Tony Gurr

Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Is FAILURE really NOT an option?

In Book Reviews, Our Schools, Our Universities on 22/03/2012 at 3:12 pm

A few days ago, I did a post entitled – How have you FAILED today? (and, who might “find out” about it…) – and highlighted two recent books that are actively attempting to fight the myth that …failure is NOT an option.

Both Tim Hartford and Paul Schoemaker have been working very hard to help us see that mistakes or failures should be viewed as “portals of discovery” – and that it is the reflection on and analysis of failure that creates success.


Schoemaker takes this even further and advises organisations and institutions to build “ecosystems” that actually promote failure, allow mistakes to actively add value to people within those organisations – and, even develop a “portfolio of mistakes”.

As I noted, a lot of educational institutions would have trouble adopting this “model” – many indivduals in our schools, colleges and universities still lack the type of reflective and forensic mind-set to step that far out-of-the-box!

  • Why is this?
  • Why is it that we are so scared of “failure” – or worse “being seen to fail by others”?


Hartford, in his great book “Adapt”, poses a similar question. He asks:

  • What are the obstacles to “learning from our mistakes”?

…and, comes up with three very sensible reasons:

  • Denialbecause we cannot separate our error from sense of self-worth
  • Self-destructive Behaviorbecause we compound our losses by trying to compensate for them
  • The “Rose-tinted” Approach to Reflectionwhereby we remember past mistakes as though they were triumps, or mash together our failures with our successes.

Most of us will recognise these “habits” as being pretty common – we are humans, after all, and many of us are never fully comfortable with “self-doubt”. We often fail to see the difference between the phrases “I screwed up” and “I am a total screw-up” – and while we do not like to admit that a lot of us have the potential for a wee bit of self-destruction from time-to-time, we do love our off-red sunglasses!


However, as I pondered Hartford’s explanations, I kept coming back to this notion of “habits” – and “culture”. It seems to me that one of the most important obstacles is our preference for a “culture of blame” and (still) an obsession with the “win-lose” mentality.

How often have you heard the questions:

  • Whose fault was it?
  • Who’s to blame?
  • What bloody idiot screwed up this time?

Rather than the far more constructive questions:

  • What’s the big picture here?
  • Who’s the best person to help us out with this?
  • What options do we have? How do we fix it?

Or, even:

  • Mmmmm, what can we LEARN from this?

It’s almost as if “finger pointing” and “playing the blame game” is hardwired into our DNA!


We forget that:

…especially, in a organisational or institutional context. This approach is just plain dumb!


Schoemaker helps us see this when he defines a mistake or failure as:

…a decision, an action or a jugdment that is less than optimal, given what was possible to know at the time (p.13)

Why do we rush to assign blame for something that most of us could not have known ahead of time, for the future consequences of past decisions made with imperfect knowledge?

And, how the hell does pointing fingers help indivduals make better decisions or take better decisions in the future – when they are living in constant fear of being “caught out”?

Talk about God complexes! Perhaps, we should all remember – let she that has never screwed up…

Schoemaker’s notion of “a brilliant mistake” may be a bit of an oxymoron – but people who actively promote and maintain our institutional cultures of blame are simply mega-morons!


As I mentioned habits earlier, we might be able to call on someone that can help us with all this. In his latest book, The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems, Covey tells us:

Although his book is essentially a refreshing new take on conflict resolution, he suggests a very simple way of overcoming many of the obstacles we face when dealing with failure and mistakes in a finger-pointing culture.

His Third Alternative is amazingly simple to grasp – but needs people to “see” the flaws of our more traditional “alternatives”:

  • the First Alternative is “my way”
  • the Second Alternative is “your way”

These two approaches to problem-solving are based on the same win-lose mentality that feeds our cultures of blame.

When a mistake is made, someone has to pay and lose,  – and it better not be me!

Covey’s Third Alternative“Our Way” – takes us beyond “my way” or “your way” to a higher and better way. A way that does not involve anyone having to give something up – a “LEARNing way” where everyone “wins”.

Obviously, Uncle Stephen is interested in helping his readers co-create new and better results and build stronger relationships. However, it is his attention to a “win-win” approach to dealing with failures and mistakes that interests me most. 


Darwin once said:


It is not so much our “fear of failure” that leads to such motherhood statements as “failure is NOT an option” – it is the mindscapes we have created and allowed to “evolve” and flourish in our schools, colleges and universities. We have been playing the same game for years (some less than others, granted) – but, it has not helped us one bit…

Time to stop! After all…


How have you FAILED today? (and, who might “find out” about it…)

In Book Reviews, News & Updates (from the CBO) on 19/03/2012 at 3:26 pm


At a recent teacher training symposium I was “told off” for being “overly negative”!

Now, those of you that know me might think that this was a bit unfair. I am, as you know, a veritable “ray of sunshine”an eternal optimist, even…



So, why would someone suggest that little ‘ole me was less than “positive”? Well, it seems that the trainer in question had been listening to a few of things I had been saying over the day (…least she was awake). Things like:

  • What was the real problem?
  • What did you get wrong in the initial stages?
  • What did you learn from messing up?
  • What other weaknesses did that expose? How did you fix them? 

