Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Hidden Connections - Know thyself

Education is the ability to perceive the hidden connections between phenomena
Vaclav Havel

We live in interesting times. For more than two decades educational practitioners working in schools have been at the forefront of a national experiment in defining and assuring quality across the school system. The definition of quality has been externally created, modelled and then presented to schools in the form of standardised curricula, through nationally defined measures of leadership and headship (NCSL) and through the strict definition of performance standards which have been monitored through state managed inspectors - Ofsted.

The combination of these powerful measures has been widely commented upon elsewhere, but one prevailing impression is that education is now redefined, as Pring observes.

So mesmerised have we become with the importance of ‘cost efficiency’, ‘value for money’, productivity’, and ‘effectiveness’ that we have failed to see that the very nature of the enterprise of ‘an educational practice’ has been redefined. (Pring, R. (2000) Philosophy of Education Research. London: Continuum.)

Quality is an external matter, schools ‘deliver’ on quality boundaries defined beyond the school gates, they may tinker with it at the edges, but the message is clear, stray too far away from the state version of quality and you will be made to pay.

So it comes as little surprise that school self-evaluation is now well and truly back on the agenda. After all, why bother running a huge and expensive monitoring process when the vast majority of the schools are ‘on message’? Indeed, it is politically expedient to create the illusion that quality is now a matter of local taste, as this creates an illusion of freedom which for most of the profession’s collective memory is more of an historical oddity than a real feature of their educational practice and operational process.

But school self-evaluation represents a serious challenge. It offers a possibility, probably by accident more than design, for educators to take the empowering step of asking what they mean by quality in their own establishments and not succumbing to the brain numbing mediocrity of running a mini-Ofsted operation inside their own establishment. The choice is clear, do they use self-evaluation to really listen and attend to educational need, or will they simply replicate the model that asserts quality is something that someone else defines?

I would like to think that we might pitch for the former. In so doing it seems sensible to offer some pointers which might help a school to begin to take themselves seriously.

There are three simple tools that will be described here, each play a part in bringing the ‘self’ into self-evaluation.

Ensure full participation
Just because our last twenty years have created a repressed profession, the next twenty need not be defined through more of the same. This is a huge opportunity to revise - to re-vision the way school communicates to itself. So, as a matter of principle, if self-evaluation is to work for the benefit of the community of learners then it is imperative that the community of learners, and this means all learners, are represented in the conversation. You might start with a senior management agenda for self-evaluation, but pretty quickly you will want to know what students think, what the parents think, and what the rest of the staff think. Having a voice in the process of self-evaluation is not just the bricks and mortar of filling in a form and then being told that you were consulted. If self-evaluation is to become a valued, integral part of the way the community hears itself, then there needs to be buy in.

Use questions to generate enquiry and engagement
One starting point we have used regularly in the IQEA programme is to focus attention on what we mean by the quality of the learning experience. It is a good example of how a simple question can lead to profound set of actions leading to change. The lead question can be supported with a few pointers - what defines quality in our (key stage - department - classroom - entrance hall - parental outreach...) but our experience suggests that it is best to leave the specific focal areas to the people involved in the conversation.

Support people in hearing each other
Pay attention to group size when exploring questions, as people need to be able to hear each other. This is about meaning, not just words. They may need help with this, look at some of the work of the great writers such as Frijof Capra and David Bohm talking about Dialogue. It is through the word, that meanings are generated. People need time to explore ideas, to co-construct them and to then explore their possibility in the day to day life of the school.

Model enquiry as a shared process across all aspects of the self-evaluation
Self-evaluation can create huge logistical problems, after all, it may involve a lot of people exploring a shared issue on quality improvement over a period of time. We have found that having a simple, coherent method enables the self-evaluation process to function and provide required data to inform development at a later stage.

In the case of the IQEA programme this is formed through an action enquiry process taken through six stages of development:
introduction - explaining to all participants the way the self-evaluation is going to operate
preparing - Asking how we are going to start to do this work
gathering - how we might find out about areas of quality improvement
synthesising - how we interpret what we have found out
confronting -asking does this make good sense?
reconstructing - asking what does this mean to us and what will we no proceed to do as a result of our findings?

