What the best* performing education systems are doing – focusing on teacher quality and training

* the criteria for best relates to student results in testing such as PISA and other benchmark testing in literacy and numeracy

When I visited some Scandinavian schools in 2012, I had the opportunity to talk with teachers and observe their classrooms. One of the great riddles of the time was “why were the Finnish schools performing so effectively?”. Two of the few metrics available to education are: effectiveness measured by student results and teacher quality measured by student performance. It seemed one part of the answer in the high-performing education systems, such as Finland, was teacher quality – the best and the brightest taught in schools. In Australia, a common answer given to the question “how does a system secure high quality teachers” was reward them with a substantial salary. However, this response seemed incomplete. For example, after talking with many Scandinavian teachers about their salaries and after doing a quick calculation, it turned out the Finnish teacher is paid something similar to the Australian teacher. There had to be more than just the monetary incentive and the intrinsic motivators that are evident in much of the research on teacher satisfaction – motivators such as, knowing what you do matters and helping young people achieve their goals or a personal passion for a subject area.

What I did notice was an emphasis in the Scandinavian schools on giving teachers time to prepare specific programmes and working directly with other professionals on designing curriculum for their classes. It seemed most of the professional development time was given to working on the teaching at hand, developing one another’s skills and flexible timetabling that gave more opportunities for working one-on-one with students or lesson preparation.

Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World, makes a similar observation and adds insight into teacher training. In Finland, all teacher preparation courses/colleges are selective and set a very high standard for entry. The thinking behind this approach is to recruit only the best and brightest of each generation to enter the schools. Therefore, the emphasis upon quality teaching begins with competing for the opportunity to train as a teacher. Finland has made the judgement that it takes substantial intellectual ability and demonstrated skill to be a teacher, and has structured their selection and training programme accordingly. A current report by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) found the path into teaching was varied and of those who entered with an ATAR (or equivalent) only 28% had an ATAR 81 and above. This would suggest we are not selecting only high achievers as Finland is doing. Turning graduates into highly skilled and accomplished classroom teachers and school leaders is completed during the training stage and not after a number of years in the profession. An amazing outworking of this shift to being highly selective about who and how many train to be a teacher (this approach started in the 1970s) and an ongoing emphasis upon high standards of practice amongst teachers, has meant the government has been able to reduce the top-down control of education. Much of the work within schools is now entrusted to the teachers and the curriculum is not mandated. As a result, school leaders and teachers can “generally design a more creative system than any centralised authority ever could” (p.151). The community is also aware how accomplished the teaching profession is as a result of this shift. A recent national study (2013) in Finland found teachers had the highest satisfaction rating of any other professional group. The satisfaction was a result of significant professional autonomy and the belief in their ability to influence children’s lives.

Teachers’ workspaces look the same the world over. Here is one in Finland and another in Denmark

Teachers’ workspaces look the same the world over. Here is one in Finland and another in Denmark

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In Denmark, there were a number of pedagogues (cover your eyes, David Gillespie, for I know you loath edu-speak) in the schools I visited. These social educators worked alongside the core instructional teachers, but I was a little confused by what exactly a pedagogue did and where they fitted into the construction of curriculum. It turns out these professionals are quite unique to Denmark, so I could be forgiven for being somewhat ignorant of their role in students’ education. The pedagogue’s work encompasses children’s educational needs, as well as their social and emotional development and physical wellbeing. They focus on creating learning experiences that develop the child’s ability to work with others and build personal skills that equip them for learning. These professionals worked alongside the curriculum teacher and the class aides as a resource teacher, creating a teaching team that worked together to construct the class programme.

A pedagogue prepares afternoon in classroom kitchen with the children participating in the after school programme.

A pedagogue prepares afternoon in classroom kitchen with the children participating in the after school programme.

Teacher and children do homework the kitchen classroom.

Teacher and children do homework the kitchen classroom.