OK, I may have used phrases like “screw up”, too – but what was interesting was the way in which so many of my “core” phrases were “seen” as carrying an unnecessarily “less-than-positive” message. This was evidenced in the way I was asked to modify my own language – I was advised that I should be using phrases like “areas for improvement” or “challenges” and avoid words like “problems” or “failure”.

Since when did education become a “no FAILURE” zone…

And, when did it become acceptable for us not to say what we mean…(does that also imply that we should not mean what we say)?


Today, we can hardly open a newspaper or download a web page without being confronted with headlines reporting of the “failures” of education systems, the so-called screw ups of schools and universities and the gaffs in the way we run the business of LEARNing. With so many reports on our “mistakes” (and if we believe the maxim about the importance of LEARNing from these) we should be LEARNing, ADAPTing and TRANSFORMing as if we were on steroids!

Perhaps, the reason these articles or reports have become such a staple of our day-to-day media is that we have not been exploring our soft spots, our mistakes, our failures…enough.

I get that many more “traditional” trainers still like to open their workshops with a choral rendition of “Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya, O Lord, kum bay ya” – and hand out flowers with their resource packs.

But, come on! Who are we kidding, really?


I think a lot of these sentiments stem from the sensitivity we trainers and teacher educators have when giving feedback to others (especially in the context of classroom observation or performance reviews) – sensitivity that is wholly required.

However, when we extend this approach to allthingseducation and avoid the whole issue of “failure” – we miss the many of the opportunities for meaningful exploration, for real growth and powerful LEARNing.

Rather than avoiding discussion of our failures or mistakes – we need to embrace them, analyse them and LEARN from them.

But, it’s not just teacher educators.


We do not like to talk about “failure” in education (full stopperiod). And, sadly, still like to play the “blame game” and opt for use of “smoke-and-mirrors” then the “fit-hits-the-shan“.

This is why I was so pleased to see a recent post from Peter DeWitt on “The Benefits of Failure”– and then another a few days ago “What is Failure?” (in Education Week).

I loved his honesty:

For full disclosure, I have failed many times. I have failed as a friend, and as a teacher. As a young student I was retained in elementary school and spent a great deal of my formative years failing a variety of subjects. I dropped out of a couple of community colleges and that was after barely graduating from high school. I have seen failure many times and learned a great deal. First and foremost, I never wanted to fail again.

Haven’t we ALL?


The problem is that we do not find many similar “confessions” from our Principals or Rectors, from our Deans or HoDs – even fewer from our Ministries of Education!

So, to gain a few insights into the real benefits of failure we might need to turn to a few non-educators (for now) – Tim Hartford or Paul Schoemaker, for example. Both Hartford and Schoemaker have published best-sellers recently that openly advocate a more adaptive, experimental approach to the application of trial and error in business – and seek to encourage CEOs and business leaders to view failure as a “gift”. Both of them are great story-tellers and pack their pages with example after example of failures and mistakes from the worlds of business and politics.


Hartford was very canny is choosing the title of his book – “Adapt”. After all, ADAPTation lies at the heart of LEARNing – and, we could argue, at the heart of the human condition itself. He’s obviously, in addition to his amazing level of literacy in allthingseconomics, very well-read in the work of Charles Darwin and draws strongly on the notion of “evolution”.

He points out:

Hartford, and Schoemaker too, both sing the praises of screwing up royally – and help us see that failure is both necessary and useful…for success!

Schoemaker takes this a step further and even suggests that we all need to consider making even more mistakeson purpose. Indeed, this is the whole point of the book and he gives us some great advice on how brilliant (not “dumb”) mistakes can be promoted, planned and “mined” – to maximise the potential for real LEARNing.

It’s so easy to see his point. For example, how many of us would not even be reading this post, if Alexander Flemming had been working in a “no FAILURE zone”:

Half of us would probably be dead!


As I read through Schoemaker’s recommendations, however, I couldn’t help thinking that there would be very few educational institutions ready, willing and able to base their development and strategic planning processes around the concept of “intentional mistake-making”.

Most of them are already scared to death of slipping up – or rather being seen to slip up. This is especially true in our universities and academies (of the ivory tower variety), where even admitting to “LEARNing” is frequently seen as an admission of ignorance – and “weakness”!

Failure (and making mistakes) is an important initial first step in LEARNing and ADAPTation (TRANSFORMation, even) – and few would disagree that most of us do need to tone down our over-use of “risk aversion” and experiment a lot more. However, the purpose of education lies in making meaningful differences to the lives of our learnersand some risks may be just too risky.


Hartford touches on this (albeit through the examples of “nuclear reactors” and banks that were, we assumed, too important to “fail”).

His solution is that we have to also consider making any experiments “survivable” and he draws on Peter Palchinshy’s 3 Principles:

  • Try new things, expecting that some will fail.
  • Make failure survivable: create safe spaces for failure or move forward in small steps.
  • Make sure you know when you have failed, or you will never learn.

Sensible man!


But, as he notes, advocating this type of approach and walking-our-talk are two very different things:


…this requires that we exercise that little “self-doubt muscle” we all have – and stop worrying if others see us exercising!



If you are interested in the “art” of failing or the “beauty” of making mistakes, why not take a look at the following:


Stop Talking…Start DOING!

In Book Reviews, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Our Universities, Uncategorized on 19/12/2011 at 11:24 am

Sticky TEACHing and LEARNing


In November I started a “series” based on the work of those lovely chaps at the 21st Century Fluency ProjectLee CrockettIan Jukes and Andrew Churches very kindly gave me permission to use their new book Literacy is NOT Enough to create a number of “guest-posts” (now, if we could only get more writers to don their “creative commons” hats)!

