How We Do Assessment

I recently shared a presentation with the Head of Curriculum and Assessment in our school. The purpose of the presentation was to inform our parents about the changing nature of education and the way in which we have structured our assessments.

Without the commentary for each slide, this may not make much sense but here it is anyway!

Global Education Conference – 12-17 November 2012

Conferences can be very expensive and time-consuming. How wonderful then that teachers can now take part in a free global conference focused on bringing some of the best minds and practioners in education from all over the world together for five days of training, discussion and input.

The Global Education Conference runs for 24 hours a day for its duration and you can choose which sessions to log into. The schedule is available here : Conference schedule

Here is the latest press release from the conference organisers:



The 2012 Global Education Conference Press Release – October 2012

Transformation before technology!

Changing an outdated industrial-age paradigm of education to a relevant 21st century one will take more than simply adding technology. This piece by Will Richardson sums up my sentiments around this issue so well that I simply had to quote his blog post – I cannot say it better than this!

From the “I Know I Keep Saying This But I Just Can’t Stop Dept.” comes yet another example of how out of whack our language is when talking about what student learning should be. In this long,celebratory piece from the Las Vegas Sun today we learn that students at a Nevada charter school have had their learning “transformed” at the Explore Knowledge Academy, the state’s first iSchool. And the path to transformation? The iPad, of course.

“The world has changed; the expectations in the workforce have changed,” said Abbe Mattson, EKA’s executive director. “You can’t even work at a McDonald’s without using a touch screen. … If we don’t change how we teach, it’s a disservice to our kids.”


In the six months since its technology infusion, EKA has become a model of what the classrooms of the 21st century might look like in Clark County.  Although some students found learning to use the new technology challenging, most took to digital learning immediately, Mattson said.  “It’s like second nature for the students,” she said. “They’re open to trying this and they’re used to this multimedia access.”

Students use the iPads to access educational websites and applications as well as electronic textbooks. They use the iPad to take notes and the tablet’s camera to photograph whiteboards filled with teacher’s lessons and chemistry formulas. Some even record lectures using the iPad’s digital voice recorder or video camera, referring to them when they review for tests.

“I love them,” eighth-grader Alexa Freeman, 13, said of the iPads. “They’re super fast and easy to use.”


And, finally…wait for it…

Educators say the potential payoff of this digital education is enormous, even though it’s still unproven if this nascent technology will increase student achievement. Educational games and visual applications attempt to make learning fun and keep students’ attention, which should translate to better test scores, teachers say.  “If you can get kids engaged, they’ll learn,” Mattson said. “These iPads will help get kids engaged.”

Learning = better test scores. And so it goes…

Look, I know that this here blog has not been all happy, happy lately. I know my cynicism is seeping through more that even I would like. I know I need to get focused on the good, seriously transformative things that some “bold” schools are doing, and I will, I promise. Really.

But I also know that if we keep allowing stories like these to set the bar for change, we’re shortchanging our kids. It’s yet another example of conflating teaching and learning, of not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support. Transformation in this sense means shifting the balance of power to the learner. And I know that starts way before we put a piece of technology in a kid’s hands. But with that power, the technology becomes a much richer, more valuable tool for learning.

I just feel like we have to keep calling this what it is: old wine in new bottles.

Original article



What Happened To Professionalism?

Local school teacher to a pupil in her class: “Where did you go to school before you came to this school?”

Pupil: “I went to {insert name of another local school here}.”

Teacher: “You are so stupid to have wasted half your schooling at {insert name of another local school here}. Only idiots go to that school.”

This is unfortunately a true story…

It never ceases to amaze me that a teacher can be so small-minded and insecure in herself that she is forced to make this kind of comment in front of a class of 11 year olds. Not only is this a ridiculous thing to say, it also reveals an astonishing lack of professionalism. There is also a lack of judgement evident in what is appropriate to say to children and what is not.

