Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘Adaptation’

BLOGGING – the “secret weapon” that is (finally) helping TEACHers “trump” SCHOLars? (the RE-boot)…

In Adult Learners, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 05/07/2013 at 8:39 am

big bad İSTANBUL


Still doing a couple of bloggery RE-boots to celebrate reaching my 500,000th milestone


This one took me totally by surprise and was one of the most popular posts of 2012. Initially posted at the end of May, it stayed on my list of top 10 “best-sellers” for over three monthsnot too shabby, when you realise that most blog posts these days have a shelf life of around 7 days…tops!


In a way, this post is quite significant for me (as a bloggery LEARNer) as it was the first time that I started to use images to “tell my stories” – rather than just use graphics to “support” the thunks I wanted to get on “paper” (on “screen”).

Some people have told me that this makes my posts more difficult to read…but I find it also makes them more fun to write!


Anyways, I hope you enjoy seeing it again…or seeing it for the first time!


TRUMP card Ver 02


One of my favourite EDUreads from the last 15 years or so is Larry Cuban’s How Scholars Trumped Teachers.

Larry is my kinda EDUscholar and EDUcator – a real “thunking doer” who tells it like it is and does not pull his punches where the LEARNing of others, especially our “kids”, is concerned.

He also has an amazing blog – Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice – and, if you ain’t checked it out, you just don’t know the EDUblogosphere well enough.


Anyways, the book, written in 1999 (yes, we “oldies” actually read these paper-based thingies back in the day) describes the development of the American Academe over 1890-1990 – using Stanford as his “case study”.


OK, so he picks up that old chestnut of a question:

What is more important within the university – TEACHing or RESEARCH?


But…his “answer” really hits the “spot” – and probably cost him a few “Academy pals”!


Most of us in EDUland know:

Karabell Paradox (Ver 02)

… don’t we?


Larry does! And, he basically “proves” that it is what academics are “trained” to do that has won out – again, and again, and again.

Not only in the States – all over the bloody globe!


What Larry also does is also help us “see” through the smoke n’ mirrors that have characterised the type of “changes” and “reforms” the Academe claims to have realised over the years…

It’s a good read! A VERY good read…


We TEACHers – knowing how much we have been trumped” (click this one) left, right and centre (yep, definition #02 is the one!) – have been known to get a bit miffed about this (…isn’t that Urban Dictionary just great)!

We tend to work harder (with the “people” who “matter”), we put in more hours (planning for the people who matter) – and we take more crap from the parents of the people who matter…and journalists, politicians, wanabe EDUgurus, publishers – do I need to go on?


A lot of us see conventional higher LEARNing for what it is…and accept that…

Tradition and Bureaucracy (Moe quote) Ver 02


We also know that the famed “holy trinity” that represents the “purpose” of the Academe – TEACHingRESEARCH and PUBLIC SERVICE – basically, and in practice, “translate” into:

Holy Trinity in HEd (Ver 02)


We also see that our universities can and do make some very serious “mistakes”:


Even…the best of them!


It is because of these, and that fact that we do focus so much of our energy on LEARNing the people who matter, that many of us also ask the question:

Folk Wisdom (Schleicher quote) Ver 02

A fair question really!


Because…every one of us “knows” (in our heart-of-hearts) that…

EXPERT Brain Ver 02


I mean, would any university department shiriously consider putting together a “research team” (on the back of a big, fat government grant) made up of people who had not been trained in research methodology, had limited experience of conducting field work or (God forbiddid not have clue about MLA citations.


That last one is quite interesting – and it now seems that we can even cite our tweets in MLA format. This little change is one tiny example of the “campus tsunami” everyone is banging on about these days…

Bob Dylan (for the times they are a chagin) Ver 02


The difference…is that TEACHers are ahead of the game, this time – and blogging is our secret weapon!


The WORLD has changed…

EDUcational THUNKing has changed…

LEARNers are changing…

LITERACY is being transformed

SCHOLARship (and AUTHORship) are being assimilated…


Blogging is leading the charge with allthingsdemocratisation – and TEACHers have proven themselves to be the BORG of the blogosphere. Just take a look at the blogging figures – those groups of professionals actually using the blogosphere to get their voices “out there” – and inspire others to find their voices!



TEACHers rule…and are ROCKing the blogosphere!


It used to be the case that we ran around our classrooms “exposing” ourselves to every Tom, Dick or Harriet who presented themselves to us…Now, we are sharingreflecting…and ADAPTing on a global scale – the likes of which God has never seen!


Good for us…GOOD for our LEARNers!



And, it’s fair to ask, I thunk:


Where are all the SCHOLars?




I did, in fact, do a couple of follow-up posts to this one.

But…and remember:

TELLıng theTRUTH (Ver 03)


…neither of them really took off in the same way. Maybe, I tried to push a “neat idea” a little too farmaybe I got a little too self-indulgentmaybe they were just “crap”!

There’s a BLOGGERY lesson to be LEARNed in there…

Neyse, have a look at them…if you have 10 minutes to kill!



(posted on 30/05/2012)


I’m still STANDing…yeah, yeah, yeah!

(posted on 18/06/2012)


The “STORY” so far…

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 11/08/2012 at 1:21 pm


Now, I know some of you have been saying that the so-called “rock” is my Twitter account – and the “hard place” is the Blog! But, come on – I was on holiday and am trying to make up for my lack of bloggery all this (and last) month

It’s true – I have been over-doing it a bit these last few days…but that is the “blogging bug”!



A few weeks ago, inspired by a number of LEARNing Conversations I’d been having with some lads and lasses here, I decided to tackle the “challenge” of “pacing guides”. Although I had done a fair few posts on allthingscurriculum – it seemed that many of the people I was chatting with were getting a bit, shall we say, “miffed” at the “pressure” their institutions (they claimed) were putting on them (as TEACHers)…

However, as I explored the challenge more I more – I started to see that it was not as “simple” as it looked (remember what Dexter told us). It was not just a single “rock” that was weighing us down – but a whole series of (very) “hard places”. “Hard places” and “rocks” that we did not even agree on…

I started a couple of poststhe posts became a “series”the first series got “interrupted”I started a couple more “side-posts”these became another “series”! Twas not only my co-bloggers that faced “DEATH-by-BLOGGING”…

BUTI had to finish…yes, I am a little “anal”, too …have a “mild case of OCD”aren’t/don’t most of us in the EDUcation game?

