ACEL Conference

I have just completed 3 days at the annual Australian Council of Educational Leaders conference.

My notes from various sessions attended are below. If you get the chance to attend next year (September 26 to 28) in Darwin, Australia, it’s well worth the trip.


    *Keynote from Jean-Francois Rischard, formerly of the World Bank, spoke about the 20 important global issues confronting the world at the moment and how they need a global approach in order to solve them. He spoke of ‘bureaucratic years’ (like ‘dog years’) when something that should take one year to enact, takes seven instead. Main reason for this? Nation States mindset: territorial, short-term electoral cycles. There needs to be a new approach to solving these problems as the existing global methodology (G8, treaties, UN and some 45 international organisations) won’t be able to address them quickly enough (which needs to be in the next 20 years, 10 in the case of global warming). He suggests Global Issue Networks (GINs ) formed for each problem (fish depletion, global warming, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water shortages, poverty, global financial stability, biotechnology research etc) from a pool of experts in each field (NOT representational – people chosen for their expertise, not from which nation they come). These then influence governments, parliamentarians, people (who would then, in turn, pressurise governments to get a critical mass of countries to discuss the vital questions of methodologies to address these issues ) and would include ‘league tables’ to name and shame countries who don’t follow the rules. Education can feed into this by educating future citizens to be aware of the big issues, responsible, open-minded problem solvers who appreciate excellence and truth. There is a need to think globally first, then nationally, then locally – not the other way round.

    Curriculum changes?

  1. need for understanding of the future
  2. need for a new mindset
  3. need for a broader perspective
  4. need for new skills such as problem solving

    *Mary Prendergast and Rohan Keert from Warrnambool College on moving a school system from management to leadership:

    Move from a ‘heroic leader’ paradigm to one where leadership is the responsibility of all. Need for leaders to look backwards, look forwards and look sideways at who is travelling with you. Directions for leadership:

    *Management as an antecedent to leadership

    *Focus on a leadership team and ‘seeding’ people who can act as thrusters to turn a systemic ship around

    *First enlightenment (the vision) then the laundry (fill in the details)

    That it is important to

    -immerse people in change and enact a vision quickly and fill in the detail as you go

    -prepare for change to be enabled over a long period of time – it takes time to ‘skill’ leaders

    -accept that not everything will work and that not everyone will come on board. Some will be angry, upset and feel disenfranchised. So be it.

    -involve staff in action-driven research projects with specific foci related to school improvement plan (ie deliberate, targeted professional learning)

    Intriguing definitions of good management (perpetuates stability, gets things done) and good leadership (promotes change and pursues possibilities)

    This website was mentioned


    *Barbara Vann from the UK – Leading for Learning

    We all have to be prepared to learn, unlearn and relearn.

    There are negative architects in every system.

    Shift Happens video:

    Shared leadership needs shared ‘followership’ too – the ability to step back and let others lead meetings, sessions etc.

    Her school has pairs of students visit classrooms as ‘learning detectives’ then report back to a group of about 12 (inc a teacher) about the learning they witnessed in these classes. DVD of Y8 students talking about learning – very impressive. Students have some ‘training’ in learning styles etc beforehand.


    *Patrick Duignan from ACEL on Leadership with Presence and Influence

    Liked the philosophy of knowing one’s self before being able to know others..and the flow-on notion of not being able to influence others without influencing self through a deep knowledge of who we are. The importance of taking the time to know ourselves (what I call ‘headspace’ – that time to get away from the noise and clutter of emotional turmoil and the everyday concerns), being authentic in our dealings with others and being ‘present’ in our relationships with ourselves and with others. Inner dignity being reflected in our outer dignity…to inhabit one’s own dignity. Leaders being calm and centred. To get at the essence of who we are instead of the content of our lives.

    Leaders have the capacity to influence…self, others and each other.

    Great leaders tend to elevate the human spirit…are people who make a difference.



ACEL Day Two


*Douglas Reeves (ASCD) from US as keynote: WOW. He spoke of three main factors when considering the dynamics of change:

-Is change possible?

-Leadership matters

-Leadership practices can be taught and learned

Research coming out of the US says that students involved in extracurricular activities that mean they have to contribute to a ‘team’  – such as a sports team, or the school drama, for examples – actually increase students’ academic achievement. (Me – why? Connects to other research I’ve read about connectedness of students to school, engagement with a group, ‘flow’ in their school environment)

He made the point that facts about results and fear (Thou shalt improve these results or else) will not drive educational change.

Mention was made of a “jury standard”, that it was important not just to consider one source ie.

