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seeking change

December 15, 2012

Book stack December

This week’s book stack rests on top of  current  job applications – two as Learning Associate (great title, no?) at the same school undergoing renewal.  I am excited at the prospect of being interviewed for either of the roles. I am keen for new opportunities and challenge.

Thoreau accompanied me on the train to Freo last Sunday where I caught Daughter 2 in performance as a sister in Ash Girl:

Ash Girl cast

Cast pic from Harbour Theatre performance (photographer unknown)

Couldn’t help but be staggered by the overlap of setting:

My “best” room, however, my withdrawing room, always ready for company, on whose carpet the sun rarely fell, was the pine wood behind my house.  Thither in summer days, when distinguished guests came, I took them, and a priceless domestic swept the floor and dusted the furniture and kept the things in order (Thoreau, 1966, p. 44-5).

Idyllic. By contrast, in the stage forest pictured above, seven-deadly-sinful characters tempted protagonists from the safe and narrow well-trod paths, and the unknown became fraught with lurking dangers. True love, of course, prevails.

So to the metaphorical dangers of forests and obfuscated trees (shadows vs. illuminating insights?) in education with Finnish Lessons:

Finnish teachers have accepted curriculum development, experimentation with teaching methods, responsibility to engage in student welfare support, and collaboration with parents as important aspects of their work outside of classrooms (Sahlberg, 2010, p. 90).

No fairy tale this, but still a happy ending with gold-medal rankings registered, and visiting “foreign” disciples in search of magic. Since the Finnish culture values less as more – less teaching face to face time, no homework, less testing, less cost, more catering for the needs of individual learners – there’s no clear sense of takeaway for Oz educators here unless this vision serves as a dream of if only/ what could be. Readily appealing as a Fourth Way, yes.

Bob Sutton’s affinity for straight talk with no added fairy dust appeals as much on Twitter in the guise of @work_matters, as fresh-off-the-shelf at UWA’s Education Fine Arts and Architechture (EDFAA) library. Usually I struggle to compose bookspine poetry with this sort of display:


Here’s a ready antidote:

The best bosses let the workers do their work. They protect their people from red tape, meddlesome executives, nosy visitors, unnecessary meetings, and a host of other insults, intrusions and time wasters. The notion that management “buffers” the core work of the organization from uncertainty and external perturbations is an old theme in organization theory.  A good boss takes pride in serving as a human shield  absorbing and deflecting heat from superiors and customers, doing all manners of boring and silly tasks, and battling back against every idiot and slight that makes life unfair or harder than necessary on his or her charges (Sutton, 2010, p. 154).

250px-Danger-mouse-fair-useDanger Mouse comes to mind.

This I find reassuring: “You cannot harm me”. Wings like a shield of steel.

One eyed, perhaps, but he has your back.

Heroic stereotype?

Charismatic lone leader circa 1950?

Too many long-ago Saturday afternoons spent watching cartoons have obviously led me into the wilderness….

Deflecting heat I like, and perhaps this translates best as leaders taking responsibility for things that go wrong instead of <devil on the shoulder> apportioning blame.

CC Image Source:

The Wiliam text is my latest purchase from Amazon, delivered from Las Vegas in record time (less than five days from ordering to front verandah). This is holiday reading in preparation for the next course to be undertaken at Uni – Leading Assessment and Accountability. Sounds serious. Sounds like data analysis.

Much of my anxiety last semester arose because of the title of this course, and its accompanying description (content and outcomes) on the UWA website. Like Ash Girl, and the original Cinderella tale which inspired this dramatic adaptation, though, appearances can be deceptive.

Embedded Formative Assessment is illuminating. Yes, there are graphs and tables, talk of TIMSS and PISA, standard deviations, models and reports for the OECD, but rest assured there’s a moral to the tale of why educational achievement matters, how we increase teacher quality, and the background context is three generations of school effectiveness research. Staggeringly important, for example:

Because teachers are bombarded with innovations, none of these innovations has time to take root, so nothing really changes. And worse, not only is there little or no real improvement in what happens in classrooms, but teachers get justifiably cynical about the constant barrage of innovation to which they are subjected. The reason that teachers need professional development has nothing to do with professional updating.  As far as I am aware, there haven’t been any real break-throughs in teaching for the last two thousand years.  Teachers need professional development because the job of teaching is so difficult, so complex, that one lifetime is not enough to master it (Wiliam, 2011, p.29).

Terrific and tantalising insight. Want to read more? Me too. Plus I’m newly eager for shared thinking in classes next year!

So in digging, we have reached the bottom. Quiet. Anyone beginning a presentation with a suitcase as prop will capture my attention. I bought the book because this TED talk is brilliant:

Selected references

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.

Sahlberg, P. (2010). Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? New York: Teachers College Press.

Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.

Thoreau, H.D. (1966). Walden. New York: The Peter Pauper Press.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


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