So, I have decided to finish what I started and do the Pt 05 I have been putting off for so long…but Pt 05 of what? Here’s a quick summary of all the posts – in case, like me, you have spent the summer playing (ultimate) Jenga – and you’ve “missed” a few of them (afterall, tis Sunday tomorrow):


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 01)

Although this post was originally conceived as a “rant” about “pacing guides” (and our overuse of them in curriculum planning these days), it actually ended up more as a search for the answer to a question – “What are we here to do for our LEARNers”? The post also considered why it is that even “great TEACHers” are sometimes tempted to “settle” for “factory model TEACHing” – and classroom practices that do little more than create “assembly line LEARNing”


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 02)

This time I finally got to me “rant”! Here I seriously “stuck” it to all those pacing guidelines that make our lives “hell-on-earth” – but ended up asking the question “So, who really gets stuck between this rock and hard place”?


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 03)

In this post, I tried to answer the question I had finished up Pt 02 with – and looked at both TEACHer and LEARNer perspectives on the matter. Here I used a highly-scientific research model (I asked a few “mates” what they thunked) – and it uncovered a few surprises (and a little more understanding of how the “blame game” is still being played in our schools, colleges and universities)!


Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 04)

This was perhaps the most “fun” post I did in this series – and, it involved an interview between Superman and The Flash on the very nature of “pacing” in sports (and how we had “screwed up” royally when we dragged it – kicking n’ screaming – into education). Flash showed himself to be a surprisingly “smart EDUthunker”!



THEN, I got side-tracked…by these:


Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?

This was the “monster” that actually stopped me finally getting to Pt 05 of the “ROCKS n’ HARD PLACES” mini-series! This was essentially because I wanted to talk about the “design flaw” so many of our institutions are “built” on. In this post I explored some definitions of LEARNing, trashed them and (then) suggested some questions that might help us get to a better definition and LEARNing THAT LASTS (with a little help from my friends at Alverno).


LEARNing THAT LASTS – the “Pinterest” VERSION!

Here I responded to “blogger feedback” on my murderous act of “bloggery” – and, this post was a mini-version of “LEARNing THAT LASTS Pt 01” – for the visually-talented and textually-challenged. Mostly a summary of the first post – with all the best “pictures” and very little text.


Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 03)

Here I introduced the “story” of one of my dear TEACHer friends – going through a bit of an end-of-year crisis prompted by some of the questions his students had been asking (with “something else” happening in the “background”).


Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 04)

In this post, I summarised the “LEARNing Conversation” my TEACHer friend and I had – we looked at some of the other questions that perhaps we could be LEARNing students (to get away from the “question horribalis” that had been bugging him so much). We also touched on the question of whether “good STUDENTS” are, in fact, “good LEARNers”. Mmmm…


Questions Students SHOULD Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 05)

This post was essentially a “confession” – a confession that, despite often presenting myself as “Mr. LEARNing”, I also dabble in the “dark arts” of TRAINing and TEACHing. Shock! Horror! I tried to show (I thunk) how my “student LEARNing questions” had actually evolved from Alverno, my experiences with coaching / mentoring and, wait for it, a very specific version of the “TEACHing Paradigm” – a model developed by those wonderful “Sith Lords” at 4MAT. I finished this mini-series by also suggesting a few more (really) tough questions that we might want to consider LEARNing all our students


If I have been LEARNed anything from all this bloggery – it is that:

…and, that the desire to blog even more survives the very act of blogging itself!


Mmmmm…if you managed to get through that lot, perhaps you are ready for Pt 05:


The “question” is – “Am I up for it”?

Questions Students SHOULD Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 05)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 8:39 pm

The “secret” (and, it ain’t Victoria’s) is OUT!

Yes, it’s all true…I too “flirt” with the “Dark Side” – the “Sith” who practice the dark arts of TEACHing and TRAINing. However, and as I pointed out, this is a “version” of the TEACHing/TRAINing Paradigm that does put LEARNing at the heart of its approach.

This is the end of this “dizi” – promise!


I am, of course, talking about 4MAT – developed by renowned educational theorist Bernice McCarthy.

This is my attempt to get 4MAT on a single “image”:

…Yep, as I thoughtfailed miserably!


But (if you haven’t already gone back to Twitter)…just take a closer look at it (if you are also not already familiar with the model)!

  • What do you think the numbers 1-4 represent?
  • Why do you think each number has a “question” attached to it?
  • What (the heck) does “feeling” and “thinking” have to do with the questions?
  • How do you thunk “doing” and “reflecting” are linked to the terms MEANING, CONCEPTS, SKILLS and ADAPTATION?


The thing is – you were probably asking a few of these questions yourself (or some that were very similar).

That’s how we is – that’s how we are “wired”! When students, however, ask questions like the ones noted by my (now infamous) TEACHer friend:

…we realise that they must have been “re-wired” in some way by school, by their experience with our curricular (and assessment methods), by TEACHers!

As the man sez:

If we want LEARNing THAT LASTS (with students who have been “traumatised” by all these things), we have to help them “re-discover” that natural talent we all have for asking questions – as it our questions that “drive” our LEARNing!


4MAT, in a nutshell, is basically a method of helping anyone LEARN – and has been used in thousands of TRAINıng and TEACHing contexts all over the world for the past 30+ years.

Yes, it’s a “model” (and I know many of “us” hate models as much as we do “pacing guides”) – but hear me out!