This is where my observation connects with David Gillespie’s observations of what made for better performing systems. He identified an emphasis upon colleagues developing the effectiveness of one another. Children at this school attend an after-school programme held in their own school. Gillespie argues the secret to the high performing systems of Shanghai-China, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong lies in the emphasis upon teacher improvement and this is achieved in the main through less time in front of the class for each teacher. This approach is funded by large classes – more students for fewer hours each week per teacher (eg. a Chinese teacher spends 10-12 hours with their class), whilst in Australia we have adopted the opposite approach of employing more teachers to teach smaller classes for most of the week (on average 20 hours). However, the teachers do not go home early in the hours saved in the performing systems. These teachers spend a significant amount of time in other teachers’ classrooms and being mentored in classroom management strategies and subject-specific guidance (what we used to call teaching method at teacher’s college) according a very structured programme. Staged mentoring is provided by teachers further along in their classroom careers. It operates like a guild system within the teacher’s own school and district. Classroom observation (both of their own and others’ classes) is emphasised and feedback is specific. Typical areas observed are student information (profile of class and context), where the teacher placed most of their attention in the lesson and degree of teacher involvement. The structure is designed to keep the best teachers in the classroom, through the incentive of keeping everyone well prepared for the task of teaching and allowing expert teachers the opportunity to exercise increasing influence over the effectiveness of colleagues. I imagine there will be many who will argue against Gillespie’s conclusions but it does seem to ring true in relation to the substantial body of research that points out these countries are clearly doing something different to Australia, the USA and UK and the research that concludes educational improvement relies upon constantly improving the quality and skills of teachers placed in front of our classes. For many years now, Professor Steve Dinham (University of Melbourne) has emphasised the importance of placing a quality teacher in every classroom and more can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of teachers than by any other single factor. Professor John Hattie’s famous meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies on major sources of variance in student achievement concurs. After the influence of the student (50%), the teacher accounts for 30% of variance and therefore, is very powerful in the learning equation. What teachers do, know and value matters a great deal to the performance of an education system. A recently released report by the Grattan Institute (Making time for Great Learning, 2014) emphasises the same finding. Improving the effectiveness of teaching is the best way to lift school performance, and this involves focusing on what teachers do in the classroom.

A few final and perhaps controversial points to be made relate to in-service professional development, mentoring and impact of teacher registration on the type of professional development Australian teachers will choose. I would give a big tick to the recent developments in professional mentoring and Beginning Teacher programmes. The increase in teacher-to-teacher mentoring, collaborative research projects within schools and the focus on retaining new teachers is excellent. However, I would argue we need the same approach but different programmes for more experienced teachers so we can retain them mid-career and to encourage them to stay in the classroom. We also need to consider what programmes are best suited to the teacher towards the end of a longer career, programmes that do not shuffle them off to areas of low impact but instead focus on revitalisation and sophisticated ways of using the skills and knowledge they have developed over many years in the classroom.

Finally, I am concerned that the new prescriptions for professional development under the national registration scheme will prevent any opportunity of following the teacher development programmes that are in place in high performing education systems. Our registration requirements drive teachers individually towards stand-alone day courses that are invariably sourced from outside the school environment. This model makes it difficult for colleagues and schools to pursue a systematic, embedded programme of professional development as part of the registration process. Once we have pursued the mandatory hours of accredited professional development and completed the self-identified hours and completed the mandatory training in a plethora of crisis areas such as WH&S, asthma, Child Protection, anaphylaxis, there will be little time or energy for other improvement programmes. The Grattan Institute’s report argues the best teacher development a teacher can receive is to directly help them teach their students. A significant stumbling block to giving this development is the provision of time for effective professional learning programmes. The report explores a variety of possibilities for creating real time for teacher learning and many suggestions challenge age-old taboos.

As far as I am concerned, what is the take-away point? Teacher training and on-going teacher improvement that aims at being able to guarantee the best trained and the most effective teachers are working in our classrooms should be a number one priority. How we achieve it and fund it will no doubt continue to fire up many debates, reviews, proposals and research projects. As Ripley observes, we may be spending too much time trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture. It seems reasonable to reward, train and dismiss teachers based on their performance but that approach assumes poor performers will improve significantly and the worst teachers will be replaced with better ones. I am inclined to agree with Ripley’s view that we should expect our teachers to be the best and brightest of their generation and they should be of that calibre the moment they enter the undergraduate programme.

References:

Prof. Steve Dinham, What we need to know about student achievement and quality teaching, ACER, DEECD Knox Network, 29/1/10, [http//:knoxnetwork.wikispaces.com. accessed 29/3/14]

David Gillespie, Free schools – How to get a great education for your kids without spending a fortune, MacMillan, 2014.

