with how students articulate their learning. I am also encouraged by leaders in schools who ensure there are references to skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication and team work as a part of their formal assessment and reporting. However, it is not yet mainstream for schools to assess and report (I would rather the words “observe and feedback”) to parents about the ‘non-negotiables’.


Next generation learning leaders will  engage with parents (some are already) about the importance of the ‘non-negotiables’. The better leaders will do this so convincingly that parents will no longer ask, “Where is my child placed?”, “What mark did they get?” or “How many grades did they jump?” In fact, a success indicator of next generation learning is the day when parents more often ask….

  • “How is my child collaborating?”
  • “What did they create today?”
  • “How are their presentation skills developing?”
  • “What problem did my child solve?”

I look forward to that day.


Is coding the ’21st century writing’?

Last week I attended a professional learning day where I was introduced to Code Club Australia, a network of coding clubs for Aussie Kids aged 9 – 11 which uses ScratchIan Wedlock facilitated the day and I was impressed with his calm but assured belief in the learning benefits associated with coding. As part of his presentation he:

  • Asked participants to “think origami – follow sequential instructions and be precise.”
  • Reminded us of instances when programming goes wrong by showing The Breakfast Machine and The Lipstick Machine. Quite funny.
  • Introduced us to Rube Goldberg machines which “require all the coding skills without the technology”. 

Whilst sharing these and other resources, Ian confirmed that coding, in particular Scratch, allows students to program interactive stories, games and animations which requires them to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively; all important 21st century skills.

The discourse around coding in schools is, in part, prompted by predictions that 40 to 55% of current jobs will be made redundant by technology within the next 10 years. In a world where robots could be performing one third of U.S. surgeries by 2021 and where a robot arm builds a house in just two days, future jobs will increasingly require employees to create and program those robots. Coding is a good starting point for that to be a possibility for a significant number of our young people.

Matt Resnick articulates the benefits of coding for young people in Let’s Teach Kids to Code (16 mins). With reference to Scratch he outlines the benefits of coding for young people code so they can do more than just use new tech toys; they can also create them. However, what resonates with me the most are the analogies Resnick makes with reading and writing.

Firstly, he points out that it is useful for everyone to read and write, and whilst these skills will be useful in almost everything not everyone will become a professional writer or resident book reviewer. And so it is with coding. When people learn to code they simplify complex ideas, collaborate, fix things and persevere in the face of frustration, that’s called resilience! Such skills and dispositions will be transferrable to almost all aspects of future work.

And secondly, Resnick reminds the viewer that the actions of browsing, chatting, texting and gaming do not make young people digitally fluent. For those who can use technology applications to ‘create’, they are digitally fluent. However, for those who cannot, “It is almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies.”

As I tweeted during the day with Ian,

Maybe I got that a little wrong.  So before publishing this blog, I tweeted….

Tweet 2

As always, I welcome your comments.


A modernised HSC may have to go

Just last week the next iteration of a modernised HSC was released by the New South Wales government. Unfortunately, it appears to be ‘dressing up the old’. I wonder if those who managed the process which led to its publication

Capture 2

(via @HealthyLDN as reposted by @nickya73 on Twitter, 26 July, 2016)

As part of the media promotions that come with such government announcements, it was promised the new HSC would be setting students up for success. New pathways for post school are required because the HSC is a lagging indicator of school success rather than a leading indicator for life success.

Executive Director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, Greg Whitby reflected that the new HSC was simply modernising educational relics and stated,

“The HSC reforms really are a missed opportunity to bring some coherence to educational policy and radically rethink how we assess the spectrum of students’ learning and skills.”

Greg also asked, “Where is the New Thinking?” Well, here are some thoughts….