To date, I have done five posts:

#1 – Can a committee write a poem? 

#2 – Why we need more “Committed Sardines”…

#3 – From Literacy to Fluency – 21st Century Fluencies, that is…

#4 – Getting FLUENT with the 5 FLUENCIES… 

#5 – How to make LEARNing “stick”


I was planning to complete the series in six posts – with the last one highlighting the type of lessons teachers can develop to really “breathe life” into the “Fluencies”. Best laid plans and all of that!

However, I had to edit down Post #5 – and missed a very important bit of commentary from Andrew, Lee and Ian…

So, here is Part 6 – or perhaps Part 5b…… 



A study that was conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation in Michigan back in 1998 clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of cultivating higher-level thinking as well as measurable learning and retention. In the study, two groups of 100 social studies students were taught the same information by two different methods. One group was taught in the traditional way that’s all too familiar to us: full-frontal lecturing with students sitting in rows. They poured over worksheets and were hammered with drills, drills, and more drills, and traditional tests and quizzes.

Weapons of Mass Instruction


The second group learned primarily through problem- and process-based approaches.

This group of students worked both individually and in groups. They benefited from self-assessment, peer assessment, and teacher assessment. They focused on creating real-world products to solve real-world problems.


At the end of the year, both groups were tested, using the same traditional state-mandated exams for social studies. The results were stunning, and most likely not what you would expect.

The scores were nearly identical for both groups, regardless of how they learned. You might be confused now as to the point of this. Perhaps you’re thinking this indicates that there is no point in investing in technology or new instructional and assessment methods.

Apparently the old approach still works just as well as ever.


You’d be wrong. One year later, unwarned and therefore unprepared, the students were given the very same test that the previous year they had passed with both groups performing equally well.

The results were astonishing!



The group that was taught using traditional methods was able to recall only about 15 percent of the content. To make matters worse, an analysis of the results and the students’ thinking indicated that they viewed social studies as a series of itemized facts—this happened on this date, this happened on that date, and one event did not influence another in any way.

Theirs is an excellent example of lower-order thinking.


The group that was taught using problem- and process-based learning approaches recalled more than 70 percent of the content. More important, they demonstrated a deep understanding of the integrated nature of their learning. In other words, they not only remembered the content but also understood its significance. They were able to make abstract connections between events. Effective learners make attachments or connections between their existing knowledge and new information.

This is Velcro learning! This is higher-order thinking. These are the goals we have for our students, and we need to make this shift in the instructional approach to give them the opportunity to develop the skills we know they need.

They are limited not by their abilities, but by our lack of flexibility in making the shift.


Even though this research has been around for decades, many educators continue to depend completely on the “stand and deliver; sit and learn” full-frontal lecture method. If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we know intuitively that this isn’t working.



Teachers are good people who are committed to their students and want to do what’s best for them. Yet what they’re doing isn’t working. They know this, but they continue to do it. Why? There is an unprecedented pressure on educators today. As our students are failing, fingers are being pointed at teachers. In many cases, teachers’ salaries and employment are being tied to student performance.

Governments are demanding that more information be taught than there are hours available in the student’s career. At the same time, millions of dollars are being slashed from budgets. In the panic to meet the mandates, teachers are attempting to cram as much information into students’ heads as possible. Many students are seeing education as a 16-year process of slowly and painfully memorizing facts that can be Googled in seconds. The result is that they are tuning out and leaving school in unprecedented numbers—in some cases more than 50 percent of students. As we discussed earlier, this is happening not just in high schools but also in universities.

It’s time to shift the instructional approach away from talking as teaching to problem- and process-based learning. In the 21st-century classroom, we must move the responsibility for learning from the teacher, where it traditionally has been, to the student, where it should be. Students must become active participants in their education. The teacher becomes the facilitator of learning, posing real-world problems that have relevance to the learners and guiding them through the process of creating a real-world solution. It’s up to the students to decide how best to communicate their understanding. The learning is not scripted, and it doesn’t limit students—they have the opportunity to explore, to communicate, and to create.

While it is not an easy shift, it is very rewarding – for both teachers and students.


As the 21st-century learning environment revolves around real-world problems, teachers must transition to be crafters of these problems. A well-written scenario that connects real-world relevance to the learner, cultivates the 21st-century fluencies, and addresses curricular objectives sounds like a lot to ask for.

Road to Truth (Buddha quote) Ver 02


Like any skill, it takes time to develop. It also takes a willingness to make mistakes – that is what debriefing is all about – and finding a way to do it better next time.

In the next chapter, we walk you through the process of developing scenarios. We also provide samples and templates of the unit plans we have created for our 21st Century Fluency Kits. This next chapter is the real meat of this book, so let’s get at it and have some fun transforming your classroom into a 21st-century learning environment.


This guest-post is adapted from Chapter 10 of Ian, Andrew and Lee’s new book Literacy is NOT Enough

How to make LEARNing ‘stick’…

In Book Reviews, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Schools, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 18/11/2011 at 11:36 am

With all the hoopla and hullabaloo surrounding the EduBlogs Awards, I almost forgot I was in the middle of a series of guest-posts from Andrew Churches, Lee Crockett and Ian Jukes. 