Dr Ben Jensen, Making time for great teaching, Grattan Institute, March 2014.

Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World and how they got that way, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013.

Mind the Gap musing – Do we all believe in the equation [school + university = a good job]?

Regularly commentators and researchers return to the discussion of the influence a student’s socio-economic status has on their achievement levels at school and future earning capacity. A recent article for The Conversation, by Kevin Donnelly (Senior Research Fellow – ACU) once again raised the topic by focusing on challenges to the assumption that social inequity has the greatest impact on a student’s level of achievement at school (see: 7 March 2014, The Conversation, Social class affects school achievement less than you think). Donnelly concludes his piece by saying, “Instead of accepting what can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, believing that with a rigorous curriculum, motivated and talented teachers, sound school leadership and strong parental engagement, it is possible to raise standards for all students across a range of backgrounds.” What is probably more interesting than the article itself is the conversation it generated through the postings. The comments highlighted the extraordinary challenge of identifying the most significant influences on a student’s performance at school. A thought has been running through my head for a while now.

 

Lunch at a Helsinki school

Communal lunchtime in a school in Helsinki – freshly cooked each day, set menu with only two healthy options, milk or water to drink and fruit for dessert.

A number of years ago I commenced work in a school that had a SES index lower than my previous school. There were also many other differences, such experience of the staff, size of the school, location and so on. According to the debate, the SES index should have either a significant impact or little impact in comparison to other factors on the levels of achievement of these students. Over the years I began to notice there were aspects of this debate that were usually absent, and perhaps it was in these areas that I would find a better indicator of which aspect of a student socio-economic context had the most impact on students’ achievement. Perhaps these areas are researched, perhaps data and observations about these aspects are available but nonetheless they do not seem to be widely reported.

Firstly, are we capturing a definition of “real” economic wealth through the emphasis on the SES index and therefore, are we actually exploring a very narrow understanding of how people generate resources and the role school education plays in this process. In numerous conversations with parents and students, I am observing a trend that indicates making an income by any route so long as it delivers sufficient funds to provide the target lifestyle is the educational priority of some students and families. In their experience, not all routes to adulthood and the workplace involve the assumptions that contemporary Australian educational policies make. In my school community, I have been observing this is a less acknowledged influence on engagement with education and schools. Another observation I could make is that research does not seem to capture the extent of real resources behind individuals. For example, in a local electorate the rate of non-mortgaged, home ownership is high despite less than average incomes and lower than average university qualifications. The SES index does not fully account for individual resources within the cohort or community. An index such as this averages the community and is reliant on the information supplied by individuals through the census. These indexes cannot capture information about the wider network of support and resources these students access.

Middle school in Finland

Middle school in Helsinki – Despite a high SES index, this school did not pour vast amounts of money into physical resources and yet student levels of achievement are high – what does that tell us?

As educators, we talk career and qualifications and work opportunities and life-long learning and achievement but often I pause to wonder if this is the same for my students. Is lifestyle a driving force in choices behind education and work for some of our students? Current statistics reporting trends in job and career change, casualisation of the workforce, increased use of contracts in a wider range of industries, emerging trends in preference for mobility and taking time off to travel (the gap year that occurs anytime from Year 11 to post-university) or ‘try something new” amongst the under 30’s suggest something different is driving the choices and pathways of this generation.

Senior school in Finland

Senior school in Finland – The classrooms I visited looked very much like the ones we have, so it cannot be just the environment and resources.

 

For a number of years, I have been reading a range of research articles, scholarly books, literature reviews and commentaries in the area of improving student achievement. The consensus seems to be: the high-performing education systems in countries like Korea and Finland are doing some things different to us; students in these countries have a different attitude or approach to education and the importance of teacher quality is supported by more than rhetoric or monetary incentives. In many of the books that have reached the wider community through the best-seller list, such as Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World, a conclusion that students have to believe their school education matters and is part of their long-term planning is evident. Students need to personally build what schooling offers into their lives. As an exchange student in Ripley’s book discovered when she asked classmates in Finland what made them work hard in school, the question confused the students because they were puzzled why you would ask such a question in the first place. However, it seemed that at the heart of it all was a widespread respect for the basic premise of school. The question we need to ask may not be what are they doing well or different but what have we stopped doing? When did we some students and families stop believing in the equation that school + university* = a good job? In the next posting I will consider the arguments for focusing on teacher quality as something we can do to make a significant impact upon student performance.