Bernice and all those lovely chaps at 4MAT (it has grown a wee bit since the early days – see, for example, 4MAT4BUSINESS or 4MAT4BIOLOGY or 4MAT4COLLEGE (to name but a few), have grounded the model on a surprisingly simple “cycle of LEARNing” – an “instructional approach” that begins with LEARNer engagement – and moves to knowledge acquisition to skills and fluency development to creative adaptation.

It is also backed-up by more research than you can shake a stick at! Now, you see why I can be forgiven for dipping my toe into the “ways of the Sith”!

Maybe, it’s a bit unfair of me to talk of them being “Sith Lords” in this way. I mean nearly of us, when asked what we “do”, will say “I’m a TEACHer”. Some of us might also say “Oh, I’m in the TEACHing game”even though, we are really in the “business of LEARNing”!


What Berniceknew” was that LEARNing is not really about TEACHing or TRAINing (à la the “LEARNing by LISTENing” models of knowledge transmission that were around in the mid-80s – and, by that, I mean the 1880s as well as the 1980s). She decided she wanted create an instructional model that was based on, in her opinion, the FOUR essential ingredients of LEARNing:

Any TEACHer, worth her salt, will recognise that almost all “great lessons”, great programmes even, will have all of these elements.


However, and perhaps more important than these ingredients (joking – will come back to these later, promise), the 4MAT model is grounded on the “interplay” in how people perceive (“feel” and “think”) and process (“reflect” and “do”) – and thus, LEARN.

As you see, we start to see the terms MEANING, CONCEPTS, SKILLS and ADAPTATION – kicking in here (I knew it was a mistake to start off with that all-you-eat-buffet image). Actually, when I think about it – I have not done justice to this bit of the model. Why not pop over to YouTube and listen to Bernice tell you about it herself? She does a far better “job” than I ever could…

BTW – thank you Symbolcoach for making these so easy to find


Now, if you “read” or “listened” well enough, you’ll have picked up that 4MAT does, in fact, stand on the shoulders of such “giants” as John Dewey, Carl Jung, and David Kolb – and also has its own FOUR 4MAT LEARNing Styles:



Simple (and “intuitive”) enough, yes?

The fact that each different “type of LEARNer” has a “favourite question” hints at a core “assumption” of the 4MAT model – WE all LEARN by seeking answers to our OWN questions.

You can check out all the other main assumptions HEREa quick “check” of these should help you see if your own beliefs are aligned with those of 4MAT.

Again, if you do this – you should see why I enjoy flirting with these “Sith Lords” so much!


…Come on! Not used a comic character all bloody weekThe Thing is kinda “cool”! 


while different LEARNers might have a preferred “LEARNing style” (and “question”), effective TEACHing (or TRAINing) requires that all LEARNers be encouraged to “focus” on all FOUR question types.

Fair (and “intuitive”) enough, yes?


This is where the power of “instruction” comes into play with allthingslearning – and, the 4MAT model encourages teachers and trainers to look at the types of questions they typically focus on before taking steps to ensure that the LEARNing opportunities they design do (in fact) “balance” attention to all four question types – and LEARNers.

And, NO

  • What is this?
  • This is a pencil!

…are NOT on the list!


What I really like is when we elaborate on these basic question words – and see the core  questions that students can be “LEARNed” to ask themselves:


Now, obviously – these questions (and others like them) work really well in day-to-day lessons, weekly assignments and bigger picture or longer-term projects. They can also be used to inform reflection or feedback sessions, guide team meetings and set the agenda for counselling sessions. But, they are much more effective when placed in a “questioning culture” – a classroom (and “online”) culture in which the “rules of the game” have been established by the types of LEARNing conversations we looked in Part 04 (…of this never-ending saga)!

I won’t try pulling the wool over your eyes – I am not totally convinced that all the terms and concepts used in the 4MAT model are totally aligned to my own views on “effective classroom practice”. As I said, we TEACHers do tend to put on our “doubting Thomas caps” when we hear the world “model” – as with any “tool”, the way the “handyman” uses it (or adapts it) is often more important.

But as “models” go, it does contain many of the things that I thunk “matter” (and matter a “lot”) – especially for those of us that might be new to the “game” or want to “play” the game a little differently (or better…).


One of these has to be the fact that the 4MAT model is based on a cycle of LEARNing  (not a single “lecture” or page from a “textbook”) that focusses attention on:

  • LEARNerEngagement”
  • TEACHer and LEARNer “Sharing”
  • LEARNerPractice
  • LEARNerPerformance” (and hopefully “feedback”)

…all fuelled by a “question-driven approach”.


This type of approach can, and should, also be used to encourage students to reflect on and evaluate their own LEARNing and the LEARNing opportunities they are provided (whether you “go-4MAT-or-not”) – via additional questions, such as:


Questions like these give us “answers” that can start to create even more “win-win” student LEARNing – and, teacher LEARNing to boot!

Now, I’m not sure if my “dear TEACHer friend” (I’m still waiting to see what he says when he reads these last few posts) would also consider these questions a “bit much” – but, you know what – what he didn’t say (after we wrapped up our little “chat”) was that he was still fed up with me banging on about TEACHers asking questions of themselves.

In fact, he offered me another of his favourite quotes – as soon as he got home:

Especially, if that “talking” is all about getting through the “pacing guide” or the “test”…


Me thunks…I’m now ready…for Part 05 of that “other dizi”!

Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 04)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 2:40 pm

Just like my friend…- a good teachera teacher who really cares about his studentsa teacher who works really hard to make the biggest difference he can… – a lot of us “blame” the systems, the schools, the curricular, the tests we have to work with. We are “human”, too!

We all know that a “good STUDENT” is not necessarily a “good LEARNer” (what did my darling Padmé say earlier?) – we all know…that much school LEARNing (often and sadly) is not really LEARNing at all…it’s just STUDYing (moreso in some countries than others)…worse, it’s just STUDYing designed to help TEACHers cover the “pacing guide” and achieve “test success”!