(1) look at multiple sources of evidence and multiple methods of doing something

(2) must be sustainable over a long period of time

(3) realisation that there is never one cause, one effect

(4) never look for absolute certainty – it ain’t there (hence, again, the need to act rather than wait for the ‘proof’ that something will definitely ‘work’)

He referred to the new religion – ‘documentarianism’. Nice looking documentation doesn’t necessarily reflect a good enacted curriculum. Any documentation produced needs to be user friendly to teachers, reflect the everyday teaching needs and be able to be modified easily, otherwise useless.

To mandate or not? The test: if mandated, successful compliance with the mandate should lead to better achievement.

Teachers who blame the raw material or the culture from which their students come need to change their mindset to seeing students in terms of what they could become rather what they have been before coming into their classes. (ie look to the future with hope rather than continually look back and sigh)

It is becoming increasingly apparent that monitoring and feedback are very important to inform future practice. This includes monitoring of the teachers as well as the students.

Feedback needs to be specific and frequent.

Teachers and teacher leaders need to perform ‘treasure hunts’ instead of ‘witch hunts’ ie. Consider the use to which assessment data is collected – to name, blame and shame and promote fear or provide evidence from which to adjust learning and encourage best practice? The task of a leader is to catch staff doing something good and encouraging and promoting and reflecting on this.

He spoke at some length on choice.

-some schools have deliberately offered fewer curriculum choices to students in order that they have a greater chance of being successful at a few that would then give them more choices when they leave school (due to the better results they attain).

-it’s important schools monitor the choices made by students to give them the best chance of success

-time and big blocks of time so students can form big pictures and make connections in subjects is important

Leadership is about influencing the professional practice of other teachers, not management.

What is the single most effective way of influencing practice? Advice from colleagues.

To have a better chance to sustain change, best to ‘use’ someone who is a ‘network hub’ in the school (someone who is well-known and well-connected and respected) who can push out the message. This is better than one-off PD sessions and offsets initiative fatigue. BUT need to beware of the other networker in schools – the toxic hub who is just as well-known and connected but has lines of repulsion and turns people off, rather than on, to the initiative.


*Conversation between Hedley Beare, Jerry Starratt and Patrick Duignan

What is my metaphor for education?

We have had the sporting metaphor (players in a team), the engineering metaphor (cogs within a system) and we’re currently in the market economy metaphor where competition is the paradigm – we have productivity, user pays, customer choice but not control, market edge and a market niche.

A better metaphor might be that of an ecosystem.

It’s important (but takes a huge amount of effort) to keep in mind the aim of education and realise that the prevailing metaphor is just an imaginary construct. This is especially difficult when other structures (the social imaginary, the cultural imaginary etc) are also based on the same market metaphor. Insist that the form follows the function (ie learning!!). This can be fraught when parents ring up and complain that they’re not getting value for their money. Stick to your guns – it’s important. Eg “We are not going to define ourselves by results alone. We need to take the long view of what’s important to your child’s education overall, not just this last test, not just this year” (I’ve said this myself on a few occasions!!)

The point was made that curriculum and course both come from the same Latin root- currere (to run)

So students follow a “track”, as it were….is this the metaphor we want when we think of how to organise learning for students? If they don’t finish in the top 3, they don’t get a medal? The faster, the better?

I liked that education shouldn’t be about following a script and regurgitating that script in assessments…that it should be transformative.


*Douglas Reeves and Level 5 Networks: Making Significant Change in Complex Organisations


Started with “We hear a lot about change needing time….5 year plans…RUBBISH. If it’s important enough, just do it!!”

He mentioned 90, 90, 90 schools (90% minority students, 90% poor and 90% barely meeting minimal state standards) and what they did to turn them around – the most effective aspect was to increase the amount of nonfiction writing in all subjects…ie. describe, persuade, compare and contrast, summarise, justify, explain etc. (Me: this would also increase the level of THINKING being done).

That the consequence of failure is to get valuable feedback on how to improve performance.

Teacher leadership has been too often a case of giving people more to do with no pay for it. Teachers modelling for other teachers is one of the most important things we can do (Sharing Classrooms)

If you want to change something and it’s important, a smaller number of degrees of separation between you and the decider is necessary. Change is difficult if you have to go through too many layers of hierarchical authority .

There are stages of reaction to change very similar to the stages of grief:

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Leadership as architecture and leaders as architects. What are we constructing???

Level 1 networks: Contrived

Level 2 networks: Spontaneous (like after a conference, but they are ephemeral)

Level 3 networks: Co-opted Networks

Level 4 networks: Nurtured Networks

Level 5 networks: Value-driven networks


ACEL Day 3:

*Prof. Martin Westwell from Flinders University (who also spoke at the Mathematics Teachers’ Summer School)

We can’t ‘future-proof’ Australia but we can educate for the future by deliberately targeting the types of thinking that will be needed.

