TEDx Melbourne – Educational Leadership

TEDx Melbourne 19th July 2012

Last Thursday I headed to the State Library for a TEDx Melbourne event.  I have watched a great number of TED talks online, but this was the first time I had attended a TED event.  I think it’s great that TED has expanded to include regional TEDx events across the world, it’s a nice example of how a successful idea can spread without being overly controlled.

Speaking at this TEDx event, that was specifically on the topic of Educational Leadership, was Will Richardson, Stephen Dinham and Jenny Luca.  All the speakers provided a different message, but all three were focused on improving education for students, particularly improving education beyond the standardised measure of tests.  To me the theme seemed to be preparing students for the unknown real-world future that awaits them.

Will Richardson spoke about a ‘leadershift’ – that we need to embrace education’s moment of change.  He said that change was inevitable, and it was no longer sufficient to improve what we are doing, we have to look to do things differently.  Will talked a great deal about the disjuncture between schools and real life.  For example, schools being the only place that students are not allowed to take out the device in their pocket and google the answer.  Schools need to start addressing this shift and stop making education about improving the outcomes on assessments that were created in a different era.

“We are paying so much attention to the measurable part of school that we are forgetting the immeasurable things.”

To address this shift he said that we first need to understand what it means to go from scarcity to abundance.  Teachers need to model good learning and become learners with their students.  Leaders in the education field need to advocate for change while supporting teachers who are reluctant to change.

What Will Richardson spoke about really resonated with me.  It reminded me of the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson.  I felt the important message was that we need to rethink how we ‘do school’, not just adjust what we are already doing, otherwise the education system will become increasingly obsolete.  I see the challenge here is to give people a clear vision of what a ‘shifted’ school would look like and link this model into changes in Senior schooling models, tertiary entrance systems and other vocational pathways for students.

Stephen Dinham contrasted Will Richardson’s talk as he spoke about the need to improve learning in schools.  While he did say that improved learning was more that just performance on standardised tests he did seem to mostly be referring to measurable outcomes.  The main area in which he thought change was necessary was in teacher education.  He spoke about teacher-education students finding their courses overly theoretical, disconnected from practice and lacking a common approach.  Stephen also talked about new graduates being told to ‘forget what they learnt at Uni’ when they enter a school.

I felt I could relate to a lot of what he was talking about.  While I enjoyed my Uni course and felt I got a lot out of it, I did feel it didn’t really prepare me for where schools were presently.  The critical analysis skills I was taught in University weren’t very welcome when I started teaching.  There was definitely an assumption that senior teachers should be followed purely because they were senior.  And while I understand the need to respect people’s work experience, this sort of environment is certainly not conducive to the type of change Will Richardson was talking about.

Jenny Luca concluded to evening with her talk about connected learning.  She shared her personal teaching journey and talked about he shift professional learning after she discovered bloggers and blogging.

“I had become a learner for the first time in a long time.”

Jenny saw the power in online tools to change the boundaries of the classroom.  She talked about changing learning by connecting students with people and ideas from around the world.  There was potential in students not only to ‘bring your own device’ to school, but through devices, to ‘bring your own networked teacher’.  She discussed the practicalities of working with children online and the roll teachers need to play in preparing them for the challenges of owning a digital footprint.  She talked about the need to teach students Search Engine Optimisation – for life!

I enjoyed my first live TED experience.  I appreciated the presenters commitment and dedication to make positive changes (or shifts) in education.  I hope that these ideas do spread.

Edited to add: I recently came across this blog post on the event that takes a more critical look at the evening.  I agree with a lot of what is written and I think the topics under discussion would certainly have benefited from some cross-debate.  I also agree with the great change that is needed will come at the expense of highly exhausted individuals.  However I still see the value in the TED model, and I think it works because of the limits it places on speakers.  TED talks are about ideas, not necessarily actions.  While ideas alone are not enough for change I value the role they play in getting people talking.  It is up to individuals and organisations to analyse and then start working out how to implement these ideas.

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