* includes all post-school formal training and qualifications

Trend spotting in workplace design

Rethinking the school staffroom Part 3

PlaceShaping Project – tackling the why and what is happening in workplaces

If you are reading this blog, then you would already be aware of my PlaceShaping project and my research trip to London last month. I focused on workplaces that offered collaborative or co-working spaces, and found they are not all the same and the differences go beyond the physical facilities and access.

So far I have formed some initial thoughts on the future trends in collaborative adult spaces and which models might offer the most to the design of future teacher workspaces.

#1. Hot-desking in itself does not create collaboration – it supports a focus on individual tasks rather than co-working or collaboration. It could also generate a competitive view of resources and heighten territorial behaviours rather than breaking them down. It’s key value is in the financial savings made by increasing use of office resources and facilitates moves to downsize the amount of space used by workstations.

#2. Hot-desking is concerned primarily with access to location and things. Co-working has a focus on access to location and people.

#3. Characteristics of successful ABWs are:

*modern aesthetic and open, flexible space

*high speed, wireless connectivity

*latest technology (in office and away from office)

*trust, mutual understanding and equitable access to necessary resources

*focus on performance enhancement

Here is the link to an amazing office space – it shows key ABW features: Work Design Now – GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Philadelphia, PA http://vimeo.com/76671083

Well equipped dining areas that also host informal meetings and places to work are common to new styles of office design.

Well equipped dining areas that also host informal meetings and places to work are common to new styles of office design.

 

An alternative workspace in a corporate environment

An alternative workspace in a corporate environment

#4. Characteristics of Co-working spaces – what you expect to find in the space:

*Wifi – high speed connectivity

*Food/coffee DIY area

*Variety of table sizes and shapes (fewer individual tables than shared tables)

*Informal aesthetic in furniture choice

*Hosted space (maintenance and fostering connections)

*Range of lighting (for practical and ambience)

*Trust, Responsibility, Personal “buy in”

*Easy to maintain and clear prompts for space etiquette

*Permanent desks and territory kept to minority (less than 20%)

*Programme of events to build connections and skills appropriate to business goals

Campus London

informal workspace in a collaborative environment

informal workspace in a collaborative environment

 

 

#5. Styling in the non-corporate flexible workspaces is whimsical, eclectic and often reflects skills/interests of founding membership and ethos of businesses the space attracts. There is a focus on human-scale with inclusive and democratic approach to the dispersal of resources.

 

Things & trends I am noticing – 

Creative, challenging, complex workspaces would thrive if there was …

  1. someone to curate the space
  2. someone to maintain the space
  3. someone to host the space
  4. strategic layouts with space for movement between people and activities and “zones”
  5. simplicity
  6. time to work and think

Good spaces – consensus in work design literature

  1. explicit objectives (what is the need for the specific design)
  2. enhance productivity
  3. reduce costs
  4. increase flexibility
  5. encourage interaction
  6. support cultural change
  7. stimulate creativity
  8. attract and retain staff
  9. express the brand
  10. reduce environmental impact

Creative Spaces for Creative Activity – a simple pattern (ref: Groves, 2010)

  1. spaces that stimulate
  2. spaces for reflection
  3. spaces for collaboration
  4. spaces to play

Other patterns to think about …

Studio – creative space where team or creative work is one show during the process

Living Room – relaxed meeting area

Shelters – semi-protected impromptu spaces

Library – quiet space for individual work (old rule of silence)

Town Hall – communal areas shared by all departments of organisation to be used formally and informally throughout the day

What is happening in the world of adult workspaces?

(Part 2 of Rethinking the staffroom)

When embarking on this project, I realised consideration of adult workspaces outside of schools was going to be important. In my experience, the work of a teacher has two modes – the classroom teacher and the employee modes. In any given day, teachers’ work will move between these related but distinct modes. We are beginning to understand more and more about the design of the contemporary classroom and its relationship to new pedagogies, therefore, we should be able to project from the classroom onto the types of workspaces that are needed by teachers when preparing for these classrooms. What is less known in the school environment is the employee work mode – what types of spaces do teachers need when fulfilling their roles as employees of an organisation? Hence my emphasis upon finding out what is happening in the world of adult workspaces, and in particular, knowledge industries and organisations that use collaboration as a key strategy. I also feel teachers have much in common with the freelancer due to their identity as a professional.