The way our brains are ‘wired up’ depends on the number and type of connections made. These connections are determined by the experiences we have. These lines of communication between brain cells consequently determine the learning formed. It is the interconnectivity of ideas between cells that transforms information into learning. Repetition of these experiences re-inforces the connections made. (Me: important, therefore, to ensure the connections made are those that produce quality thinking rather than regurgitating a learnt script). It isn’t important as to how the information gets into the brain but what the brain does with it when it receives it.

Anxiety (especially long term), just like how we are educated, changes the way we think…there is an emotional component. Anxiety can physiologically prevent us from achieving our potential, it inhibits learning. (Me: So intervening to improve learning means intervening when affective learning behaviours are not going to produce optimal learning as well as intervening when cognitive behaviours aren’t conducive)

An experiment done with a group of young black boys in the US produced the following. These boys were all given an IQ test. Half of them were just given the questions. The other half were first asked to tick a box to describe their ethnicity. Even though the groups’ ability make-up were very similar, the second group produced significantly less IQ points as the other. (Hattie’s “the best predictors of a child’s achievement are the child’s predictions”…if the child believes that they are going to perform badly then they will.) Students who think of their intelligence as fixed usually have achievements that decrease over the course of their schooling. Those who believe intelligence is malleable are more resilient, can come back from failure, don’t give up as easily and show a positive trajectory in terms of their achievements.

The executive functions of the brain that we should be encouraging and promoting in the way we teach are:

  • Concentration
  • Resisting temptation
  • Delayed gratification
  • Self-directed/interdependent learning (note to self: use these terms instead of independent/group work)
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity/Innovation

The environment we create in classes and schools can affect how students develop their intelligence.

Take, for example, the experiment done with mice who were deliberately injected with Huntington’s Disease…a disease that withers the brain. Huntington’s is a genetically inherited disease. If you have the gene, you develop it…or do you?

Only 20% of the infected mice who were placed in a rich environment full of wheels, crawl tunnels etc actually developed the disease. 100% of the infected mice, who were placed in an environment in which no stimuli were provided, developed the disease.

So..what is an enriched environment for schools? One that is multi-sensory, relevant, that has emotional content, interpersonal interactions, exercise, good nutrition and hydration and one that has sufficient blue light (eg sunlight)

Another automatic reaction of the brain (leftover from animalistic days when we needed to protect ourselves from harm) is its reaction to risk. This has huge implications for both teaching/learning and change agents of systems, such as education. We have impulsive preferences for certainty. This limits the potential for innovation. Our brains want us to ‘go back to what we know’…don’t risk the uncertainty. We see this whenever anything new is suggested or introduced. For example: technology. In the UK, when the internet meant that students were plagiarising their coursework component, the system reacted by making more assessment external and assessed by examination. As with anything new, however, the challenge is not to dismiss its existence in our reaction, but to be judicious and deliberate in our use of it to support, promote and encourage what is the essence of education: learning. The other mistake is to go overboard in its use. Not everything new is ‘good’ for learning – a lot of the educational technology games may lead to greater short term engagement but not to long term learning. Keep in mind the purpose. It’s not the technology per se that changes what and the way students think, it’s about you and what you do with it.


*Kate Griffin – Head Teacher of Greenwood High in London: From Learners to Leaders

Kate has increased leadership opportunities for staff and increased student voice in her school.                                                                                                                             

Students form the JLT – Junior Leadership Team and have reps on curriculum and faculty boards throughout the school. Any major curriculum decisions are discussed with these students. Students interview potential teachers for the school. They observe lessons of volunteering teachers then discuss the learning observed with these teachers to inform future practice. They attend leadership retreats.

Kate had brought with her 6 student leaders and 2 staff leaders from her school. One of the students said that the school was now more about ‘teaching as a support for learning’. I was a little disturbed by this – teachers should have more authority in the way learning is delivered. Teachers have the knowledge to determine the essential understandings to be learnt and can deliberately target these in their teaching. They do more than ‘support’ learning – they should be initiating, guiding, eliciting and improving learning!!


*Sheree Marris

A leader ‘makes stuff happen’, they see a need and they act on it.

(Me: this has been a recurring theme at this conference – a leader being someone who performs Nike thinking – Just Does It)

Don’t fail by default.

Experiences can be positive or negative. It’s how we react to them that determines the extent of the learning engendered.

A mindset that always has to succeed limits learning potential.

Thomas Edison had 1000 failures before he got the lightbulb to work. He described these as 1000 steps to its invention.


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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