  • Pre-school becomes part of the K-12 learning continuum by allowing resources, funding and structures to ‘cross the divide’ of those very definitive and separated entities. This may mean breaking with current regulations and, for example, actually paying early learning teachers the same as primary school teachers. It may also see ‘Junior Kindy’ and ‘Senior Kindy’ exist over two years so that Kindergarten is a stage rather than a year.
  • Observe and report on social and emotional outcomes for Kindergarten and Stage 1 students as often as literacy, numeracy and other KLA outcomes are assessed and reported. Oh heck, why not do this until students conclude Year 4?
  • Have leading indicators for life success, as discussed in data and questions, shape a data informed, strengths based coaching program for students in stages 3 to 6. Using various data sources, each student would identify their interests, abilities and passions and link them to vocations and jobs of the future. Maybe the 75 minutes per week of pastoral care time which exists in most secondary schools could be redirected towards this?
  • Develop an enterprise skills continuum, by delivering the ‘The New Basics‘ and embedding ‘enterprise rubrics’ into mainstream schooling. Those 8 skills as determined by (see picture below) could be observed and assessed through self assessment, peer feedback and teacher conversation rather than through the judgement of a test mark or grade. Wouldn’t it be great if assessing and reporting on these skills were as mainstream as outcomes based KLA assessment and reporting?

Enterprise Skills

  • Lastly, have multiple school exit points of which the HSC is but just one exit. However, that’s a whole other conversation!

Of course, for each of the above suggestions (or others like them) something has to go. In an already packed curriculum serving the needs of a government economic agenda, there is not one more ‘priority’ which can be squeezed into the school day. Something, or some things have to go. I suggest the modernised HSC is one of them.

I welcome your feedback, comments and/or constructive criticism.





A Longer School Day?


With more than 380,000 students aged 5 to 12 attending our of hours school care, and unmet demand for another 80 000 children as estimated by the the Australian ­Bureau of Statistics, the call for schools to offer services ‘above and beyond’ the normal school day continue to grow. For quite some time now, the rise of single parenting and working families has challenged the 1950s’ construct of the 9 to 3 school day. A few months back, Federal Minister for Education, Simon Bermingham, was quoted in The Australian as saying he was “open to longer school day” In that same article, there are references to schools providing services beyond the traditional school day.

Across Australia, there are already a number of ‘services’ both ‘within’ and ‘outside’ the school day. These services are offered in the form of early learning centres, primary schools, secondary schools and  K-12 learning communities.(I am uneasy with the term ‘services’, especially when linked to primary and secondary school; however, I use it for the purposes of this blog). Furthermore, and to complement these educational offerings there are out of school hour care centres. 

As part of recent conversations with my work, I have become aware of the different regulations and requirements for school settings as distinct from early learning centres, as distinct from long day care providers, as distinct from out of school hour care centres. In recent times there has been great effort and noted success in raising the standard of early learning, reflective of its importance, as there has been with out of school hours care. Despite these successes, the various educational offerings act as separate entities and ‘bolt-ons’ rather than integrated services. There is great work being done within each educational entity; however, the reality is they are not integrated. 

The idea of an extended school day responds to the needs of families to have children cared for in a way which supersedes the 1950’s school construct. We can challenge the idea of ‘what the school day looks like’ by providing an experience focused on learning which looks different and better for each student and family. However, how do we do this without providing more work for teachers and staff across all sectors? Another question might be, “How much more is the education sector expected to do?”

The conversation about an extended school day poses many questions. A third question, but with a more positive spin…..”Is there an opportunity to provide quality pre to post school learning with services connected in a way which acknowledges learning as a continuum and transcends the traditional boundaries of time and space?”

If we are to extend the school day, the answer is not more of the same with longer learning blocks as part longer days with more face to face for teachers. We need to be more creative than that! I suppose, my inquiry really is…..

…. In what ways can extending the school day provide integrated services which offer an all inclusive, learning focused approach to the school day?

There may be learning communities already doing this. If so, please let me know.

I look forward to feedback, questions and comments.




New pathways to ‘post school’ required.

