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Saturday, 7 October 2017

What can Western Education Learn from the China's History?

Sitting travelling at 307km an hour travelling from Beijing to Suzhou for 5 hours with a group of 80 gives me time to reflect on some of the engineering, architectural, fashion and acrobatic feats of China. This trip our group have been give the privilege of walking on the Great Wall, cruising through the canals of Suzhou and riding on the high speed train. What I have noticed is all of these engineering marvels were completed with amazing efficiency, are structurally sound and have aesthetic appeal. Our tour guides said this is because of the time taken to plan and execute, taking into consideration the natural beauty of the region and working with it. They suggested the public only sees the rate in which something is built; however, highlighted that it took long term vision to create something that was radically new for their culture. This idea resounds with me!

As educational change agents and leaders we need to see the budding talent encompassed within our students and support them to create answers to significant global problems. How do we do this? By following the example of our Chinese engineering and architectural friends through crafting a long term vision for what education could be and how this can transform humanity. In fashioning this, we allow buy-in of others, encouraging collaboration and creative problem solving that provides benefits universally. As students see that school leaders are acting in their interest they begin to engage more with the learning. Since parents observe the students focus they reach out to support. A byproduct of strengthening this type of understanding is other teachers discover they can innovate because even if the initiative fails they will be buoyed by the encouragement of the leadership to iterate and experiment again. The old saying “Rome was not built in a day” or more appropriately, “the Great Wall was not built in a day!”; however, we must remember that it was built, it didn’t get stuck in the planning stages never to move beyond a creative idea. Behind any great innovation in education and beyond there is vision, plus planning, plus action. If we allow ourselves to get bogged down in just a singular area, traction and momentum cannot be created. At this point, the innovation is endangered like the Chinese Panda as critical mass is not established.

As my students travelled the streets of China, they could see and experience the history of the regions influencing the development and direction of the future. It was visible that each of the leaders who took a stand and became the catalyst of change saw the need well in advance ensuring they had time to implement. An example of this was the Great Wall of China. Built by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. He knew his country after many years of battle from the north strategically needed to form a protective barrier. This barrier was built along the mountain tops to protect them from the Mongolian attackers and has stood the test of time forming the basis for further future developments. The Great Wall concept was revived again under the Ming density in the 14th century when further attacks from the north took place. During both of these periods the emperors took steps to lead their country in something new by building on the past to shape the future. In doing so, they stepped out and took a risk, one that they knew would take a long time to achieve; however, if successful would have significant payoffs for life within their community. Initially, they may have been questioned about what the benefits were but with clear vision they were able to translate this into action.

The Grand Canal that was constructed in 700BC by Emperor Sui Yang Di over a seven-year period. It stretched 1974 km from Beijing to Hang Zeou south of Suzhou. In building the canals, it was obvious they embraced the technologies available of the time as they carved and cut the new waterways. Using what previously was there naturally and redirecting this into the bigger universal vision the architects and engineers shaped what was to become. This level of future thought is regimented and time consuming; however, shows highly creative and artistic thinking as it forms the blueprint and foundation for what was to come. As we embrace and take ownership of the vision we become like the bullet train. We know the design and direction in which we are heading as we have passed through the visioning and planning stages. Consequently, we have the opportunity to focus on the action, the building up of momentum and traction. Allowing us to travel at a high speed and smoothly navigate the joys of the ups and downs of education.

Another realization came from the story of Silk. Xiling a concubine of Emperor Xuanyaun in 3000BC discovered by accident an innovation that would change textiles. During an afternoon rest a cocoon fell into her tea. As she fished this cocoon out it separated and became strands of silk that has strength and could be threaded. She made the connection that the silk need to be boiled for the amino acids to bond with the proteins to create a usable material. Using her understanding and influence she taught the people how to breed the silkworms and reel the silk thread off cocoons. Though this was an accidental find her implementation was not, she intentionally engaged her influence and empowered others with her vision of what could be created. Through her insight she shaped an industry know world over for its beauty and innovation. She led a revolution as a change agent from within, similar to a teacher-leader who is passionate about a specific area of education, taking the responsibility of nurturing and championing it to see greater development and growth from within it.

Coming from a gymnastics background the performance of the Golden Mask Destiny by Beijing Theatre and ERA by the Shanghai Acrobatics troupe was awe dropping. They were spectacles that could only be described as mesmerising. Seeing the precision and desire for excellence these athletes have and their uncompromising desire to perform highlights the countless hours that have gone on behind the scenes to prepare. Speaking with one of the performers after she informed me that they train in preparation more than five hours a day, six days a week and perform at least once a day. This devotion to strength, teamwork, consistency and high level performance can only be described as leadership as the motivation to do so is not being imposed on them but comes from within them. As leaders and change agents when we have this same intentional focus we too experience success and high level performance but like the acrobats we cannot do this alone, we must collaborate and build a strong team around us that will support during challenges and celebrate during successes. 

