Day two of Project Zero Melbourne commenced with a challenging session led by Daniel Wilson the director of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The nature of leadership within schools was the focus and we were challenged to recognise the need to shift our thinking about the form that this takes as we are increasingly faced with ‘Complex’ problems. The need for this shift arises from the demands of reimagining education for the 21st century. Education is battling against an entrenched image in which education is about the transfer of knowledge. To overcome this and transform education we need to disrupt these deeply ingrained notions of what education is about and ultimately that relates to perceptions and consequences of power relations between teachers, students, society and knowledge.
Traditional models of leadership are very much top down with an expectation that the leaders within an organisation are all knowing and have the answers to the challenges the organisation are likely to confront. Daniel divided these challenges into two categories and by explaining the differences between the two types led us to the realisation that a new model of leadership would be required. The first and traditionally most common type of problem described are those that are ‘Complicated’. Complicated problems are not easy to overcome but they are understood and we are able to find or identify solutions. Complicated problems are of the type schools deal with on a daily basis and involve the mechanics of running organisations with many individuals, multiple pressures for time and resources and legislative demands and pressures from external organisations. ‘Complex’ problems on the other hand are those which we do not understand and the solutions are unknown. It is the complex problems which schools present a challenge to traditional leadership models as it is not possible for even a ‘hero’ leader to rise to these challenges alone. Complex problems require a distributed model of leadership in which the collective wisdom and problem solving capacity of an organisation is utilised and the role of the leader is to establish a culture that enables this collaboration. In this model leadership is not a characteristic of an individual but the process of social interactions of influence, direction and action.
Daniel identified three roles for leadership and outlined how each role differs depending on the nature of the challenges faced.
1. Creating Vision - when dealing with complicated problems this involves defining and communicating the vision but when dealing with complex problems requires co-creation and for leadership as a change agent
2. Developing People - when dealing with complicated problems this involves skill building and evaluation but when dealing with complex problems will require stimulating people towards growth and a culture that encourages experimentation. With this culture of experimentation must come a tolerance of failure.
3. Designing structures - when dealing with complicated problems involves establishing conditions for cooperative progress but when dealing with complex problems requires collaborative innovation.
Daniel left us with the provocation that expertise is the pathway to solving complicated problems but emergence is the pathway to solving complex problems in that the solutions to these problems will emerge or bubble forth from the collaborative efforts of an organisation as they collectively engage in the process of identifying challenges and opportunities. A noteworthy observation made by Daniel was that designers tend to deal effectively with complex problems, a hint that the design thinking process might offer an appropriate framework for schools to apply as they approach the challenge of reimagining education for the future.
The second session was led by Caitlin Faiman of Bialik College in Melbourne. A passionate mathematics educator and facilitator of student thinking, Caitlin demonstrated the power that well designed questions coupled with thinking routines can have. Participants were led through a process of applying the thinking routine ‘Peeling the Fruit’ to the analysis of an artwork as an introduction before being shown how the same routine may be used to deepen student understanding of mathematical concepts.
The final Special Interest Session was led by Daniel Wilson and asked participants to consider the part that our language plays in our professional learning conversations. Daniel revealed that research by Harvard indicates 80% of our professional learning comes from our informal conversations. This realisation led to a research project that sought to understand what parts of our professional conversations about teaching resulted in specific types of understandings. The essential elements identified were the sharing of stories, a strong provocative point of view, a puzzle or something you wonder about, a probing question and the elicitation of ideas. An interesting component of this research was that it was able to reveal the type of learning each action resulted in. Full details of the research are described in the Journal of Workplace Learning as cited below and more information Learning Innovations Laboratory is available online at http://www.learninginnovationslab.org/
Wilson, D. G., & Hartung, K. (2015). Types of informal learning in cross- organiza6onal collegial conversa6ons. Journal of Workplace Learning, 27(8), 596 - 610.