In a nutshell, there are two agendas that are reshaping the traditional office work spaces:

  1. Cost effectiveness;
  2. Changes in work culture and enhancement of the quality of work experience.

These workspaces go beyond hot-desking (which was more a cost saving and efficiency strategy) to deliberately shifting employees and forming and reforming work relationships and teams, thereby spreading the impact of positive work(ers). There is an increased use of incidental spaces, and sensitive spatial policies are more important now as we develop more agile models.

open plan section of activity-based design

open plan section of activity-based design

There is also an emergence of self-organising spaces for freelancers and nomadic workers. In these spaces trust is big, and without it these spaces would not function. Freelancers and self-employed are increasingly looking for serendipity encounters and collaborations that will enhance their business and provide interaction with others in their industry. The spaces are BYO technology, with a fluid attendance on any given day (there is also a degree of churn throughout the day).

hot-desking in cafe zone of collaborative workspace

hot-desking in cafe zone of collaborative workspace

In the property sector, there is a suggestion that the new generation of workers are used to working in smaller but varied spaces (eg. university cafes, libraries), used to moving around to find suitable space, prefer to make their own choices about when and where to work, rely on their own technology and are used to the notion of portable “desks and storage”. What they do expect is reliable, high speed connectivity and easily accessed technical support. This description of the new worker is similar to the profile of the contemporary school student.

Defining the challenges when rethinking the staffroom

In the past few months, I have managed to narrow down the challenges to four key hindrances or issues that stand in the way of achieving the best design for teacher workspaces:

  1. a metric of productivity does not exist for determining physical workspace for teachers, so it is difficult to either convince stakeholders a design solution is appropriate according to that measure and such a measure can throw light onto what is important in the workplace.
  2. the work of a teacher is ill-defined across the industry, variable roles according to the individual school context and system, changing workloads due to external decisions and policies – reliance on WH&S and the various industry and sector awards to establish a basic definition of teacher workloads.
  3. the professional identity of a teacher within a highly institutionalised work environment.
  4. from the co-working or collaborative teams or activity-based workplace models – would any be most or more appropriate?

Rethinking the school staffroom – why we should care about teachers’ workspaces

Last week I presented a session at the NSW ReLearn 2013 conference of CEFPI Australasia on this very topic. The questions of what types of activities need to be supported in an adult workspace and what is the work of a teacher framed my presentation. I believe it is time we should be defining the work of a contemporary teacher and then designing for their specific needs as classroom educators and organisational employees. Since the session was well received by both educators and educational facilities designers, I thought I would share it through this blog.

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As an experienced educator in school environments, I am challenged by the task of defining the work of a teacher, even though I spend a sizable part of the year involved in defining staff roles, interviewing for new teachers and determining staffing allocations. I can write pages that list the tasks and responsibilities each teacher actually does in any given year but I wonder sometimes whether this is what a teacher should be doing within the contemporary educational context. And there is the tricky debate of whether teaching is a profession. If it is not, it is unclear what it would be instead. I am often trying to prioritise the workplace goals of productivity, organisational culture, flexibility, well-being and engagement in the context of myriad external agendas and accountabilities.

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Why should we rethink the staffroom within schools?

I can think of a number of reasons why we should rethink the design of our staffrooms. The standard for staff facilities is based on models of schooling that are rapidly fading. We struggle to define the work of a teacher as we pass from the old industrial model of education to the information and knowledge age. In the past twenty years, teachers have been viewed as facilitators, co-learners, mentors, guides and so on. The classroom, both virtual and physical, is adopting new ways of working and learning for students but the staffroom has not changed for decades. There is a significant gap in the research literature and reasons why staff facilities are not studied is not clear, but suggestions are: staff facilities are not a financial priority, these spaces are not overtly student focused space and attitudes to teachers’ work.