Throughout my journey to China, I have been awoken to the great beauty, diversity and culture this great country has. Likewise, I have discovered as a change agent there are links that I can take from this trip and apply to leadership roles. Like one of my mentor’s used to say “plan your work and work your plan”, begin with the vision, plan a path then step out and move!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Google Certified Innovators Academy Reflection


It is just a little under two weeks since the Google Certified Innovators Sydney 2017 cohort graduated. In this time I have had pockets of time to reflect and gather my thoughts about the program and how it has affected my project.

When I set out I had the plan to create a personalised learning pathway that would engage students in meaningful learning. Though the desired goal has not changed the academy, coaches and peer's have challenged me to think of ways to bring this to pass and obstacles to look out for. They have encouraged the mindset of "thinking big but starting small" by being critical friends. Colleagues and team mates I can constantly come back to and think tank with.

This shared experience has broadened my perspective and connection to a world of educators who are making a real difference in the lives of their learning communities.

During the academy, we had the time and space to look at our personal projects through the lens of design thinking set forth by Stanford University. It has the elements empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test. The process caused us to work through waves of success and failure by identifying the pits of learning and being present within these so to sit with the uncomfortableness. Often, it was during these points that the wow moments occurred. For myself, one of these happened on the last day, when I was challenged to iterate my project. The 10x feedback received early in the program was for the learning matrix's being developed students needed to be able to create an artefact of learning that would communicate their authentic and depth of concept understanding in a transformative way.

Working through this process I decided a common bridge/gateway activity (assessment as learning) was needed to enhance the impact and increase student efficacy. This additional element was to be inserted between the primary and secondary tasks as a point to assess student growth after their pretest and initial intervention activities. It was also inserted before enrichment activities again as a measure of growth and mastery. Examples of what was expected in this included pitch the concept, make the concept, video/screencast the concept, draw the concept, teach the concept, design the concept, animate the concept, cartoon the concept or sing/rap the concept.

Initial student iterations on this element of the learning pathway have shown student accessing deeper levels of understanding and increased collaboration to solve the problem; however, this is yet to be assessed to demonstrate its overall effect size.

I am really thankful for the opportunity to be involved with the Innovators Program, it was a blessing to me professionally to network and be supported by an incredible community of learners. I have made both local and international friends that I know will stand with me for many years to come. I have no doubt that I will continue to iterate and innovate on the concepts I have learnt ensuring they will have an increasing impact on learning outcomes of my students and broader community.

When asked by colleagues, "why they should consider applying?" My response is, in our world there are so many problems that need big solutions. We encourage our students to look for creative solutions and often give them creative space to work on these; however, for ourselves as educators we often don't leave enough margin for creativity. It is only when we give ourselves creative space and allow trusted critical friends to speak into this do we begin to discover the innovations that will transform the learning for students across the globe. For me this is the opportunity the Google Certified Innovators program offered.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Google for Education Innovation Academy - Day 2

Teacher Leadership - How do we Lead from the Middle? Part 2

Practical Implications:
Darling-Hammond (1995) found that teacher leadership is importantly associated to teacher scholarship and professional growth. She identified that leadership can be encapsulated in the tasks that everyday teachers do so that it does not create artificial, formal hierarchies. With this belief, it is suggested that teacher leadership can create more agile frameworks for leadership to be operated through. As the organisation has the flexibility and capacity to meet the requirements of their individual students in a differentiated and impressionable way.

Ng (2006) supported the notion that teacher leadership can contribute to school revitalization. This was created by a mixture of methods including time and space, to work, reflect, and learn together, a common planning time had given teachers to intentionally focus on school improvement. As the personal, interpersonal and organisational skills and capacity enlarged the climate for school revitalization became evident.

Current obstacles to adequately applying the teacher leadership framework in larger scale across schools include the holes in the literature (Gabriel, 2005). He identified that much of the current discussion in the mainstream is based anecdotal evidence. He suggested greater empirical data needs to be collected to verify the positive impacts that quoted by many.

Roland Barth (2013) wrote the most significant stumbling blocks was teachers themselves. He stated “teachers are, their own worst enemy when it comes to unlocking leadership because they don’t welcome it, typically don’t respect it and often feel threatened by one of their own taking it on” (p. 10). Studies suggest when teacher leadership is not well defined within a school, confusion results and tensions mounts (Hart, 1990; Wasley, 1989).

Ng (2006) added to these impeding factors by identifying lack of mutual trust and regard for the building of collaborative culture, insufficient time, micropolitics and the rigid school structures were the most thawing factors for teachers to exercise teacher leadership. Moller & Pankake (2006) reinforce this when they spoke about the effect of power struggles when the goals of the teachers  and the principal are not congruent.   