This one is #5 in the series – and follows on from Getting FLUENT with the 5 FLUENCIES… – in it the “boys” discuss what really matters in a 21st Century LEARNing Environment.


There’s an old saying you might’ve heard: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” There is a lot of truth in this statement. In fact, there are decades of research telling us that what we are doing in education isn’t working.

Talking at and teaching at students is not effective.

Only learning that has meaning sticks. Only teaching that is relevant to the learner is effective. This is called Velcro learning. A learner must be able to connect to what is being taught. Otherwise, the learning is like one side of Velcro: it just doesn’t stick. Let’s talk about what we know does work and how we can shift our instructional approach to create a 21st-century learning environment.

We know for certain that for students to remember and internalize information, they must move it from their short-term (working) memory to their permanent memory.

For this to happen, four things are required.


1. Make It Sticky

The new information must connect to something the learner already knows and has already made meaning of. If the connection isn’t there, the learner has to make one on the spot. Unless a connection is made, new content stays in working memory for only a few seconds. This is the difference between rote learning and meaningful learning.

Writer Eric Jensen says that we discard 98% of everything that comes into our brains.

  • Have you ever been introduced to someone and instantly forgotten his or her name?
  • Have you ever given your students a test on something and had them do really well, only to give them another test on the same material two weeks later and find it’s as if they’ve never heard of the material before?

If the information is not meaningful to the learner, regardless of whether it’s meaningful to the teacher, it will be quickly be discarded by the learner’s brain. I want to restate that, because it is constantly forgotten by teachers: If the information is not meaningful, in other words relevant, to the learner, learning will not occur.

It makes no difference if it’s interesting, meaningful, or relevant to the teacher. It must be relevant to the student.


2. Draw From the Past

The second element is that new information must connect to previous knowledge and previous experiences. In other words, what students bring with them into the classroom determines not only what they’ll learn but also if they’ll learn.


3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Learners have to be given differentiated learning opportunities that are repeatedly distributed over extended periods of time. If students don’t understand something the first time around, you can’t just walk up close and start talking to them more slowly and loudly and expect that method to work any better. Because learning doesn’t usually stick the first time, students need multiple opportunities and a variety of experiences that provide both the time and the context for the ideas to be internalized.


4. Give Positive Feedback—Frequently

Students must be provided with consistent, positive feedback. They need to have their efforts reinforced regularly and meaningfully.

According to a top video game developer, video games are designed so that game players are asked to make a critical decision about every one-half to one second and are positively reinforced or rewarded for those decisions every seven to 12 seconds.

In contrast, according to a recent research study, students on average receive positive reinforcement in the classroom only about once every 12 hours. Quality, formative feedback and positive reinforcement give learners what they need to better retain information. Students need to know that what they’re doing is right, and then they need positive suggestions on how they can improve their performance.

If teachers do these four things consistently, research tells us, measurable learning will take place.


On a recent trip to Japan to visit his family, Lee took his 11-yearold niece, Anna, to the aquarium in her hometown. There was a huge shallow tank that all of the kids had their hands in. All over their hands were hundreds of garra rufa fish, also known as doctor fish.

These fish are found in river basins the Middle East and also live and breed in some outdoor pools in spas in Turkey. They feed on dead skin cells, and since they will only eat infected or dead areas, leaving the healthy skin to grow, they are used to help treat patients suffering from various skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema. Doctor fish spas have opened in Japan and dozens of countries around the world, including the United States.

Anna was curious about these fish, and the staff at the aquarium explained everything I’ve just told you. They also recounted that Cleopatra used to bathe with doctor fish to keep her skin beautiful. Suddenly, for Anna, a door was opened to inquire about geography, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and so much more. Why? Because these subjects are interesting to Lee? Because they’re in the curriculum guide?

No; because there was a real-world connection that brought relevance to the learning.


For LEARNing to occur, there must be relevance, not to the teacher, but to the learner. So the first component of the 21st-century learning environment is relevance.

As teachers, we all know that we start to see significant retention when we move to active receiving. For example, participating in a discussion involves thinking about the information and forming an opinion or question. Comparing, contrasting, and evaluating are all necessary for participation, and overall higher-order thinking skills are used.

The most dramatic results come from simulating a real experience. Actually doing the real thing, or teaching it to another person, increases retention by as much as 90 percent. The information learned through this method sticks. In short, for learning to happen, as we have said before, there must be relevance in context for the learner.

Again, don’t get hung up on the actual numbers. All the studies show that we remember very little of what we read and a whole lot of what we do. The argument that process- and problem-based learning takes too long just doesn’t stand. In light of this research, which is more effective? Reading and lecturing or creating a real-world simulation?

Students are much more engaged when given the opportunity to do, to participate, and to create. Engagement means being involved or engaged in the process, and students need to be allowed to participate in and not be passive recipients of their education.

In every classroom and in every district where change is needed, teachers and students must make the shift. The switch to process- and problem-based learning can be uncomfortable at first, and it will take time to make this transition, but the payoffs outweigh the difficulties for both teacher and student.

Consider this: When students are engaged, there are fewer discipline problems. When students are allowed to create real-world products to demonstrate their understanding of the content, and the teacher is wise enough to pose problems and get out of the way to let the learning happen, those students amaze the teacher with what they’re capable of doing. Teachers in turn are excited about coming to school every day, because they can’t wait to see what they’re going to learn from their students.