At the centre of these mini enquiries is the knowledge that they are part of a larger process, and driving this process is the search for the hidden connections that deepen our understanding and awareness of our roles and functions in serving learners in the school.

School self-evaluation is not a quick fix. It is a way of thinking out loud together. This takes time to discover and takes time to nurture and maintain. However, it does bring rewards. The possibility that we are entering into a new phase of empowered, articulate advocates of locally defined and purposeful community embedded change is exciting, challenging and light years away from the given quality of the machine age. It is time we took this time seriously and use it to good effect for the sake of all learners in our communities.

Bohm, D. On Dialogue. London. Routledge
Capra, F. (2003) The hidden Connection. London. Flamingo
Pring, R. (2000) Philosophy of Education Research. London: Continuum.

International Energy Agency report on oil resources

‘Hydrocarbon resources around the world are abundant and will easily fuel the world through its transition to a sustainable energy future.’ Claude Mandil (2005) Executive director of the International Energy Agency - IEA.

Somewhere between 2007 and 2008, the International Energy Agency changed its mind. Previous assessments of oil supplies were dismissed as unreliable and the Agency undertook the first ever detailed analysis of what the global oil resource looked like. Until very recently ‘it was mainly an assumption - a global assumption about the world’s oil fields.’ (Fatih Birol - IEA, author of the Energy Outlook IEA 2008). It was a country by country, field by field study, both onshore and offshore and in addition it looked at decline rates across the major 800 oil fields in the world. So we begin to move from fiction to fact, and with the first set of publicly available data what are we looking at?

First, the IEA expects conventional oil extraction in the major fields to come to a plateau in three or four years time and then it will begin to decline. In global terms there is an assumption that this can continue - working in the known fields until around 2020 when it will plateau as well.

Second, a new, revised figure has been identified for the decline rate, that is the rate at which oil is declining in the fields globally. Last year (2007) this rate was stated at 3.7%, it has been revised to 6.7%.

This has some startling implications. It is taken as given that oil is running out - the IEA are clear that this is the case. What is not clear is how fast we are running out. But when we add into the equation the IEA revised estimate we could be looking globally at 2020 being the likely point at which we face a crash.

So where are the plans? Where are the contingency strategies? If we are really looking at something that is just over a decade away then we need to begin to weave a post oil mentality into the fabric of society - we don’t seem to be seeing the clock.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Climate action project - Obama Plans

From the Transition to Green plans url: http://www.climateactionproject.com/docs/transition/document_gw_01.pdf

This report highlights priority environmental recommendations for the Obama administration transition
team endorsed by a coalition of national environmental and conservation organizations listed below1.
Many organizations assisted in the creation of this report and we recognize their contributions. The report
describes how the administration can resume Federal leadership on critical energy and environmental
challenges affecting our economy, health and well-being in order to put our nation on a sustainable path
now and for future generations.
Over the past several months, a coalition of national environmental and conservation organizations has
completed an internal process to develop a set of suggestions for the new administration. Sub-committees
including representatives from throughout the environmental community have considered the full breadth
of environmental issues we expect will be considered by the administration and developed the detailed
recommendations included in this report. It contains key consensus recommendations and is meant to
compliment, and not replace, other environmental transition reports developed by individual organizations
with recommendations of their own.
Each set of agency recommendations highlights three major issues for the agency, followed by key
administrative, legislative and budgetary policy actions and critical actions to take in the first 100 days.
We urge the agency transition teams to use this document in the first crucial days of the Obama
administration and look forward to working with the administration to develop policies that will both
revitalize our economy and protect the planet.

Participating as leaders - ch5 notes

Our earlier discussion raised the importance of a reciprocal, communicative approach to the challenge of leadership for sustainable retreat ( I want to revisit the word retreat later - it has negative connotations and I recognise the need to define this carefully).

To achieve this there is a need for a coherent model of leadership support that will enable participants to connect at a point that suits their personal requirements.