Wasley (1991) identifies bureaucratic structures as another impeding factor of teacher leadership. He suggest ultimately creativity and innovation would also be affected. Therefore, teacher leaders are required to recognise existing structures of schools and the organisational politics and navigate this by sharing their ideas in system-appropriate ways. Harris & Muijs, (2002b) agrees with this point of view by determining a major obstacle is created in traditional school hierarchies when executive teams refuse to relinquish control.

Personal Reflection:
I have found interest in writing this discussion as it reinforced the effects of my actions and interactions. In my role as a classroom teacher and teacher leader empowering others use of Information, Communication, Technology to support the creation of individualised respectful learning. To this end, I believe pedagogy can be identified as the starting point for building any quality form of teacher leadership. As a leader understanding how birth and share an idea is essential. Teachers will take on concepts and new practices if they can see the educational benefits for both themselves and their students.

When Bring Your Own Device was implemented at our school there was a lot of thought that went into the potential implications from both the teaching and learning perspectives. The intentional decision was made to make the program voluntary, taking the pressure off the teachers being immediately able to use them efficiently and effectively. In doing so a larger proportion ‘opted in’ because there was a spirit of ‘let's choose to get involved when we are ready’. By the conclusion of our first year, a majority of teachers and students were using their devices in multiple lessons on a daily basis. Over time, the desired culture grew and it enhance the overall educational outcomes. In leading the change it was essential to look at the value of change educationally.

I have learnt through this experience that teacher leadership is about seed planting. While there was a broader global strategy, executive leaders needed to identify the people who will capture this and act as the pioneers. When coalface teachers are prepared to take this, it’s less threatening for their co-workers. I have observed pursuing development in this manner will see the seed flourish as wider experimentation increases because staff don’t feel threatened by how this unfolds.

A challenging element for me is selling the idea and the direction in a non-threatening manner. Often, I can see the benefits that sit on the horizon and want to just get the teacher there. When I slow down, I go on the journey of capacity building with the other teacher. I invite them to explore how might their practice be enhance and amplify the teaching and learning.

This walking alongside leadership gives me “street cred” as I remain in the classroom working as a teacher and as such, I am ‘at the shoulder’ of my colleagues knowing the work that they do. As the coach, I model and pace the process in a way that makes pedagogical sense to my colleague, supporting both the successes and the mishaps. Teachers knowing that they can try and have the support to try again when it doesn’t work find themselves taking on as Dweck (2008) frames it, a growth mindset.

As educators who impacts the lives of our students in positive ways we must be willing to grow and open to the prospects of being vulnerable to expand our capacity. Central to their vision is a desire to do the best for the students. With this value they recognise the benefits of doing a quality job with the small things, as through this greater things happen. Therefore, any time a teacher can expose themselves to new educational theories and practices, their teacher efficacy increases. To have a culture grow there is the need to have the structures and mechanisms to support this. Technical decisions need to be made to ensure this works and as such, teacher leadership is a valuable vehicle to empower this goal of creating more effective teachers, revitalising school systems and impacting student achievement.

Barth, R. S. (2013). The time is ripe (again). Educational Leadership71(2), 10-16.
Barth, R. S. The time is ripe (again). (2013, October). Educational Leadership, 71(2).
Retrieved from
McKenzie, W. (2014, December 5). Whole Child Symposium: (Re)defining teacher
leadership [blog post]. Retrieved from Inservice at
Barth, R. S. The time is ripe (again). (2013, October). Educational Leadership, 71(2).
Retrieved from
McKenzie, W. (2014, December 5). Whole Child Symposium: (Re)defining teacher
leadership [blog post]. Retrieved from Inservice at
Barth, R. S. The time is ripe (again). (2013, October). Educational Leadership, 71(2).
Retrieved from
McKenzie, W. (2014, December 5). Whole Child Symposium: (Re)defining teacher
leadership [blog post]. Retrieved from Inservice at
Darling-Hammond, L., Bullmaster, M. L., & Cobb, V. L. (1995). Rethinking teacher leadership through professional development schools. The elementary school Journal, 96(1), 87-106.
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.
Gabriel, J. G. (2005). How to thrive as a teacher leader. ASCD.
Harris, A., & Muijs, D. (2002b). Teacher leadership: A review of research. Retrieved January, 25, 2007.
Hart, A. W. (1990). Impacts of the school social unit on teacher authority during work redesign. American Educational Research Journal, 27(3), 503-532.
Moller, G., & Pankake, A. (2006). Lead with me. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Ng, C. F. H. (2006). Can Teacher Leadership Contribute to Secondary School Revitalization in Hong Kong?. Faculty of Education, Hong Kong Institute of Educational Research, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Wasley, P. A. (1989). Lead Teachers and Teachers Who Lead: Reform Rhetoric and Real Practice.
Wasley, P.A. (1991). Teachers who lead. New York: Teachers College Press.
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