Now, I’m not saying that covering the curriculum…and passing “the test”…are a waste of time (OK – maybe I am, especially when the curricular “suck” and the tests are, shall we say, “crap”)! What I am saying is that we, as TEACHers, have to reflect on how we might be “supporting” all these things by doing stuff we know is “wrong”, how we might have adapted ourselves (often reluctantly or unconsciously) to things that we know (in our heart-of-hearts) are “harmful“…to the LEARNing of our students!

In our rush to create as many “successful STUDENTS” as possible, are we perhaps using a “classroom currency” that is holding them back from becoming “successful LEARNers”?

Let’s stick with my friend’s story and our “chat” for a minute or three.


So, I bought him another drink…and asked if he had ever used the following questions at the start of an academic year:

He told me that that he never had…but I saw a “smile” come back to his face. He told me that he often started the year with a discussion around “the rules of the game” (in the classroom and the “acts of STUDYing”)…but, he really liked the idea of upfronting this with a “LEARNing conversation” on the nature of “success” – in school, at work ,in life (as it does really exists – after school – really, really)! 

The second question, he told me, looked liked one that could help “change” a few habits – even, “flag” that he wanted to “do” business differently (in line with the list of things that students “need”) and that he could “do” that “business” differently “with” the students and build it into his “rules of the game”!

I told him that I would “steal” that idea, too!


I also asked if he had tried to get them away from his “question horribalis by getting them to ask two slightly different questions:

He thought these two were “pretty neat” (his words) and could help students take a closer look at the curriculum – take a bit of “ownership”. However, he wanted to know why I would want to “encourage” them to use such similar questions to the one he hated.

Basically, I said, the second question is just about acknowledging that (for most students) the “mode of assessment” IS the “curriculum” – and, while we might not be able to change the “test” (or create more “meaningful curricular”) overnight, there are bigger issues than the short-term goals of the “test” – goals that emphasise LEARNing THAT LASTS and what students need to do with what they LEARN long after the test is over and done with…

…and, it’s the TEACHer’s job…yes, I said the “TEACHer’s job”to assist in the discovery of this “truth”!


We talked for a while about the whole “questioning culture thingy” and the “currency jobbie” – and then he said that a part of his big problem this year was that he had quite simply “forgotten” that a big chunk of the “currency that matters” is the questions we use with students or (more importantlythe questions they LEARN from us.

What he said then really “hit the spot”!

“You know what? These two questions could really have helped me put a stop to those other silly questions, couldn’t they?” – OK, maybe not what he said exactly (word-for-word) – but this was, “I guess I forgot to invest in the right questions this year – I guess I forgot that my job is not to just cover the curriculum…but LEARN them stuff that makes my doing that a bit easier”!


We were on a rollI suggested a few more:

These he liked – and were similiar to other “activities” he did use at the start of the year. He had always loved that last question – used it as a way to encourage more “critical thunking” in his students. The thing was, he noted, was that he’d never really used it in discussions on “approaches to LEARNing” or “LEARNing styles” – this is because (he said) the activities he used did not move beyond “awareness” to “action“.

I reminded him of a couple of things on the “list” (I can never remember them all – thank God for iPads) – and suggested a couple more questions that would fit in with his “contract-building” and “the rules of the game” activities:

These he liked – but told me they might need a translation! I did not recommend Google Translate!


He reminded me that I’d said something about “goals” and I told him about four other questions that I’d found really useful to pull all the other LEARNing conversations with students “together”:

OK – he told me I might be “pushing” it with those ones! But, he liked them, too…especially, the “insights” he could glean about his students from these (and similar) questions.

We also talked about how questions like these really “set the tone” for a more collaborative, a more “personal” relationship with studentswe all know how much students are just plain tired of all the “fake relationships” they experience in school, college and universities. This “tone”. we agreed, was the very basis of “engagement”.

What was really interesting (for me) was how he had “changed” in the 10 to 15 minutes since he’d had a bitch about the curriculum and tests (and, it wasn’t just the other drink I had bought him). The questions had helped us “connect” more, helped us “explore options“, helped us “map out” a couple of strategies – together.

All of them (even the ones about “heart” and “values”), he told – me made a lot of sense. Sense he had not used in many of his classes this year (bloody curricular, bloody tests)  – but sense that had energised him and reminded him about what really matters…


Far from “having a go at me” or “me” being a pitbull with “him” – what we had co-created was as authentic a collaborative TEACHer LEARNing conversation as you can get.

We LEARNed eathother so much…ohh, that more of our institutions created these types of “spaces”…facilitated these types of LEARNing conversations for TEACHers…

Hey, you never know…more “chats” like this might actually lead to a few more real changes to all those curricular and tests we love to hate!


He did ask me if I had come up with the idea for all these “student LEARNing questions” from my trip to Alverno (I mentioned this in the post – Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?).

I think the Alverno questions had helped but I also told him I’d got a lot of the ideas from books I had stumbled upon:

1) Peter Block’s – THE ANSWER TO HOW IS YES 

2) Michael Marquardt’s – LEADING WITH QUESTIONS 




…I also told him that I’d modified a lot of the coaching / mentoring questions I’d been exposed to over the years – and also by “forgetting” loads of stuff myself.

I guess Will Rogers was right when he said:

…I think most of us need to do all three and remember we can sometimes LEARN best from “high-voltage experiences”!



I also had to “come clean” with him…and tell him that I had developed a lot of these “student LEARNing questions” from a bunch of guys working with the “Dark Side” – the “Sith” who practice the dark arts of TEACHing and TRAINing.

In my defence (theirs, too) – a “version” of the TEACHing/TRAINing Paradigm that does put LEARNing at the heart of its approach.


And, you thought the “end was in sight” for this “dizi”!

– More on this later!


Questions Students Ask (aka “LEARNing THAT LASTS” – Pt 03)

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 10/08/2012 at 12:08 pm

This last set of posts was never meant to become a “series”…a “soap” ! Perhaps, I have been watching too much Turkish TV of late…the summer re-runs!

In fact, I haven’t even finished the last “dizi” I was working on…Actually, the more I think about it – the more I realise that I have just been putting off Part 05 (of the Rocks n’ Hard Places series)…

Ne se! This set of posts seems to be “growing” into “required reading” for that finale!