Teachers such as this have no place in a classroom in a society in which we are striving to develop children who have the emotional intelligence to seek first to understand before judging others and who have the core value of respect for others. How many other teachers like this are in our schools today? Whatever happened to teachers being the pillar of society and those to whom our children turned for moral and ethical guidance in an often confusing world? Call me naive, but I believe its time to bring honour back into our profession.

How The Internet Is Revolutionizing Education

This powerful infographic shows the impact of the internet on education.
The author/illustrator asserts that higher education is no longer only for the elite as anyone with an internet connection can access it. That seems like a contradictory assertion – doesn’t the fact that only 30% of the world’s population have internet access make it elite by default?  (Stat from – figure as at 31 March 2011)
How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

I Believe In…

I believe education matters : I believe in education that is relevant to a rapidly evolving world. An education that prepares children for a world where they will change careers multiple times before retirement. An education that gives children the tools to cope with an ever-increasingly connected world. An education which recognises that learning takes place in an organic and connected way. An education which does not rely on a system of grades to indicate whether a pupil is learning or not. An education which teaches the value of emotional intelligence and the importance of respect for one another.

I believe teachers matter : I believe in teachers who foster a life-long love of learning. I believe in teachers who know that in a Google world they can no longer be seen as the source of all knowledge. I believe in teachers who are open to new ideas about the value of grading pupils and about seeing change in their classroom practice. I believe in teachers who are on a journey of self-discovery and personal learning and who are constantly learning how to be better at what they do. I believe in teachers who persevere through difficult circumstances because they believe that what they do really matters. I believe in teachers who choose to teach each day with the same enthusiasm they had on their very first day in the classroom.

I believe parents matter : I believe in parents who understand that the education of their children cannot only happen at school. I believe in parents who choose to work in partnership with their child’s teacher. I believe in parents who realise that teachers have personal responsibilities after 5pm and don’t call them at home or on their mobile phones at night. I believe in parents who support the discipline of the school and don’t undermine teachers by bringing down teachers around the dinner table. I believe in parents who see themselves as part of a team with the staff of the school. I believe in parents who believe in the inherent potential of their child. I believe in parents who choose to invest in their child’s education as a priority in their monthly budget. I believe in parents who are the singularly most important people in their child’s life – providing love, security, boundaries and support.

What do YOU believe in? Send a tweet to @artpreston with the hashtag #headthoughts – in a  few week’s time I’ll post the results.

Who’s Paying?

One of the constant struggles I experience in my leadership of our school is the constant stream of requests for school fee subsidy. More now than ever before families are experiencing financial pressure and are looking for ways to reduce monthly expenses.My colleagues in other schools report the same phenomenon.

Our school is an independent school and as such receives no subsidisation from national or provincial government. Our ability to pay our staff, provide resources for high quality education, pay for operational overheads and maintain our buildings is dependent on fundraising and school fees. Small schools such as ours need to ensure growing enrolment to ensure income is maintained to pay all the necessary monthly bills, including the salaries of staff who continue to give of their best despite their payment being lower than their counterparts in state schools.

Here then is the conundrum : If we close the door to fee subsidy requests we risk losing families who may be in a better position to pay in months to come – a case of having some money in rather than none at all. On the other hand, if we constantly meet subsidy requests based on proven need, we run the risk of compromising our cash flow which could have very serious consequences for operational requirements on an already tight budget.

I admit that I find this a particularly difficult part of my job. We have a subsidy application process and requests are dealt with within a subsidy policy framework. Despite this and the fact that our Board is very supportive of me in this process, I am the one who has to face these parents and their children. I remind myself that parents have a choice as to where to send their children and that this choice is not my responsbility. Sometime this is cold comfort!

I have come to realise that not every parent values education in the way I feel they should. For some the payment of school fees seems to be an optional extra, something they will pay should the disposable income allow it. Fortunately our payment policy soon puts an end to parents thinking they can leave school fee payments to chance. If parents have chosen to send their children to an independent school they must be willing and able to pay the required fees?