In the outline below, we draw upon six principles described by Lambert (2005) that enable integrated, dynamic and interconnected working. Often the principles overlap and contain each other, they reinforce each other and present a vision of development for educational leaders that is both powerful and practical in leading towards individual and community learning and transformation.

Our earlier discussion highlighted the significance of people centered change, as a sustainable, practical and principled route to reform. We suggested that:

People charged with taking a lead with the change need to have opportunities to investigation what is wanted – they need to generate their own ‘solution’ to the problem
People have to find out what’s already working
People require time and support to build the solution
People support each other in order to identify and amplify useful strengths
People address the solution by taking small steps to build on what’s working
People focus on interactions between individuals

These aspirations place demands on how people work together. To respond to them we suggest that there are some important principles that can be considered and actions can be built around them. Each of these are outlined below and serve as the overarching frame for the work we envisage.

1. Trust: Who am I and am I safe here?
Becoming a confident, capable and caring leader is a lifelong process that involves taking responsibility for one’s own learning within a context of a community of learners.

Key points:
Meeting people in similar stages of professional life
Challenging and supporting self-disclosure, risk taking, and reflection
Sustaining trusting relationships

Programmes of support:
Year long cohort based groups 10 – 20 participants and 2/3 partner facilitators, one day and residential retreats
Activities to maximize potential learning, understanding of differences and common themes between participants

2. Purpose: Where are we going?
How do we generate, balance, and interrelate concern for organizational goals with those of the individual whilst ensuring personal and organizational well-being?

Key points:
Learning by leading and co-designing goals

Programmes of support:
Seminars: expert led seminars working with small groups and providing focused and specialized advice and support on topics of interest
Leadership ‘Accounts of Practice’ working as a cohort team and visiting each others sites and providing critical feedback
A consultant led, structured visit, which would involve some preparatory activity (reading, responding to questionnaires, providing initial data) an on-site dimension (observation, learning walk-throughs, data capture) and a plenary event involving dissemination of findings and further questions, and new lines of enquiry.
Use of provided self-assessment instruments, journals, narratives, case studies, weblog and e-support
Inquiry into site improvement needs, and site leadership capacity

3. Action: How will we get there?
A practice field for action and reflection – doing is all about how to pursue the goals and design activities that elicit and sustain authentic interest, investment and engagement in learning.

Key points:
Learning by leading by experiencing and participating in the learning community
Individual activity
Community activity

Programmes of support:

Action learning teams: undertaking shred fieldwork and enquiry into specific questions that are a) site related b) common across the group
Group based presentations and feedback sessions – facilitator participating and working within the group
Coaching and peer mentoring activity – using experienced coaches and mentors to deepen leadership understanding of role and function
This form of leadership support would be a bespoke activity brokered between colleagues from different institutions over agreed periods of time ranging from single days to multiple visits. The focus is mutually agreed and the process can be operated through an agreed protocol, or through the support of an experienced consultant it can be extended into other forms of inter-organisational support.

4. Construct: What are we working on and learning about?
This involves making sense of everyday activity and focusing on how we do our work.

Key points:
Attention to details, discrete topics, skills, challenges, new possibilities
Attention to real world, integrated holistic problem and practice based topics, skills, challenges and possibilities

Programmes of support:
Learning walkthroughs – teams focused on questions generated within the institution – provide critical feedback after a series of structured enquiries
Opportunities to model, teach, and build learning activity around dialogue, conversation and reflection processes, can be facilitated – guided developments
World Café activities – opportunities for groups of varying sizes to gather together, possibly from a wider regional base and share expertise, reflect together on common challenges related to policies and local issues, extremely powerful in visioning and generating creative solutions for persistent problems
Inter-school/establishment networking – building on know how of the NLC programme

5. Reframe: How else might we view this?
By this point the programme beins to address the question What is the powerful pedagogy for thoughtfulness? It involves learning by thinking and doing.