So, in the last post, I finished up with a question:


I was, of course, asking after the long list of things that students “need” – to get them to LEARNing THAT LASTS:


  • to be involved in diagnosing and formulating their LEARNing needs
  • to participate in setting their own LEARNing goals
  • to be involved in the planning their LEARNing opportunities
  • to be in control of choosing and implementing appropriate LEARNing strategies
  • to be encouraged to identify meaningful LEARNing resources / materials
  • to be seen as “proactive LEARNers” (rather than “reactive students”)
  • to feel that their experience and backgrounds are valued – and that they are respected as a “whole person”
  • to LEARN in a “warm, friendly and informal climate” that provides for flexibility in the LEARNing process
  • guidance and support that maintains their motivation to LEARN and keeps them actively involved in their own LEARNing 
  • to know why they should bother to LEARN something
  • opportunities to solve real-life (and relevant) problems (not be spoon-fed content)
  • opportunities to discover, critique and create
  • to LEARN-by-doing and engage in active experimentation (and reflection on mistakes)
  • “just-in-time” teaching (not the “just-in-case” variety)
  • instructional support that is task-oriented and contextualised (rather than memorisation)
  • peer support and group-based activities, as well as individual attention from teachers 
  • to know that their needs form the basis of any curriculum and that self-direction is the core principle of any instructional methodology
  • to share responsibility for and take ownership of monitoring the progress of the LEARNing experience
  • to be involved in evaluating LEARNing outcomes and measuring their success
  • to experience a sense of progress towards their goals – and success

…just in case you needed a recap…an “özet!

I guess what I was doing with this “list” (and asking TEACHers how many of these things they “facilitate” in their classrooms and the LEARNing opportunities they “offer” their LEARNers) was suggesting that greater involvement (or “engagement”) in planning and decision-making could perhaps stop many students donning the t-shirts Guy Claxton tells us so many students actually “wear” under their uniforms!

University students do not seem to have that problem these days…they are more than happy to put their feelings on their chests!

What puts a lot of students off school (or college) is STUDYing (specifically TEACHing-driven STUDYing)LEARNing (or rather greater involvement and engagement) in formal LEARNing environments and opportunities is not usually a problem at all…

And, so are you my darling Padmé!


That list was something I did a few months back – and, in a way, summarised all the “best practice” we have built up in androgogy (“adult” LEARNing). In that post, I actually argued that these “needs” were also common to “kids” (and pedagogy, too). However, getting to the points on the list requires TEACHers ask a lot of questions about “where they are right now” – and “doing something” about any “soft spots” they uncover. You know, making a few changes to how they “do business” – adapting, growing, LEARNing

but that’s not really the point right now. 


The point (and the “story” behind this post) is how some people responded to that last post (and its “longer” version) ….especially a “dear friend” of mine that read them both – and decided to “have a go” at me!

Now, this friend of mine (he does not know I am writing this – hence the lack of “name-dropping”) is a really dedicated TEACHer. He is a good teachera teacher who really cares about his studentsa teacher who works really hard to make the biggest difference he can. He also reads my bouts of bloggery on a pretty regular basis and is usually very complimentary...frequently sending me things that he finds and link to the stuff I write (I’m guessing around 10-15% of my “quotes database” comes from him)!

This is why I was a bit taken aback by how wound up he was when I last saw him!


He told me that he “got” what I was saying (even enjoyed thunking through a few of the questions)…BUT, he also mentioned that he was getting a bit frustrated (he used a more “colourful” phrasal verb – in actual fact) that I had not covered enough ground on the “student side of things“. He pointed out that I never touched on the questions that students have in real classrooms” in the “real world”“not once, not bloody once” (his words) – very common questions like (again his words):



He threw in another one (or three):


Now, I was guessing that something else was going on in my friend’s head (it was – and he told me later that a lot of his kids had “failed” the year and were having to do “summer school” – summer school that many of them would not get through)!

Normally, I’d let him blow off some steam – tell him how much I understood what he was going through (my wife LEARNed me that) and buy him another drink!

But, I decided to ask him why he thought that his “kids” (they are, in fact, younger adults – 19 to 22 years old) asked questions like these.

His response: “That’s just the way many students are these days…maybe that’s the way they have always been!”


Couldn’t let that go, could I?

…I asked. 


He didn’t answer immediately…so I reminded him of a quote he had sent me a few weeks back – a quote he had fallen in love with:

Yes, even I can be a bit of a pitbull – an “evil” one at times!


He thunked a bit more and finally said:



We all created the “monster” that we all currently have to “deal with” …

motivate” ….”cajole” ….”trick” ….”put up with” ….”get through the test”!



As I said, I had sensed there was “something else” happening inside my friend’s head  – it wasn’t just the frustration these questions had created in my friend when the students “used” them in the “real world”, in his “real classroom”.

He had worked really hard all year (trying, IMHO, to “do” the impossible) – but felt he had “let down” many of his students.

Let himself down!


He qualified his “mini a-ha moment” by saying, “…the real problem is that…”

I’m guessing many of you might feel the same…from time to time!


We’re not done just yet…but I’m trying to avoid another “one-shot OPUS-MAXIMUS”!

More on the “story”…tomorrow!

It does get better…and has a “happy ending”!


LEARNing THAT LASTS – the “Pinterest” VERSION!

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 29/07/2012 at 1:41 pm

A few days ago…feels like “years” with this bloody heat here in Ankara – I did a post calledCan a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS? 

The feedback was great – some said it was a real “THUNKing” post that got their juices flowing


A couple of others said…”too long”:

“Age of distraction”…”content is king”…”wordbites” 

you know the deal!


So…to help “win” back my clients (both the visually-talented and the textually-challenged)…this is the PINTEREST version!

The question we all need to ask more.




Duh! We actually pay money for these dictionaries? 

OK – BUT is that it?


Mmmm, also true – BUT is that it?