The third component of the 21st-century learning environment is real world.


In a 21st-century learning environment, students use higher-level thinking to create realworld products as solutions to relevant real-world problems.

  • Do you enjoy being lectured at all the time?
  • When you were a student, did you enjoy having your teacher talk at you all the time?

Now in the same breath, let’s be absolutely clear: there most certainly IS a time and place for “telling” – for full-frontal lecturing. It can be very useful when a lot of content has to be delivered quickly – we just can’t do it all the time.

We need to shift our instruction from the traditional and predominantly full-frontal lecturing model to more of an emphasis on discovery learning. This method generates interest and therefore the relevance that is critical to learning.


Think about a scary action movie. Watching as the actors narrowly escape certain death and listening to the music creates a suspenseful atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder what’s coming next. The experience is indelibly etched in your mind.

But what if just before the movie began, someone told you what was going to happen, and that all of the actors make it through without a scratch? Or what if the people next to you talked to you throughout the movie, telling you what was going to happen next? It would rob you of the experience of finding these things out for yourself, because it would remove the elements of wonder and surprise. That’s the problem created when we tell students what they need to know all or most of the time: It takes the excitement of discovery out of learning.


When students learn the material for themselves, it becomes their learning, not our teaching, and because it is their learning, they own it. They will remember it, they will be able to apply it, and they will be able to use it as the foundation for new learning and creating.


This guest-post is adapted from Chapter 10 of Ian, Andrew and Lee’s new book Literacy is NOT Enough. 

What’s Your PURPOSE?

In Book Reviews, Educational Leadership, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 11/10/2011 at 5:29 pm

Here’s a quick “brain-teaser”…


Take pen and scrap of paper (or open up a word doc)…I’ll give you a minute…OK?

Now, and without looking at any webpages…write down…word for word

…the “mission statement” of the place where you work!


I’ll give you a couple of minutes…OK?


Now, I’m guessing most of you did not do the little exercise I suggested (yes, I have hacked into your camera – and see everything you do)…not because you do not know your mission statement off-by-heartbut because you do not really “care” about it very much!

…or perhaps you just wanted to respond in a similar way to my dear, dear friend House!

I’m sorry (and House would agree) – “mission statements” are NOT very sexy!


Especially, as far as teachers and educators are concerned – thousands of whom have been subjected to “mission retreats” staged to help them “wordsmith” a more articulate version of the “wall art” that these statements inevitably become.



Wall art that just ends up collecting dust…and, more often than not, is never truly “walked”, “lived” or “enacted”. If only more educational consultants or so-called “quality gurus” would commit a revolutionary act or two

What I’m saying must be true … it’s on the web!


If I’d asked you to jot down a few thoughts about the things you are really “passionate” about, you’d probably be still scribbling away…

The difference is that you’d be scribbling about “purpose” – the “ideas” that drive you, the “beliefs” you’d be prepared to get into a fight for (well, at least miss breakfast for)…in short, what is “right” and what is “worthwhile”.

House has a purpose…(over and above annoying Cuddy – what will he do now she has “left”)


Steve Jobs (still) has a purpose…


Do youDoes your institution?

8 defines purpose as:

“…the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc”.


OK, this definition might suggest some form of cognitive awareness of the linkage between “cause and effect” or perhaps some form of anticipated result that “guides action”. But, seriously…it sucks at conveying the “power” the word carries for most human beings.




Remember that piece of music that brought you tears last week, that movie that made you think about trying to be a better “father” (or mother), the “act of kindness” you saw in the mall that reminded you “not all people are assholes“…that episode of so-and-s0 “dizi” that made you want to get up and “make a real difference

…or just that lesson that they all seemed to “get” (and said “thank you” for).


Are we all, as individuals and a species, not looking for “purpose” in our lives? Do we all, perhaps at some primal level, not wish to be inspired and motivated by ideas or schemes bigger than ourselves? Are we all, as employees or leaders, not looking for some form of meaning to give us the motivation to complete our own work and signal to us that this work is moving us all towards a better, brighter future?


Purpose, as a concept, has been a buzz-worthy word for some time. However, it is only recently that business and management gurus have begun to take note of the potential of this seemingly simple notion – the smartest of which have all “trashed” their mission statements, in favour of a focus on purpose.

Mourkogiannis (2006) made the case that all great companies need a purpose and that purpose is critical to an organisation’s success. Concerned primarily with business success, his central argument was that it is not organisation and structure, but rather ideas that drive organisations, and it is these ideas that determine the success of a business. And, he knows how to define the word:

“…the reason for doing something that appeals to our ideas about what is right and what is worthwhile


This type of conceptualisation conveys how critical purpose is for individuals – and institutions.

Purpose is about engagement, involvement and “passion” – and it’s a choice.

A choice we can make in our lives…and “at work”.


“Nikos Amca”  also argued that successful institutions are more influenced by the strength of their purpose (and moral ideas) than the strength of their leaders. He maintained that it is purpose that becomes the “engine” of a successful institution and the “source of its energy” – because it is also purpose that most of us want from work, even over money and status.

Again…you are reading this on the web…must be true!

Hear me out…hear me out!