Traditionally the 20th Century approach has been the provision of one common room for all staff (one space for all teacher activities from meals to meetings to storage to preparation – both formal and informal functions) but not necessarily for non-teaching staff (practical and status and cultural reasons). In addition to the common space, secondary departments evolved additional faculty based rooms. Patterns of the common room usage vary but the deserted common room is not unusual. Lack of use is not just based on space appeal. The creation of formal or adhoc staffrooms fragment staff into smaller independently defined groups that are strong within themselves and do not identify with the whole staff as strongly. Therefore, the incentive to come together in one staffroom is diminished. When a common room is introduced as an additional resource the space is more likely to be used by the “baseless” staff like aides, caretakers or K-6 staff on release periods than the teaching staff who already have an established faculty base. Many building programmes have formalised the staff dispersal, especially in secondary departments with various justifications such as providing passive supervision of students, responding to request to be closer to teaching rooms, increasing opportunities to work with subject colleagues. However, these are to date untested and the effect assumed.

Part of the problem with designing effective workspaces for teachers is defining the work of the profession. In Australia, the new Australian Professional Standards do define and simplify the identity of the teacher as a professional, regardless of sector and context. The standards for teachers comprise seven standards which outline what teachers should know and be able to do.

Domains

of teaching

Standards
Professional Knowledge
  1. Know students and how they learn
  2. Know the content and how to teach it
Professional Practice
  1. Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
  2. Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
  3. Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
Professional Engagement
  1. Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
  2. Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
  3. Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning

Source:http://www.teacherstandards.aitsl.edu.au/OrganisationStandards/Organisation

In addition to considering the standards, we should be looking at the dominant trends in pedagogy. The classroom and pedagogy emerging in the Web2 world is clearly not the industrial model of “talk and chalk” and exit examinations. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the work of a teacher would be evolving as a result of these changes. It is also important to consider the differences between K-6, K-12 and 7-12 work environments – each reflect different needs, different physical environments, different mandatory requirements and different traditions for providing staff spaces. It would be difficult to imagine one design will fit all teachers across the K-12 spectrum.

A strong argument for rethinking the staffroom are the reasons for dissatisfaction as expressed by teachers through various studies. A few are summarised below and give an general idea of problems that might be influenced by the work environment.

Workload and Burnout in Australian Teachers – UniSA August 2013

The teaching profession is prominent in occupational stress and burnout literature. A comparison of 26 occupations in 2005 found teachers were amongst the highest in self-reported work related stress (similar professions included ambulance, social and healthcare) and sixth lowest score for job satisfaction. This study in late 2012 of 1,288 teachers reported a high work/life interference, low satisfaction with work/life balance but a high commitment to staying in profession (but still only 54% satisfied with current job and 37% have thoughts about quitting).

ACER report 2010 – 17,054 participants in Australia completed “Staff in Australia’s School” survey

88% primary teachers and 86% secondary teachers are overall either satisfied or very satisfied with their current job (improvement of 3% since 2007) – highest areas of dissatisfaction were related to amount of administration tasks and clerical workload of teachers.

However, despite overall positive feelings of job satisfaction , more than half of all teachers surveyed were unsure how much longer they intend continuing working in schools (only 7-10% had any definite plans to leave permanently). Top reasons for leaving prior to retirement were better opportunities outside schools and workload too heavy.

MetLife Survey of the American Teacher 2013

Teacher’s job satisfaction declined 23% in five years since 2008 with only 39% of teachers reported they were very satisfied (lowest since 1987) – a drop of 5% since 2012. Least satisfied teachers worked in schools where budgets had been cut and who had less time for collaboration with colleagues and access to professional learning than other teachers/schools.

Gates foundation polled 40,000 teachers about job satisfaction.

In response to the question of teachers leave the profession, the poll found poor working conditions was a reason. The majority agreed that supportive leadership, time for collaboration, access to high quality curriculum and resources, clean and safe buildings, and relevant professional development were even more important than higher salaries.

Blogging and WordPress

Social media, blogging and wikis are all part of co-working and collaborative work trends

For the last morning I had signed up for a WordPress course. Even though I already use this freeware, my aim was to start from the beginning with the basics just to check I was missing anything key in my set-up. I also got to take a second look at Campus London (powered by Google in the new tech city). a hackathon was taking place as part of incubator strategies used to talent or product spot.