Nice – and very true. BUT….I say again, is that IT!

Novel – got me attention! What happens “between” these two?

Wiki – not too shabby here! Well done – BUT is it enough…still?

The other question we need to ask – sometimes more than the first one! 


I mean have we not heard what “the” man said:


This is what we need to do – boyz n’ gurlz…


So, ask a few more questions…with TEACHing friends, perhaps!


Mmmmm – this is gonna hurt a few heads!

 This one, too 😉 

The “killer”….how many times have we asked this one at a TEACHer’s meeting?


I need an aspirin! BUT wait…this is THE question….THE QUESTION!


This is the ANSWER….


This is what the question produced…at Alverno!





Duh! So, why has so little changed over the past 5, 15, 50 years….???  And, this is the stuff the LEARNers have to do…do we need to do this to….as TEACHers?


Maybe we need to do this!

Well said, my man….you been workin’ out?



These are questions that every institution, every department and every TEACHer needs to ask. Institutions and departments “work” because of TEACHers (not as we may think the so-called leaders that run departments and institutions) – TEACHers are the “fuel” that fire up the “engine”. 

We know:



BUT…As we noted above:

…thunking about LEARNing is the “key” – and thunking about LEARNers.

So, what do LEARNers need – hadi bakalım!  (Google Translate STILL sucks)!


And – this is the bit that might “tire” a few of my “critics”…


  • to be involved in diagnosing and formulating their LEARNing needs
  • to participate in setting their own LEARNing goals
  • to be involved in the planning their LEARNing opportunities
  • to be in control of choosing and implementing appropriate LEARNing strategies
  • to be encouraged to identify meaningful LEARNing resources / materials
  • to be seen as “proactive LEARNers” (rather than “reactive students”)
  • to feel that their experience and backgrounds are valued – and that they are respected as a “whole person”
  • to LEARN in a “warm, friendly and informal climate” that provides for flexibility in the LEARNing process
  • guidance and support that maintains their motivation to LEARN and keeps them actively involved in their own LEARNing 
  • to know why they should bother to LEARN something
  • opportunities to solve real-life (and relevant) problems (not be spoon-fed content)
  • opportunities to discover, critique and create
  • to LEARN-by-doing and engage in active experimentation (and reflection on mistakes)
  • “just-in-time” teaching (not the “just-in-case” variety)
  • instructional support that is task-oriented and contextualised (rather than memorisation)
  • peer support and group-based activities, as well as individual attention from teachers 
  • to know that their needs form the basis of any curriculum and that self-direction is the core principle of any instructional methodology
  • to share responsibility for and take ownership of monitoring the progress of the LEARNing experience
  • to be involved in evaluating LEARNing outcomes and measuring their success
  • to experience a sense of progress towards their goals – and success

So, the real question is:

Can a teacher “create” LEARNing THAT LASTS?

In Classroom Teaching, The Paradigm Debate on 26/07/2012 at 10:41 pm

Some of you (that drop into the blog from time to time) will have noticed that my “bouts of bloggery” have been a bit few and far between over the past few weeks (with the exception of the mega mini-soap I have been doing on the Rocks n’ Hard Places in “curriculum pacing guides” – BTW, I’ve taken a bit of “time off” before I do Part 05)…

The reason? Well, I’ve been working on a book with an old pal of mine here in Ankara (trust me – “books” are far more hard work than throwing out a few hundred words of “blog-o-rrea” every week or so). I won’t get into the details of the book (but Part 04 of Rocks n’ Hard Places will give you an idea of how we are trying to make it a bit “different”) – suffice to say – the idea of “LEARNing that lasts” is a big part of it.


Now, some of you might say – “Duh! Of course, LEARNing should last…if not, what’s the point?”

…and, you’d be right!

…even though we know (in our heart-of-hearts) LEARNing needs to be at heart of our decision-making in education, it is NOT…well, not “LEARNing of the LASTing variety”!

Oh, God! He’s off again…

Hear me out! Hear me out!

I promise this is not a “rant” – well, not too much of a “rant”!


You see, in the institutional coin toss between LEARNing and TEACHingand, despite what we might think we know about “probability on the heads or tails frontTEACHing still comes up trumps with more frequency than it should!

You see… 

Most people have a perspective on TEACHing (especially, it would seem, politicians and so-called edu-reformers) – they have a viewpoint, an “opinion” on TEACHing. Usually, this viewpoint is all about that a crap job educators and teachers are doing these days – and how we could all do a far better job if we just used more technology or did more standardised tests).

Yeah, right!


Teachers, however, especially “thunking teachers” tend to take a TEACHing PERSPECTIVE” (they take a “stance”, they take a position) – and this position informs their “practice”).

Think about the “difference” between the “have” and the “take” for a minute – very different, yes?

Taking a TEACHing Perspective is usually more “principled”, more “conscious”, more “informed– in classroom TEACHing it means what is said and done in the classroom is more likely to be based on more principled approaches or methods, and guide what teachers do in the classroom. Nothing wrong with that – if only more politicians and “self-anointed reformers” did the same (or just knew what the hell they were banging on about)!

However, we also have to realise that TEACHers “grow up” in educational institutions – some of them do teacher education programmes, some of them take the more academic track (but end up doing more TEACHing than research – what they are trained to do). Both of these groups, so the research tells us, do more LEARNing on-the-job or keep on with the ways they were LEARNed (by others on-the-job) – in institutions. These institutions “socialise” TEACHers into certain ways of thinking, certain ways of doing – or acting.


The problem is – wait for it – most of these institutions are (still) grounded on a fundamental “design flaw”. In fact, we could say – or rather, I would say:

Barr and Tagg said it better than I ever could (over 15 years ago)…


They elaborated (over 15 years ago)…


A lot of  teachers “heard” them…a few institutions “read” the article…but…not much has changed since then – 17 years ago!

Which is why, lads n’ lasses… so many teachers still focus on “taking a TEACHing PERSPECTIVE” rather than “taking a LEARNing PERSPECTIVE”.