I recently  spoke with Colin Klupiec from Learn Fast in my capacity as the newly appointed Principal Leader at St Luke’s, Marsden Park. Colin’s professionalism, deep knowledge of Australian education and strong desire for a ‘new paradigm for learning’, meant that I enjoyed our time discussing the future of education in Australia within the one local context of St Luke’s.

St Luke’s is a (soon to be established) ‘next generation’ learning community. As part of the conversation Colin and I discussed ways to blur the finish line of schooling. Currently, that finish line is when the vast majority of young people conclude their formal education at the end of Year 12, around mid-December each year. In NSW, the checkered flag waves frantically for 24 hours with the release of HSC results followed by the release of the ATAR* the next day.

ATARs have increasingly become less meaningful as expressed in a recent article ‘Not in our national interest’: Universities slammed over ATAR leniency’ by Eryk Bagshaw.  Universities have compromised tertiary entry standards in pursuit of growing enrolments. Increasing ATAR offer rates below 50 has been one of many approaches.

ATARs below 50

Whilst the number of university degrees is increasing, the value of a university degree is in decline. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, of bachelor degree graduates who were available for full-time employment in 2000, 83.6 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees in 1999. Since then, the trend has been….

  • in 2005, 80.9 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.
  • in 2010,  76.2 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.
  • In 2015,  68.8 per cent were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.

It may well be that there are now more university degrees for less jobs or it may be that employers are looking further afield than the traditional degrees as evidenced by FYA’s most recent report. Employers in Australia are increasingly advertising for people who exhibit the ‘New Basics’ of Digital Literacy, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Problem Solving.

Enterpise Skills

Reading between the lines of the report, and with reference to Jim Bright’s article below, it appears employers may be unsure of how HSC results or  an ATAR number assists an employer to ascertain a prospective employee’s capability in these areas.

SMH Article

In the interests of best preparing our students for the future which awaits them, it is now time to look at more flexible post school pathways other than just the HSC and ATARs. These pathways would see students:

  • make links with industry by showing their work through their online presence, one which connects with experts across the world; OR,
  • create their own start up business in Year 8, 9 or 10 (possibly after many failed attempts) by asking them the question, “What problem do you want to solve?”; OR,
  • assisted by their wider learning community (not just school) to develop the skills for the surprising jobs of today.

I welcome your thoughts.


* The ATAR is The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is the primary criterion for entry into most undergraduate-entry university programs in Australia. It was gradually introduced during 2009 and 2010 to replace the Universities Admission Index, Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank and Tertiary Entrance Rank.





A Week Hosting @EduTweetOz

I am honoured to be asked to host @EduTweetOz for the week commencing Sunday 3 April. @EduTweetOz is a social media space on both Twitter and Facebook that sees a different Australian Educator hosting the account each week where they share their views and perspective on education. Hosting the account requires me to be quite active throughout the week with the aim of generating discussion.

The areas of focus for the week may centre around:

  1. Ed. leadership for a digital age.
  2. The best use of time.
  3. Contemporary pedagogies.
  4. Using technology to accelerate learning.

With regards technology and learning, there has been recent debate about the value of otherwise of technology for learning. Some schools have taken the step to ban or reduce days with laptops. I am a little unsure as to why when the devices themselves are not the technology, they are indeed a tool which offers the user to engage with applications which are relevant in this day and age.

It seems we are assessing the value of technology based on test scores from end of school exit examinations or NAPLAN learning growth. I cannot recall any educator making the claim that introducing laptops will result in better NAPLAN or HSC results. Until outcomes such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and global connection are valued as much as test scores, it is unfair to judge the value of devices and technology when addressing its impact for students.

Generally, we are spending too much time focusing on the technology and not enough of the pedagogy. we need to clearly focus on what Fullan calls “Pedagogical Capacity” and the need for it to address the reality which comes with emerging  technologies.

Fullan Quote


While there may be a focus on the areas mentioned above, I will also post ‘just in time’ items of interest as well as post a few posters collected from Twitter over the last twelve months or so. Furthermore, I may tend to ask questions than pretend I have the all the answers.

I look forward to the week ahead!