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Our group was far more sedate but within a short period of time people were sharing and swapping intel about anything from a good accountant to latest plug-in for testing the security of your plug-ins. We were also shown data mining tools that can give you detailed feedback on your site and how users interact with it (or failed to interact with it).

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Very quickly the simple path of setting up a wordpress.com exploded into this enormous web. However, as with so many things I have seen in the past two weeks, you can start with a very simple plan. The most significant element has been the power of human interactions. In most instances, the adults were not members of the same organisation but were still making productive contributions to one another’s individual projects. Some of these friendly collaborations and associations had been going on for years. I was also shown how influential LinkedIn had become in creating a new directory of organisations and individuals – it was used substantially in the workplaces I visited.

P.S.Comment: Facebook barely rated a mentioned and a page was usually maintained for the sake of the consumer. Tweets was more common. At the conference, I sat behind one man who spent an hour taking photos of himself “listening” to the presentations and then posting them and other photos of himself networking during morning tea. At one point he had a laptop, a smartphone and an iPad connected up dispatching posts and tweeting about his day at the conference. A little too extreme for regular self-promotion?

 

An Eames chair – yes, I did go to a workplace that had loads of them!

Today I visited the View at the Shard – fantastic views from the centre of Southwark (and a wonderfully historic cathedral to visit as well).

the shard

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Lend Lease (yes, the Australian property development company) has established an impressive European HQ at Regent Place. They occupy three floors in a new corporate precinct and have based their design on the theory of activity-based workplaces. It was both beautiful and very smart in the decisions that have been made. The CEO and all of the  leadership team have desks and workspaces in the open place desk area. I will let the images speak for themselves.

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… and they do have desk areas (note the proliferation of vegetation -very controversial in the world of office design due to cost of upkeep) and bright surfaces to ensure strong, even light for all desks.

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ABWs, co-working, hot-desking, collaboration in four days

Today I get to see some glitzy workplaces – the Shard and the Lend Lease HQ. But before I go off to be impressed by these places, I thought I would reflect on this week.

I experienced co-working with KindredHQ, talked with two hosts from Islington and Westminster hubs, had a very insightful conversation with a researcher from the Design Council, visited a private enterprise that is a co-working space in Eastbourne and attended a full day conference on workplace trends. In four days I have had the opportunity to sample some of the experiences that are offered in co-working and collaborative spaces, glimpsed the enormous range of options that are emerging as co-working and activity-based spaces and most importantly, talked to many people about working in these new spaces and ways.

I was reminded in my conversation with Ed Gardiner, from the Design Council, that we need to be asking the right questions and identifying the real problem before leaping into designing the solutions. The heart of the problem may not lie where you think it is, so intervention will not bring about the change you desire. Ed commented that in his experience, the educational sector (and in particular, school sector) did not approach the Design Council looking for assistance with designing solutions to problems in this sector, whilst other similar industries like health and justice had. The workplace conference continued with the same theme – ask the right question before seeking the solution. Especially when shaping workplaces and spending millions of dollars (they actually all spoke in terms of pounds and square feet) on real estate, you do not get many opportunities to change direction once committed to a certain path.

The conference had 220 delegates (most were from the UK and Europe) from the property, design, human resources, architectural and research sectors. The only section of the educational sector represented (other than me) was Higher Education, and there main focus was the construction of university campus cities and the new breed of interactive spaces. A day of 45 minute presentations from researcher and architectural firms, exploring the new activity-based-work environments and practices. One delegate ran a blog during the day – so check it out if you are interested: http://www.workessence.com. The blogger was a very witty guy, who gave the plenary address in verse.

My London experiences of shared workspaces

I feel like Alice – I have dived down a rabbit hole into a world that resembles my own but is clearly different. Without wanting to labour the rabbit analogy, I must say it is more like a warren. Everyday I follow a new tunnel into the world of adult co-working. I think it will take a long time to sort out all the information and experiences, not to mention work out what to do with this understanding of adult workspaces and worktrends. However, I think it is worthwhile to sort out a few key gleanings from these weeks before the impressions flee from my mind or are supplanted with new impressions and more websites.

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Gleaning #1: co-working is not hot-desking.