Even though we know (don’t we?) that…


Perhaps, this is why we see so such “poverty” in the way we define LEARNing. For example, look at how this world-famous dictionary “explains” what LEARNing is:

Shiriously? Is that the best we do???


What about this one? I stumbled on this yesterday…in a (very) popular blog for teachersby teachers:

Me thinks I might have to stop defending me teacher-blogger pals, if this the best we can do!

Sorry, guys – this just does not cut it…


This one? This time a favourite of psychologists and therapists:

OK – I’m seeing “something” here. But, did Hannibal’s behaviour really “change” in a LASTing mannerClarice?



As much as the “novelty” of this one (from a world famous “self-help guru” – also a “teacher”) almost got me, again it just lacked the “stuff”!


Actually, and it pains me to say this, but Wikipedia managed to come up with a half-decent definition:

Shock, horror! Credit where credit’s due, boys and girls! Pity they won’t be around much longer!

Tony, stay focussed – we’re talking about “LEARNing that LASTS”!


OK – in an earlier post, I told you about a little place I visited a fair few years ago – Alverno College, in Milwaukee. A place that had quite a profound effect on how I (now) “do business” in education.

In that post, I think I said something like – the “guys” at Alverno made me see…


You see, they “invented” the phrase “LEARNing That Lasts” (you have to check out “The” BOOK, if you haven’t already – it became one of my LEARNing “Bibles” – and still is)!

For example, take a look at their “definition” of LEARNingcompare it with the ones we have just looked at… 

Much better, yes? 


What I saw in the work the faculty at Alverno had been doing (since 197322 years before Barr and Tagg talked about their “design flaw”) was that to get to “LEARNing that LASTS” we have to move on further than what students “know” – we have to move onto what they can “do” with what they know. Even more than that – we also have to move onto how they can “keep improving” what they can do with what they know (and LEARN – with us)!

It’s a mouthful…I know!

It’s also about how students think, feel and actand how these things impact their decision-making, choices and interactions with otherswell beyond “graduation” and their “formal” education…

That is “LEARNing that LASTS”LEARNing that makes a significant and sustainable (and “real”) difference to the lives of LEARNers…


Now, I’m guessing that around about “now” – the question on your lips is:

…sure it is!

That was the exact same question I had all those years back!


Did they have bags of money? Did they have more resources than God? Did they have hundreds of teachers just sitting around twiddling their thumbs?


They just realised “something” was not “quite right” – they realised that they could be doing better…and that “something” was all about…


Bet you your next pay-check that you thought I was going to say “LEARNing”yes?


Remember a bit earlier – we were going on about having a perspective on TEACHing and taking a TEACHing PERSPECTIVE. The same “distinction” is true of curriculum. Most educators “have a perspective on curriculum” (we hate it – especially when it comes in the form of a “pacing guide”) – but very few of us:

Sorry about that…could not resist…this is a looooooooong post!


This is what Alverno set out to do.

However, what I think (IMHO) they were “really” doing was starting out on a journey that ultimately would lead them to “take a LEARNing PERSPECTIVE” – and create a “real” (educational) “LEARNing Organisation”.

This was very significant – a very radical (institutional) change!

They realised that “rethunking education” and LEARNing was not just about changing course content (or course codes) – it requires new thunking about curriculum, assessment, and teacher development.

What did Dexter say?


They just “got” that reinvention of their approach to curriculum and assessment first required that they make explicit their assumptions (and values) about LEARNing itself.

Now, you see why I have been asking so many questions…and inviting people to do the same on the blog (with a little help from Peter Blockfor those of you that want to go back to Türkçe).

The result – Alverno established its core purpose as being to develop those abilities students need to be successful as LEARNers, employees and citizens. In doing so they redefined curriculum around an explicit set of eight abilities:

…and developed a collaborativeinterdisciplinary pedagogy and LEARNing process capable of continuous improvement, and…(wait for this ONE)…required students to demonstrate competence in the eight abilities as a condition for graduation.

They actually…and this will make you crap your pants (if you work in a “testing unit”)…they “did away with”grades – and opted for a system that focussed on “results”!

And…you wonder why I fell in love with the place…and all the lovely faculty there!


Now, if you are a “HOW-Guy” (rather than a “WHY-Guy” or “Gal”) – you have probably realised that I have not fully answered the question:

…and, you’d be right!


I am actually thinking (yes, right now – as I type away) whether to split this post into two (Mmmmm, split it up I might) – but hey, what the hell – you survived this far!

Welcome to Tony’s OPUS-MAXIMUS…for the month!

They focussed on TEACHer LEARNing! Well, actually, it was a bit more like a process of Q-CBL and CPD for Educators (I’m still working on that acronym – not quite there, yet)

…and “yes”…I do own the “rights” to that one!


Like all sensible institutions, the Alverno guys, knew that:

So, they started a series of LEARNing Conversations in their faculty teams (within and across all their teams). They also knew that there was a huge difference between questions like:

Just about “heads or tails” it is not…


The core question they started with was, of course (canlarım benim):

Now, if you want (and you need a “rest”) – take 5 minutes and write your own version. Tweet it to 10 other teachersand see what you get back (seriously)!

The point here is that teachers can answer these questions on their “own” – but with collaboration, the benefits really start to kick in.

Institutions you have no choice! If you want to do “right” by your TEACHers and LEARNers!


The Alverno faculty did not stop there (though I hear it took around 6 months to get something half-decent on that first question). They then tackled these two:

They look pretty self-explanatory – do not be fooled! It’s the “LEARNing conversations” around these questions which is the focus. The “process” is what gets “results” – the “product” is sharing, clarification and “adaptation”!


There were others:


And, they just kept getting better and better;

Now, here we have a couple of seriously heavy-weight questions – as soon as we put the focus on LEARNing (and LEARNers), all that “content” just seems a waste of time.

OK, that’s a bit harsh – but, compare the question “What CONTENT do I want to TEACH?” and the question “What TYPE of HUMAN BEING do I want to help BUILD?”