Purposenot “wall art” – that is “living” and “lived”:

  • makes people feel their “work” is worthwhile
  • fosters more “care” and consideration of others
  • helps to build “better” relationships
  • maintains morale and energy levels
  • reduces risk aversion and “fear”
  • helps innovators move from current convention to next practices
  • inspires everyone to be the best version of themselves they can be

So, the next time someone asks you to update the “mission statement”just say “NO”!


Instead, invite that person for a coffee and, together, consider:

  • What do we do? What is our purpose?
  • Who are we doing this for?
  • What do we want to create – together?
  • Where are we right now? What is today’s situation? How do we know?
  • How can we excel? How can we be the best version of ourselves? 



Afterall, and as Mourkogiannis reminds us, the role of “real leaders” is to “discover” (not simply “invent”) a purpose – and then build a “community of purpose” that truly “walks-its-talk”…

…and “lives” its “purpose statement“.


The BOOK (if you want to have a gander)…


From Literacy to Fluency – 21st Century Fluencies, that is…

In Book Reviews, Our Schools, Technology on 10/10/2011 at 11:49 am

Another “guest-post” from Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes and Andrew Churchesshared (with permission) from their new bookLiteracy is NOT Enough”.

Today, it’s essential that all of our students have a wide range of skills beyond those that were needed in the 20th century, a range that includes the skills needed to function within a rapidly changing society.

Ironically enough, we are already more than a decade into the 21st century but are still debating what 21st-century skills are and what 21st-century teaching should look like. Yet an interesting global consistency exists.

We consult with stakeholders at many levels and in many countries, including parents, educators, administrators, businesspeople, and government officials, who all ask this same question:

“What skills will students need most to succeed in the 21st century?”

Take a moment and ask yourself this same question. What is your answer? Next, ask this question to your colleagues. Ask it at your next staff meeting!

Time and time again, we hear exactly the same answers. It doesn’t matter what country we’re in. It doesn’t matter who the stakeholders are. Consistently, these are the answers we hear most:

  • Problem solving: Students need the ability to solve complex problems in real time.
  • Creativity: Students need to be able to think and creatively in both digital and non-digital environments to develop unique and useful solutions.
  • Analytic thinking: Students need the ability to think analytically, which includes facility with comparing, contrasting, evaluating, synthesizing, and applying without instruction or supervision and being able to use the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy.
  • Collaboration: Students must possess the ability to collaborate seamlessly in both physical and virtual spaces, with real and virtual partners globally.
  • Communication: Students must be able to communicate, not just with text or speech, but in multiple multimedia formats. They must be able to communicate visually, through video and imagery, in the absence of text, as actively as they do with text and speech.
  • Ethics, Action, Accountability: This cluster includes responses such as adaptability, fiscal responsibility, personal accountability, environmental awareness, empathy, tolerance, and many more. Though the language may vary a little, every group of stakeholders (parents through national-level officials) give us more or less the same answers.


The Problem…

Our schools were designed for an era in which three-quarters of the population were employed in agriculture and manufacturing jobs. Those times are gone forever, but our educational institutions still embrace traditional structures, traditional organization, traditional instruction, standardized learning, and standardized testing at the same time that our economy is eliminating standardized jobs.

Today, three-quarters of our workforce are working in creative-class and service-class professions. If we want our students to survive, let alone thrive, in the culture and the workplace of the 21st century, literacy is not enough. It is critical that our students develop 21st-century skills.

In fact, we would go so far as to say that these skills are more important than most of the traditional content taught in the curriculum today.



The Solution…

We want to take a moment to make an important distinction. It’s actually our mindsets that we need to shift. There is a reason we use the term 21st-century fluencies and not 21st-century literacy or 21st-century skills.

Think about the difference between these terms.

When we are at the level of literacy with a language, we are able to communicate. However, our focus is on the structure of the language, on the translation, on the pronunciation, and on getting the words out. When we are fluent with a language, the concepts flow from our brain and out of our mouths. The process is transparent to us.

Our focus is on our thinking of what we want to say and not on the translation or the pronunciation. As a result, we are much more effective at expressing our true intention.

The same holds true for children who are learning to write. Their focus is on forming letters and using the tools of pencil and paper. But as we grow older and use these tools every day, the tools and the process become irrelevant. Our thoughts go directly from our minds through the tool, whether pencil or keyboard, to the medium.

The literacy level does not contain the fundamental skills our students need for their life beyond school. We need to raise the bar. Our goal should be the fluency level – the level at which these skills have become internalized to the point of transparency, where the skills become part of the unconscious process and do not stand in the way.

We need to move our thinking and our training beyond our primary focus and fixation on the Three Rs — beyond traditional literacy to an additional set of 21st-century fluencies, skills that reflect the times we live in.

How we learn reading, writing, and mathematics has changed. In the age of multimedia, hypertext, blogs, and wikis, reading is no longer just a passive, linear activity that deals only with text, with reading literature, manuals, workbooks, computer screens, or technical instructions. At the same time, writing has also changed and is no longer just about being able to communicate effectively with pen, paper, and text. Writing has moved beyond just creating traditional reports, filling out forms, or making written instructions. Math is about more than simply memorizing and applying formulae, definitions, and algorithms.

What’s NEXT? 

By now, we are sure that you share with us the understanding of the pressing need to cultivate 21st-century fluencies in every student. When we first started discussing how to do this and how to assist educators in making it happen, we quickly realized that we needed a process or system that educators could use with their students.