Key points:
Self assessment and personal accountability for leadership behaviour and practice
Partnership in mutual encounters aimed at growth change and improvement

Programmes of support:
Placements in other establishments (one day – one month)
Facilitated group narrative activities such as journal readings, reflection times, emphasizing enquiry and systems thinking
Established protocol activities – such as Accounts of Practice, Walkthroughs, Group reading, Portfolios
Structured visits to other institutions – conversations with other practitioners
Conferences and specialist workshop/seminars where work in progress can be profiled and examined
Regional leadership and networking – using the regional leadership and networking centres

6. Transform: How far have we come and what are we seeing that is different?
This principle is realized as a result of working with the other five. It concerns values and commitments that are nurtured in the learning community.

Facilitated evaluation and appraisal programme which draws upon evidence presented in earlier activities and combines the perspectives to generate a portfolio of work in progress which is critically evaluated by peers
Retreats / residential reflective seminars aimed to frame new goals and recognize needs and areas of improvement
Regional leadership and networking - building upon existing organizational services at the regional level it is feasible to foresee new roles and functions emerging from leadership centres.

Participants in this programme need to see their school accurately and honestly. They need to have experiences that will expand their sense of the possible, of self and organization. The range of ways in which this can best be achieved have been outlined in the document. We have emphasized the importance of dialogue and communication as a driver for sustainable practice. We have also moved away from some of the traditional knowledge transfer programmes towards a process led model which engages participants in their own knowledge creation activity. This approach, we suggest, is more suited to the learning culture that is being encouraged to flourish and will nurture a new generation of enquiring, learning professionals.

Monday, 8 December 2008

sustainable retreat principles

These are formative ideas for establishing policies and practices which initiate the practice of sustainable retreat.

see the scale of things
beware of living too heavily in a world of fictional experience and entertainment
see beyond technology and technological solutions
account for materials and energy in all human activity
consider the meaning of ‘growth’

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Strong support for egg campaign

EGG campaign has got off to a flying start with a meeting of enthusiastic hen keepers.
Part of Incredible Edible Todmorden's vision is that Todmorden will become self sufficient in terms of its egg supply in the near future and to further this aim a meeting was held at the Bear Cafe last week for anyone interested in keeping hens.


ncredible Edible has estimated that Todmorden needs about 3,000 eggs a week to be produced locally to ensure that every egg is a Todmorden egg.

Pauline Mullarkey, of Incredible Edible, said that during the meeting, attended by over 20 people with a wide range of experiences in hen rearing, the excitement for the vision was tangible with a growing belief that this was an achievable aim.

Of the people at the meeting, Pauline said: "Some people keep a few hens and use the eggs for their own consumption, some people had a larger number of hens and were selling their eggs on a farm gate basis. Other people there didn't keep hens but were interested in the idea and were left in no doubt that it would be a great idea. One woman was able to inform the group of a battery hen rescue charity she is involved in and someone else was able to address the group with vast knowledge about keeping a large number of hens.

"Those people who already have knowledge and experience of keeping hens were more than willing to offer their support and advice to people who may never have kept hens before and would therefore help give people in the town the confidence they might need to have a go and become part of this wonderful plan."

The next step will be looking at the possibility of setting up a Local Egg Co-Operative which could source local eggs from around the town and get them distributed to the local shops, market and supermarkets.

Pauline said this is one of the many strands in terms of local food production and Incredible Edible Todmorden is now keen to see action on the ground in the town. Anyone interested can email on nick_pauline@tiscali.co.uk or ask to speak to Pam Warhurst at The Bear Cafe, Rochdale Road, Todmorden.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Building the 21st-Century Economy - Cuban night at the Bear!

Tonight is our Cuban evening for the Incredible edible project. I will introduce the film with the following: (or variations on the theme!)

“ There is nothing so difficult in human affairs than to change the established order of things
because those who will be hurt by the change are quite certain of their loss while those who
will benefit are uncertain of their gain.” – Machiavelli

In our personal lives and in the lives of our nations, change usually involves three forces: push, pull and inertia.

That’s the case now as we confront the end of the industrial era and we begin to establish a relationship between our economy and ecology.

There are two huge challenges that we face.

The first is the challenge of changes in the Earth’s climate, and the second is to overcome the political tensions associated with ownership and distribution of oil.

Both these challenges are forcing nations, communities and individuals toward a change of lifestyle.