It is incredibly humbling to meet parents who are doing everything in their power to afford the required school fees and who are diligent about paying on time. It is also very frustrating, annoying and anger-inducing when parents who are obviously able to afford their children’s school fees choose to pay late or not at all and thereby compromise the financial stability of the school.

Another issue that raises its head is whether it is fair to offer subsidies at all! When fee reductions are given they effectively require the remaining full fee-paying parents to subsidise the reduced-fee pupils. This has an obvious implication when it comes to setting annual school fees as subsidised fees need to be taken into consideration. This can push up the school fees for everyone in the parent body. Is this fair?

Yet another issue is that of the suspension of children due to non-payment of school fees. My business intuition tells me that this is the right way to go while the educator in me pulls in the opposite direction believing that children should be in school and not have to sacrifice educational opportunities because of the irresponsibility of parents. This is a constant struggle in my heart and mind.

What happens in your school? Feel free to share your thoughts and best practice ideas in the comments.

What We Truly Need

My wife came home recently clutching several catalogues from computer/gadget stores. As she passed them on to me to peruse she commented, “What in these do you need?”. Now I have to admit that a large part of me would love to spend several thousands on very intentionally adding to my gadget collection but my personal budget won’t stretch that far! I am also sure that any more gadgets in the house would leave me sleeping on the couch!

My response was simply this : “There’s lots I want, but nothing I need.” I didn’t think much of this until I began preparing myself for the start of the new school term. It occurred to me that the same sentiment applies to schools. I began to wonder what a list of needs and wants would look like for my school. I soon realised that those things that schools need are most often the intangibles, those things which are rooted in people and not bought with fundraising money and school fees.

Trust, empathy, creativity, entrepreneurship, parental engagement, camaraderie amongst staff, experiential learning opportunities, open-mindedness, clear vision, strong moral and ethical compass, an atmosphere of mutual respect and a well-defined accountability system are some of the needs of schools. In the race for larger buildings, more technology, fancier sport facilities and so on, many schools seem to have lost their focus on what is truly important.

Oh yes, there is lots I want for my school but the question is, “Do I need it?”.

I hope that I don’t fall into the trap of focusing too much on the wants of my school and thereby lose touch with the reality of those things we truly need.

Let Them Play!

My friend Tim Keller pointed me towards this video from a TED conference. It sums up what for me is the essence of education, particularly at primary school level. There is no doubt that children learn through play. They learn to respect others’ ideas, study processes when they make mistakes, engage with each other when a solution needs to be found.

It occurs to me that in our very ordered school lives, there is precious little time left to play. That old-fashioned idea seems to be left on the sidelines so that we can finish curricula, keep education authorities happy and feel good about “preparing the children for high school”. What are we doing? I refuse to believe that education is simply the transfer of knowledge from one to another. Our pupils need to be learning by doing. They need to be actively engaged in activities that force them out of their comfort zones so that they can learn to think creatively not only about the problems they face but about who they are as individuals. It is never too young to begin this process.

Parents, concerned with grades to “get into the best high schools”, are also to blame. Unneccesary and frankly, short-sighted, pressure to conform to an outdated philosophy of education is hurting our children and will hurt our nation in the years to come. Schools need to be engaged in education our children beyond the textbook and the classroom.

I am not saying for one moment that it is necessary to throw out formal examinations and set curricula. I am calling for an open-minded approach to education. An approach that believes that all children have an amazing ability to learn and grow when left to their own devices. An approach that seeks to guide learning rather than force it. An approach in which teachers are also learners. An approach where children can become “complete” and not just have the ability to obtain good grades. An approach which allows children to make mistakes without fear. An approach that gives pupils an opportunity to reflect on their actions and doesn’t need them to write a story about it!

Come on teachers! Come on principals! Come on parents! Come on education authorities! Isn’t it time for a new day in education? We can have all the techno-wizardry in the world in our schools but that does not make a school progressive. The very essence of our school is our philosophy of education and in the way it is brought to life by our teachers.

Watch this and be inspired :