It’s easy for us to say, “Kids need problem-solving skills.” But this begs these questions:

  • What do these fluencies look like?
  • What do they look like in the real world?
  • What do they look like in my classroom?
  • How do I teach them?
  • How do students learn them?
  • How can I assess them?

We had the same questions.

In “Learning is NOT Enough” we have tried to share our thoughts on the 21st-century fluencies – and worked to develop structured processes for the skills we defined earlier. These processes can be taught, they can be learned, and they can be internalized by your students.


We’ll outline some of these in a couple of follow-up posts soon.

REMEMBER, also, these aren’t just for the students. The 21st-century fluencies are process skills that we all need, and there is as much benefit in cultivating them within yourself as within your classroom.


In Book Reviews, Classroom Teaching, Our Schools on 05/09/2011 at 10:56 am

If you are anything like me (gosh, I hope not…well, not too much), you’ll love the Dummies series.

Did you know they can learn you just about anything from these – from Taxidermy to Blogging?

OK – the “taxidermy-thingy” was just mean, sorry!


But, they have “Dummies” for everything – everything it seems, except:

They just do not stock this title!


Now, this struck me as a little strange. Remember, I told you that I got to my 100th posting earlier this week? While I may have given up counting how many words I have used across all those postings – I did not give up on the most popular “internet search items” that brought people to allthingslearning.

The Top 12 search items (in order) were: 

  • classroom management
  • teaching
  • evil yoda
  • assessment for learning
  • classroom cartoon
  • jedi
  • yoda
  • sith yoda
  • classroom
  • teaching cartoon
  • lesson plan
  • classroom management cartoon

SERIOUSLY! These 12 items alone account for 35% of the traffic to this blog – again, these “Happiness Engineers” at WordPress give me such useful data! 


Now, this showed me a great many possible things: 

  1. I clearly write far too much about Star Wars on my blog!
  2. Lots of educators are just as interested in “Evil Sith Yoda” – as I am!
  3. Teachers and educators just surf the net for cartoons

The one thing it did highlight for me was the interest in classroom management.


In the past, I have done a couple of posts on classroom management (these have, again, been some of the most popular posts we have on the blog):


Now, apart from re-blogging these – I wondered what else I could do (until “Classroom Management for Dummies” is published) to help all those teachers that are getting ready to “go back to school” this week…in this part of the world!

I have also complied a list of my favourite Classroom Management resources in a “new” library (hot off the press – see below). It contains a number of the books I talk about in the two posts above!


But, hey – if you just came for the cartoon, here it is:

I really wish I could remember where I found this one. I came across it many, many years ago – and it was just sitting in a folder…till allthingslearning.

Seriously, if you know where it comes from, let me know!


The new library is here: Tony’s CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT Library

“READING” craze…(a follow-up)!

In Book Reviews, Technology on 11/04/2011 at 8:37 am

The “letter to the editor” that I posted yesterday was, in fact, from Steven Johnson’s book Everything BAD is GOOD for You – a radical take on what gaming, TV and technology are actually doing to our kids.

They are, claims Johnson, making our kids smarter!


His “letter” comes from an “alternative universe” – a universe in which technologically-enabled gaming was “born” before the written word, before the invention of “books” and before the insipid growth of those damn crack-house-like libraries!

Of course, he does not agree with the sentiments expressed in his letter (I think…) and he certainly does not support the biblioclasm or libricide I suggested in the images I used – my bad!

He writes the letter to illustrate the “amplified selectivity” used by many “short-sighted digital immigrants” to discredit technology and the benefits of the newer “culture” that many of our children (the digital natives of today’s world) are gowing up with and growing into.

These views simply ignore the cognitive benefits that the digital world is gifting our children and students – they prefer to draw attention to the levels of violence that form part of many top-selling gaming systems, the overuse of sexual innuendo in our newer TV shows, and the mind-numbing social isolation that allegedly results from overuse of our “digital toys”.

His book is a really good bedtime read – and a read we educators need to consider when creating a better “balance” in the learning opportunities we develop for our students.


Johnson makes a very convincing case for us to perhaps look at technology with a different pair of spectacles.

He points out that the digital world is far from just about escapism and lets us in on the “dirty little secret” of gaming – the huge amount of time you actually spend not having fun whilst playing games.

Rather than blindly following the crowd with the (largely unsubstantiated) claims that today’s TV programming is based on inane gangster stories, petty game shows and nudity, he asks us to think about TV events that are far more sophisticated and demand greater levels of cognitive engagement than “I Love Lucy” and even “Star Trek” ever managed!

Technology, he argues, is redefining the concept of “connectedness” – and helping us all learn new ways to connect. New media is helping us appreciate new forms of narrative and visual complexity. Just look at the difference between the original Star Wars trilogy (you all know – one of my favourites) and the more recent Lord of the Rings trilogy. These newer complexities both engage us more and push our brains to work “harder”…

Try telling me that “Lost” did NOT hurt your brain – at least two or three times (per episode)!


In a nutshell, Johnson provides us with a new lens with which to look at the way technology has become both the “engine” and the “fuel” of our lives today.

We cannot ignore itand our kids are not waiting for us to catch up with them!