The force that pulls us forward is the vision of a way of living in our communities with economies that bring security, opportunity and stewardship of the planet. It is our next frontier and it calls for us to exercise an imaginative, sustainable response.

The forces holding us back are many. They may be technical, structural, political and economic. But by far the biggest barrier of all is the barrier of attitude. Do we do nothing, do we resist or deny, or do we begin to think together about the future and how we might want to live in it?

We know that the stocks of oil around the planet are dwindling, we find less crude oil year on year and at the same time we use more and more of it. Imagine an olympic size swimming pool, and then imagine it full to the brim with oil, every fifteen seconds, we are draining that pool - it is running out, and the general consensus of scientists and oil industrialists is that this will happen in the next twenty to forty years. If there is anyone in the room luck enough to be under the age of thirty the chances are that you will spend most of your life in a post-oil economy. We know what is happening with climate change and we are getting better at the projection of its impact on people, habitat and environment. The signs are too many and too persistent to ignore. The question is not if we should change. It’s whether we have the will to make the change necessary.

When Barrack Obama makes his inaugral speech next month in Washington, he will focus attention on preparing the american nation for an agenda of change, in one of his advisory reports it says...

Climate change is not a problem we can put off and deal with sometime in the future. It is happening now. Our job is to keep it from getting worse. We have the tools we need. What we lack so far is a sufficient sense of urgency to use them.

The challenges brought about by climate change and the move to a post oil world will not be solved by new technologies alone. To put it bluntly, smart technologies can accommodate stupid behavior, but only to a point. The solution will involve not just be found in developing new hardware, it will be achieved through the choices we make as consumers and as citizens.

That’s good news. It means that each of us can make a difference.

Tonights film shows one way in which a community faced with a need to change has reinvented itself, it offers a glimpse of a different future where the production of food enables people to reconnect, redesign and rebuild strong and resilient communities.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

creative innovation - responding to the tyranny of certainty

The world is either the effect of cause or chance. If it is the latter, it is a world for all that, that is to say it is a regular and beautiful structure.
Marcus Aurelius: Emperor of Rome

Derren Brown, the famous illusionist recently ran a programme on television where he offered a fool-proof service to horse racing punters. The basis of the programme was that he traded on his amazing ability of prediction. He invited people to come forward and place a fixed bet on the winner of a specific horse race. One thousand people responded by putting money on a horse, but here was the rub, Brown spread bet, he covered every horse in the race and thus guaranteed that some of his clientele were going to win. Taking only his winners, who were still committed to the notion that he was able to pick out winnners, he repeated the process again and again, slowly thinning down the number of people each time whose horse won the race and always inviting the winning punters to continue to put increasingly large amounts of money on the horses. So punters who stuck with Brown’s winning bets began to win large aounts of money, and being on the inside track so to speak, meant that they were very likely to win again as the suggested bets were from a trusted source, and there was no cause to believe he would fail. Of course, eventually there was only one punter left, who was persuaded to put all her life savings on a horse of Browns choosing. It lost. However, television being what it was, Brown had it covered and she didn’t really lose because he had put the money on a different horse. Thus maintaining the magic, but not after revealing the scam to the trusting woman, and to the audience.

I tell this story because it seems to me to reveal something of the madness that we have in educational reform. Despite more than two decades of endless change, we still seem no closer to making any real sense out of public sector developments. Public spending on education has gone up and down, according to the colour of the political flag that was in office, but in the main, the plethora of initiatives that successive governments have committed to as drivers of improvement in services have singularly failed to make the grade. We are now in a situation where we need to try a new direction as money is once again short, and there is a growing recognition that we need to redesign service in a way that high standards are established without resorting to spending more than economically we can afford to spend. For some this new agenda is being termed as ‘paradigm change’ 1. For most of us, I think in reality it will be a variation on the existing theme. Our reform, is simply that, reengineering the existing form, not transforming. Whatever happens, it is very likely that educational service reform will continue to undertake an equivalent of Browns spread betting, sifting only the successful initiatives as evidence of how to improve the system, and leaving on the sideline a growing number of ‘also ran’ schools.

We can see this in the logic underpinning much of the school to school networking taking place. The emphasis on knowledge transfer, replicating across the system any examples in the system of great success, making sure that the champions of these successes are highly visible and ready to make clear for all that will listen what exactly constituted their success. The findings will then form the basis of the next development in areas that lack the cutting edge knowledge. We are already seeing this in the work of the schools challenge initiative (DCSF 2008). Knowing ‘what works’, is persuasive, it comes with the full backing of government seeking solutions in areas of greatest need, and as an approach it is endorsed by most of the professional development community who need to be seen to have a body of knowledge and be seen to know how to use it properly. In this world, certainty plays a very significant part in ensuring that we have an equitable, open opportunity for all. Indeed, this has formed the basis of many recent school improvement initiatives, and certainly underpins much of the concept of what is known as ‘evidence led practice.’ The usual systems of carrot and stick apply, performance will be defined and measured against the implementation and management of the new developments in their new settings. We can presume, as knowledge transfer mechanisms begin to embed, that a few organisations improve, many will drift, some will fail.

It seems clear to me that in our next phase, we need to examine the idea of transformation and challenge the tyranny of certainty approach vehemently. What we do know about knowledge is that ‘whenever knowledge connects with knowledge, new connections take place. Ideas spawn ideas, which synthesis with each other until more knowledge results. It is completely natural,.’ (Verna Allee 1993). We simply don’t know a great deal about how to transform a system in the form of a service that has been around for over a century because until now all we have ever done is reform it. Embracing the reality of ‘not knowing’ is much harder for us to take on board and embed into our organisational psyche. In the previous two phases of public sector reform, under both conservative and labour administrations, professional knowledge was managed in unprecedented ways by reinforcing the assumption that someone out there knew best, and in that certainty, we simply had to find out what it was, where it was, how it worked and how to repeat it somewhere else.

Embracing lack of knowledge places a profession of educators in a very interesting position. It means we have to learn. We have to learn to see the problems differently. It means we have to learn to live with chaotic, diverse and emergent public service rather than assuming a fixed, orthodox approach that will suit all-comers. We need to learn how to create the conditions that are conducive for innovative, creative ideas that can be explored, deepened and connected over time not through procedure and content, but through a philosophy of emergence - a willingness, collectively to listen, study, trial, reflect, reconstruct and communicate with integrity and in a culture of trust. We need to learn to create a learning community, designed around relationships that are focused on emergence.

Putting our trust in someone else’s confidence trick is simply not a sensible way forward.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

beginning the conversation - school

Until now I have explored some of the broad issues which I think inform a way of thinking about the whole idea of sustainable retreat. I have emphasised that the concept presents some important challenges to consider when we attempt to introduce practices into established organisational structures such as schools because their modus operandi is guided by other ways of seeing the given world.

However, there are constructive starting points from which we can begin to make plans and develop responses that are positive and principled. In order to take the ideas forward I think that there are some basic assumptions which serve as foundations upon which all the practical application of knowledge into sustainable communities and schools can flourish.

We are looking at this problem as something that is interconnected, it is a systems challenge.
We are looking finding a balance between design and emergent leadership.
We are looking at how to enquire into the possibility of change.

Some starting questions:
• What do we mean by sustainable school improvement?
• What are the main questions we need to address in order to nurture more sustainable learning communities?
• What systems and processes of professional support can best assist us in our activities designed to address these questions?
• How can schools support one another in order to strengthen the impact of these activities?

I will address these questions further in the next few posts and illustrate them with examples of work in progress.

Monday, 1 December 2008

moving school - Arpora village, Goa, India

The moving school is an initiative funded by the Danish Government in Southern India in support of children of migrant workers. The schools are simple in design, built upon truck bases, with bamboo walls and a chalk board the school employs a teacher who speaks the children's home language. They offer a foundation stage education for children who would otherwise find themselves living on the streets during the daytime while their parents are at work. Often finding themselves in unfamiliar villages and towns and invariably in states far from their home, the children find it very difficult to settle into local schools. The moving schools can do just that, they are able to follow the children and their families when they move on from one workbase to the next.

moving school - Arpora village, Goa, India