Six pieces of disruptive wisdom for educators to discuss

We all get swayed, distracted and pulled away from our reasons for doing what we do. Therefore little reminders to keep our thinking from getting woolly and our eyes on the big picture can be very useful.

Here are six pieces of wisdom that fulfill that purpose for me. Having adorned the real walls of my thinking spaces in the past I thought it would be useful to put them on a virtual notice board to see if others might feel inclined to add to the list. I have also shared them on flickr here where you can download the images, all of which have a creative commons license.

My whole interest in notice boards comes from a friend and former colleague with whom I shared an office for two and half fun-filled years. Despite his many flaws I still miss him terribly. His digital version of his old noticeboard can be viewed here, his new one here, thanks mcgurgle.

#1 Robert Johnson from Facebook’s engineering team on responsibility and action

facebook offices by pshab
facebook offices by pshab

It is slightly amusing to me that I found wisdom about responsibility and control from a company that has taken a few liberties in those exact areas but they are clearly good at what they do and this is such a simple point that we so often get wrong in education.

Too often schools have people doing stuff they had no or very little input in designing. We talk a lot about responsibility in schools but are not so good at giving or sharing control. This could be students working on projects with too many guidelines and restrictions resulting in compliant, unimaginative, superficial responses. This could be teachers or heads of departments having to implement a new system or approach they had little or no input in designing.

We need adaptable and flexible organisational systems and modes of learning in schools. I see this happening more in elementary/ primary schools where grade level teams are given a lot of autonomy in designing projects for the students. The projects themselves are open and built around curiosity and inquiry with sophisticated resources supporting the development of literacies placed within the context of the larger unit.

#2 – Are they students or learners? David Warlick from his excellent 2 Cents worth blog.

David Warlick - students or learners?

David Warlick - students or learners? (Reformatted from the original)


In two well-crafted little lists David expresses what I was struggling to communicate in a long rambling blog post I eventually ditched on the difference between learning and education. Another of David’s creations I like is the table about the shifts in education he put at the end of this post. His work takes him to numerous conferences and he meets a lot of educators but unlike some speakers and consultants he is clearly doing as much listening as talking shown in his aptitude for summing up the shifts and patterns that are (or should be) happening in learning.

#3: Stephen Downes on Groups and Networks

'Groups and Networks' Stephen Downes (2007

'Groups and Networks' Stephen Downes (2007)

Like David Warlick’s lists above, this diagram is attempting to shape trends as well as observe them. Careful reading of this diagram and engagement with the work of Downes and Siemens has pulled me into a more open and networked approach to (online) learning. Especially now that I am working independently, this digital space is a way of communicating my ideas but it is never intended as a broadcast, rather a place to share patterns of thought in order to have them disrupted by others.

#4: Will Taylor. Consciously incompetent?

Will Taylor's cycle of learning

Will Taylor's cycle of learning

I’ve seen various forms of this model and found all sorts of uses for it. Initially it was to drag up the painful memory of crashing into conscious incompetence about what I really knew about philosophy while supping a few pints with a colleague who had just finished her masters in the subject. Perhaps the measure of a teacher is how well they can handle that moment when a learner reaches the realisation that there is so much still to learn, this can be a moment of great discouragement but with the influence of the right mentor it can be the start of the journey of ‘life long learning’ that is rightly mentioned but rarely adhered to by most school mission statements.

#5 Loris Malaguzzi on the psuedo-democracy of teachers

Illusion by KayVee.INC

Illusion by KayVee.INC

Illusion by KayVee.INC

It is much more difficult to build educational models than attack them as Malaguzzi does here, but his criticisms carry much more weight for me as he did exactly that. The Reggio Emilia approach to early education is still thriving forty years after Malaguzzi started the first school in Italy after the end of the 2nd World War. I have yet to come across a better book about education than The Hundred Languages of Children that reflects on the on-going development of this pioneering approach to learning.

#6: George Siemens on Present time arrogance

Spacehopper by Osbourne's Life

Spacehopper by Osbourne's Life

Few educators have utilized technology better than George as participants in any of the open online courses he helps coordinate will testify, however he does help to keep our digital optimism in check. Not that the intention is to discourage the use of digital tools but this statement and his approach in general is to focus our attention on ideas and pedagogy and not get distracted by the bells and whistles. There is, at times, a touch of the Bill Hicks about both the stridency with which he expresses himself and the sharpness of his observations. We desperately need the sort of debate, disagreement and provocation that the work of people like Siemens bring to ensure we do not get too cosy and self-congratulatory as we form learning networks and collectively seek to push the boundaries of learning.


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