…no contest really!


This is where Alverno really began to evaluate what they were TEACHing – and started to reinvent their curriculum around the set of eight abilities we noted above (do take some time to wander around their website – just been updated and very cool)!

These two questions alone should give teachers days-and-days of fun – especially, when part of a “curriculum renewal” project.


Obviously, I am cutting a few corners here (that’s what we bloggers do, yes?) – they had many more questions that they worked to get to grips with and what they were doing was starting a long (a very long) process of trying to work out how they, the faculty, could best “cultivate” integrative and expansive capabilities across the lifetime of their LEARNersknock this off in a long weekend, we cannot!

To do this, they also had to bring the two side of the coin together – with TWO of my personal favourites:


…followed by my all-time favourite – that “question-of-questions”:


“The” BOOK I mentioned earlier, tracks the first 20 years of the Alverno “project” – a longitudinal study of how the faculty at the college created “LEARNing That LASTS” for their students with their highly acclaimed curriculum/assessment (and LEARNing-TEACHing) model.

Their “project” continues today…as it should…as it will always!

…I hear someone scream!


“You got me to read over 2,000 words – not including all the text in the images – and you ain’t even answered the question you posed in the post title”!



Always wondered what it would be like to say something like “that”!

I am not that “mean” – for me, what the Alverno project shows is that it is very possiblevery possibleThe secret – creating “LEARNing That LASTS” is essentially a question of:

…and ongoing “adaptation”:

After all, “adaptation” is LEARNing – for both LEARNers and TEACHers!

In this post (though it was not really my “plan” – blogging is kinda like that), we’ve explored the nature of LEARNing. I offered my own definition (birthed with the help of many hands), as well as other (not always so great) definitions.

When we think about TEACHing in this context – it is really all about helping or supporting this process and includes all of the things that we do to make it happen – whatever that definition might be (and this will “vary” according to context – in addition to teacher or institution).

These things we must be “aligned” – to what we believe, what we say we believe, what we “do” and, most importantly – what we do to “improve” in everything we do to make LEARNing happen (and LAST).


The starting point is to make these things “explicit” – for ourselves, initially – working with “others” (or on twitter) takes care of the rest…

The Alverno model has become a next practice model for “doing business” very differently in education and a way of “adding real value” to students – value that is praised by the business and community organisations around Wisconsin and the U.S.

Alverno got it so RIGHT…so many years ago!


And, the set of Q-CBL questions developed and used by Alverno faculty are the nuts n’ bolts of the three questions every teacher (and institution) needs to ask on a regular and on-going basis:


The other question:



In the end, and this will not be in “the book”:

I am such a “geek”!


BLOGGING – the “secret weapon” that is (finally) helping TEACHers “trump” SCHOLars?

In Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 28/05/2012 at 9:11 am

One of my favourite EDUreads from the last 15 years or so is Larry Cuban’s How Scholars Trumped Teachers.

Larry is my kinda EDUscholar and EDUcatora real “thunking doer” who tells it like it is and does not pull his punches where the LEARNing of others, especially our “kids”, is concerned.

He also has an amazing blog – Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practiceand, if you ain’t checked it out, you just don’t know the EDUblogosphere.


Anyways, the book, written in 1999 (yes, we “oldies” actually read these paper-based thingies back in the day) describes the development of the American Academe over 1890-1990 – using Stanford as his “case study”.

OK, so he picks up that old chestnut of a question:

What is more important within the university – teaching or research?

But…his “answer” really hits the “spot”and probably cost him a few “Academy pals”!


Most of us in EDUland know:

… don’t we?

Larry does! And, he basically “proves” that it is what academics are “trained” to do that has won outagain, and again, and again.

Not only in the States – all over the bloody globe!

What Larry also does is also help us “see” through the smoke n’ mirrors that have characterised the type of “changes” and “reforms” the Academe claims to have realised over the years…

It’s a good read! A VERY good read…

We TEACHers – knowing how much we have been “trumped” left, right and centre – have been known to get a bit miffed about this. We tend to work harder (with the “people” who “matter”), we put in more hours (planning for the people who matter) – and we take more crap from the parents of the people who matter…and journalists, politicians, wanabe EDUgurus, publishers – do I need to go on?

A lot of us see coventional higher LEARNing for what it is…and accept that…

We also know that the famed “holy trinity” that represents the “purpose” of the Academe – TEACHing, RESEARCH and PUBLIC SERVICE – basically, and in practice, “translate” into:

We also see that our universities can and do make some very serious “mistakes”:

Even…the best of them!

It is because of these, and that fact that we do focus so much of our energy on LEARNing the people that matter, that many of us also ask the question:

A fair question really!

Because…every one of us “knows” (in our heart-of-hearts) that…

I mean, would any university department seriously consider putting together a “research team” (on the back of a fat government grant) made up of people who had not been trained in research methodology, had limited experience of conducting field work or (God forbid) did not have clue about MLA citations.

That last one is quite interesting – and it now seems that we can even cite our tweets in MLA format. This little change is one tiny example of the “campus tsunami” everyone is banging on about these days…

The difference…is that TEACHers are ahead of the game, this time – and blogging is our secret weapon!

The WORLD has changed…

EDUcational THUNKing has changed…

LEARNers are changing…

LITERACY is being transformed

SCHOLARship (and AUTHORship) are being assimilated…

Blogging is leading the charge with allthingsdemocratisation – and TEACHers have proven themselves to be the BORG of the blogosphere. Just take a look at the blogging figures – those groups of professionals out there actually using the blogoshere to get their voices “out there”and inspire others to find their voices!

TEACHers rule!

It used to be the case that we ran around our classrooms “exposing” ourselves to every Tom, Dick or Harriet who presented themselves to us…Now, we are sharing, reflecting…and ADAPTing on a global scale – the likes of which God has never seen!

Good for us…GOOD for our LEARNers!

And, it’s fair to ask, I thunk:

 Where are all the SCHOLars?

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: