On Monday 29 February I attended PwC’s Creating Australia’s Future Innovators event in Melbourne. Part of PwC’s 21st Century Minds Accelerator Program, the event came with little hype or fanfare. If anything, it was a kind of solemn, downbeat affair as some three to four hundred of us gathered to hear international guest Tony Wagner, Expert-In-Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, ex-teacher & principal and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People who Will Change The World.
Besides first impressions that those from the business community were the ones wearing the expensive suits, it didn’t seem to me that different pay scales mattered as much as the fact that we were all in the same room, focused on a crucial matter regarding the future employment and lifestyle of our children and grandchildren. The message was articulated unambiguously by PwC’s Managing Partner, Tony Peake, in his welcome to us and our guest, summarised here via a paragraph from the PwC 21st Century Minds website:
After a sustained period of economic prosperity, Australia is facing some tough challenges. Slowing growth, declining real wages, falling productivity, to name a few. To remain competitive in the global marketplace, Australian businesses need to ensure they’re creating the high value products and services of the future. And, we need to ensure that Australia has a reputation as an innovation nation…That’s why we’ve created 21st Century Minds – to help to build the pipeline of innovators and problem solvers we need to become an innovation nation.
Fostering 21st Century Innovators
Tony Wagner’s presentation, calling us to focus on the future of education, won many people over with his sincerity and the depth of his research. There was no sales-pitch or messianic message, delivering us ‘the next big idea’ in education. Quite the contrary, Wagner spoke as ‘one of us’, a hard-working, passionate practitioner in education trying to make a real difference. His 30-minute talk was structured around some interesting facts about the development of innovators in our schools:
- how students that went on to becoming innovators were mentored by innovative teachers;
- how teachers who inspire students to become innovators are often unusual and difficult to manage within the traditional school structure; and
- how the indicators for who’s most likely to succeed as innovators are far more likely to be found in qualitative research, like in interviews and in portfolios, and not formal tests scores.
As the young Head of Mathematics sitting next to me observed, nothing Wagner said was particularly ‘new’ but the clarity and context in which he presented his message was timely and necessary. I lost count how many times she and her colleagues nodded affirmatively during his the talk.
I found this recently made video on YouTube which I think is a good summary of Wagner’s PwC presentation.
This website is my personal interpretation of best practice in teaching and learning. As a teacher, I have always valued bringing together ideas, learning theories and philosophies to enable my students to learn effectively. As a curriculum writer, writing textbooks and policy documents have allowed me to help school leaders and teachers in practical ways in planning and assessing how well students are learning.
Today, as a freelance writer I assist busy colleagues in dealing with online communication strategies in schools but that means I’m no longer in a classroom of my own. I miss its energising interactions and the sense of collegiality with peers. But you can’t have everything, and I love that my role as a content writer gives teachers and school leaders more time to be with students and staff.
Collaboration Is The Key
The wisdom from a life-time’s experience in education has led notably researchers, like Tony Wagner and John Hattie, to arrive at a similar conclusion: namely, that our roles in education (either as teacher or school leader) require the most intelligent use of our cooperative and collaborative skills. Tony Wagner began his talk, in fact, with declaring that teaching was a ‘team sport’. It just so happens to be a skill which is also crucial for encouraging innovation. So, if schools are not modelling teaching and learning through ‘collaborative expertise’, then what are they doing?
That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because in truth we all know how hard it is to free ourselves from the shackles of the timetable and other systems of accountability. Furthermore, forty years worth of educational reforms has surely made it clear that laissez-affaire and structureless styles of school or classroom management don’t work!
Instead, Hattie describes the first of eight tasks which he believes every school should pursue with passionate commitment:
TASK 1: SHIFT THE NARRATIVE
From ‘fixing the teacher’ to collaborative expertise
The current debate is very much focused on the ‘teacher’, but such an approach places too much responsibility on one person. It falsely implies that if only we can ‘fix the teacher’, all will be well; it ignores the many other influences and conditions of success outside the control of the individual teacher. There is no way that a system will make an overall difference to student achievement by working one teacher at a time. Instead, the onus needs to be on everyone working collectively to improve student achievement: the teachers, the school leaders, the other adults in the schools (such as teaching aides), the parents (and voters), the policy-makers and the students.
The message is clear, isn’t it? The task of fostering students to be future innovators begins now, with nurturing the sense of innovation in ourselves and in each other. We can do no less that work together to model the mindset, skills and motivation around what that may mean: then, through our own passionate efforts, our students will build their own sense of being innovative.
Now, we have a chance to engage with PwC’s 21st Century Minds Accelerator Program and keep in touch with its many projects and events. As an education content writer, it will be an initiative that I will follow and write about throughout 2016. In fact, it is of vital interest for me will be to see how the benefits of teaching and learning STEM in innovative ways applies to the humanities and the arts.