This is where I started my session at Anadolu University this weekend – The Storm Cometh! Over the next few days, a new “blogging trilogy” will look at some of the issues we are facing as teachers (and parents)…

But, hey……..I’d love to see some comments on the “thoughts” his letter led to.

Bedtime Reading – the “Musical”…

In Book Reviews on 06/04/2011 at 9:33 pm

After watching Gray’s Anatomy this week, I got the sudden urge to “burst into song“….(I won’t spoil it by telling you whether Callie, and her baby, make it through the show – and whether Cristina can save the day with an innovative, but “dangerous” procedure – learned from Burke in the early days of the show) – that would just be unfair to all my fellow “soap addicts”!

Problem is I am still getting to grips with audioBOO – and you really do not want to hear me sing (ask my “big, little girl” or wife)!

So, you are going to have to make do with a “Library Update”


As some of you will know, I have been putting together some “Libraries” (mostly in the hope that schools and colleges around Turkey might actually decide that teachers need resources to help them learn). I try only to choose books that I know and have fallen in love with…

Tell your Principles and Directors that if they don’t “feed” the teachers, we end up “eating” the kids…!


The latest one (“hot off the press” today) relates to a “theme” we have been talking about this week: Tony’s GOOD TO GREAT Libraryis designed to help those teachers that want to take their practice up to “the next level” and is full of books that take an evidence-based approach to “great teaching”.

This ties in very nicely to the first ever “Library” I developed: Tony’s LEARNING Library. This set of books relates to those bits of bedtime reading that have “shaped” a lot of my current thinking – indeed, have helped changed that thinking.

And is an excellent partner for another of my favourite “Libraries”: Tony’s LEARNABLE INTELLIGENCE Library . This list of books looks at ideas to make us all “smarter” – and ways to help us help our students do more with what they learn, too.


If you click on this link: ALL Tony’s Libraries – you can access the full list of my “Libraries”…

Enjoy and REMEMBER…..

Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?

In Book Reviews, Our Schools, Technology on 05/03/2011 at 12:54 pm

Today, I got my fingers burnt!

Hot off the press – I thumbed my way through Ian Gilbert’s new book – a book that all educators and, more importantly, students and their parents, should read.

As you know (and as a dad) I have been a supporter of parents’ rights for years – the more we know, the better decisions we can help our kids make. OK – my “big, little girl” would like to see the level of “parentals’ democratic rights” reduced dramatically but in her heart of hearts she knows that this is the thin edge of the wedge for all of us.

Gilbert, as he does in his many other books, tackles many of the issues I raised in my earlier post – For The Times They Are a-Changin’.

Actually, if you want a really good follow-up to this post why not take a look at the very recent videos from:

OK – back to Ian’s wonderful bedtime read. That is if you don’t mind getting your fingers all inked up – I do not!

This question is one that more and more of the “Digital Generation” is asking – and so they should. Thinking is good, questioning is better. And with so many of us “oldies” saying kids are just not the “same” as they were (and meaning kids today are not as “good” as they used to be) – these are the books we should be stuffing in our kids “christmas stockings” or handing out as “Bayram seker”

But, the title of my post is not Gilbert’s only question – the book is full of them.

Actually, it should be titled “questioning the unquestionable”! Gilbert is controversial, he has an irreverent sense of humour (could be my long-lost brother or evil twin – Ian, if you want to do a “soap”, I am your man) and he “hits” hard – just what we need in education nowadays.

However, and for you more academic-types – the book is also amazingly well-researched and smartly-written.

For those of us with intellectual disorders, it’s also “chunked” into bite-sized pieces (super for reading on the bus to work) with a wide range of  appetizing “main courses”:

  • The great educational lie (p. 16)
  • What’s the real point of school (p. 99)
  • Exams – so whose bright idea was that? (p. 112)
  • Teach less, learn more (p. 172)

This is a restaurant I will come back to – again and again!

I learned Gilbert is not only a smooth operator in the “writing stakes”, he is also is also an great “marketeer” – what educator is not going to want to read a book with chapters like this?

I could not put the thing down – true, mostly because I was looking for the chapter that would help me see what he “thunks” about the biggest question and title of the book – it’s not one of his “chapters”, BTW!

Gilbert tells teachers:

This book is not designed to help you teach better. But it is intended to help you become a better teacher.

It will!

Gilbert tells students (indirectly):

The challenges facing the world are huge and the answers lie in your hands.

They do!

One of my favourite “bits” from the book is in the chapter entitled “Educated is not enough” – and he asks a great many tough questions to teachers and parents. So, let you mum and dad have a read, too. Seriously, those of you that may think that parents have no say in your future are just being silly – Steve Jobs dropped out of college because he did not want to “waste” his parents’ life savings.

Guys – you owe your parents. Nuff said! You will thank me for this advice in twenty-years – and donations to my “iron lung” and “diaper fund” are always welcome!

He also asks the question I have been asking for years (I think for principals, this time):

Is yours a teaching school or a learning school?

He does eventually answer the question posed in the title of the book (but I’m not going to tell you where – tee, hee) but also (in chapter 7) reminds us that:

To do well at school means you have to “play by the rules”. To succeed in business you need to “break the rules”.

Is this also true in the “business of education”?

In one of my very first posts, I asked everyone if they would want to read a book that was “full of questions” – I have found that book.

So, should you!


You can find Ian’s book here: Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google?: Things Every Teacher Should Know