Current trends are falling into a number of patterns. New spaces are choosing between a model that seek a set up that fosters co-working – which is working in the same space of other businesses (usually freelancers, sole operators, small groups from remote companies) with the chance of collaboration between associates and colleagues in similar industries. Share the space, the coffee breaks and conversations or don’t. It is not one organisation that occupies the space, so there is no company culture just the necessary etiquette to make a space workable for everyone. The benefits are two-fold: access to resources that the average start-up or freelancer can afford and human interaction. The chance for conversation and assistance with your business comes with the physical space.

The other trend is simply just to the physical resources of an established office, somewhat like using a hotel. At its simplest level, it is a hot-desk and at its most complex is access to a full suite of office resources and support services. The benefit involves the portability of your office space. As the access to global markets increases, small and big businesses look for cost savings while still allowing for physical contact with clients and customers. You do not know where you will next do business, so access to an office no longer has to come in the form of coffee shops, hotel foyers and airport lounges.

Co-working spaces still have the hot-desking model as a way of allocating their resources but rather than ensuring the isolation of each space user, these spaces guarantee interaction as one of their resources. The people are a resource to each other and to the space. It is a very human way of living but not necessarily a very natural way of doing business. The people in the space are colleagues in the world of work, not clients (eventhough very profitable relationships have been struck up in these places). Trust and a mutual expectation that people give away some of their skill and time to promote others are the cornerstones of these co-working environments.

Co-working is not collaboration in the strictest sense of work practice. Collaboration in a world of work focuses on the teamwork approach typical of design thinking. One would usually do it from within an organisation or as part of a business-client team or with identified associates. Setting up the projects is not serendipitous and usually a deliberate strategy for solving a problem or completing a project. Co-working can supply the serendipitous element to individual working as it uses collaborative approaches of bringing together people in the one physical space, sharing resources and time. However, the individual is working on their own project, drawing in resources from the environment and typically the online world.

Incubators and start-ups are another take on the co-working and collaborative environments. The focus here is upon accelerating the development of new ideas, businesses and products, thus encouraging enterprises to make it to the marketplace as quickly as possible. Campus London is one such place.

So, where might these notions and work practices fit into the work world of the teacher? How might they find their way into the way we organise teacher workspaces? Are we already doing these things but by other names?

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Gleaning #2: people are integral to the co-working movement

Physical spaces are the stage, the behavioural setting for human work and interaction. Therefore, what co-working really relies upon for a deeper experience is people. People host, turn up to the space to model work and share, people maintain the property, people bring in people. People who co-work are usually happy to be nomadic but not isolated – if everyone plays their part, there will be people there to meet, assist and ask for help. You can work alone but there is feeling that there is a chance you may just miss out on that great conversation that will lead to a breakthrough in your own work.

Spaces like the Impact Hubs, structurally operate like membership co-working spaces but are conceptually driven by a spirit of collaboration. I visited all three Hubs in London, and while each one looks different and has a different membership profile, they all demonstrate the influence of effective hosting. The collaborative spirit is constantly reinforced and enabled by the hosting team, who are present in the space during opening hours.
Gleaning #3: Do not be beguiled by an aesthetically beautiful space – ask, is there any life behind the facade?

Apologies that my blog is not overflowing with photographs of fantastic buildings, awe inspiring interiors, spaces that make you envious of the so, so beautiful Eames chair. Designers and architects can take care of that for you or take a virtual tour of “I wish I worked there” offices.

I have been spending most of my time talking to the people working in the spaces I have been visiting. The ideas behind the design and the brief the physical space was seeking to address have been far more important. I did visit a fabulous building today, the recently completed Royal College of General Practitioners on Euston Road. It was the location for the Workplace Trends Conference, but the building itself was a great example of what the conference was talking about all day. It was a bespoke design, seeking to address the needs of a large membership and specific needs for clinical examinations. The building was also listed, so the design had to take into account the historical elements of its Edwardian wing whilst designing a structure for the new century. Of course, it cost a fortune to bring it up to the desired standard of finish but the concepts behind the way in which people moved through the building and made use of incidental spaces for key activities can be translated to other projects.

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So, if money is stopping you prioritising teacher workspaces, think again. It costs less cash than you think to redesign a teacher workspace/ environment. It is about the way people think about work – it about connecting the right people with the plan and then focusing on a few key physical environment drawcards. The other resources needed to complete the work environment, schools would already provide – they might just need some reconfiguring and repurposing.