How might we develop a school culture that is healthy, resilient, and adaptable?

Systems thinking is a concept championed by Peter Senge in “The Fifth Discipline”, which encourages us to unlearn the siloed thinking of the past and recognise interconnectedness and complexity. Emotions play a crucial role in learning and social interaction. As we cultivate emotional awareness, we become more adept at regulating our responses and being intentional about how we show up in any environment. This aligns with the idea of generative social fields, where the quality of relationships and interactions within a community shapes its ability to thrive. By integrating systems thinking, emotional intelligence, and insights from nature, we can create educational environments that are not only effective but also nurturing and sustainable. Peter Senge reminds us, “Leadership is the ability of a human community to move towards a preferred future” (and I think this is the first time I have heard a definition of leadership as collective rather than individual).

Greenpeace’s Non-Violent Direct Action

Greenpeace’s approach is rooted in non-violent, creative confrontation to address environmental and peace issues globally. They prioritise moral integrity, diversity, and justice, aiming for systemic change while remaining independent. Non-violence is chosen for its moral high ground, accessibility, and effectiveness in controlling messaging, exposing brutality, and avoiding escalation.

Campaigns target issues like deforestation and gas projects, employing tactics such as direct action, mobilization, and strategic pressure. Strategies include exploiting conflict and maintaining pressure through surprise actions and public stunts.

Actions involve thorough planning, investigation, and training, ensuring safety and legal preparedness for arrestable and non-arrestable actions. Legal rights are emphasised, along with support structures for activists.

Media plays a crucial role, with Greenpeace controlling the narrative through press releases, spokespeople, and iconic images. Activists represent the organisation and deliver messages effectively to the public and stakeholders.

Addressing Eco-Anxiety

Our education system faces significant challenges. Young people are signalling their discontent through declining attendance, increasing disruptive behaviour, and concerning levels of mental health issues – tangible expressions of the desire for an educational experience that better resonates with the aspirations and the demands of the contemporary world. The rising numbers of school refusers raises questions about the current curriculum narrative. Over three-quarters of Australian students have reported they didn’t fully try in the latest Pisa tests. ATAR is now not used by more than 75% of our young people.

Perhaps not so disconnected, renowned climate scientist Joele Gergis warns of a future where temperature increases of 4.0 to 7.0 degrees Celsius by 2100 could become a reality, presenting humanity with a critical choice between extinction and transformation. The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2024 anticipates five out of the top ten risks within the next decade being tied to the environment.

As we confront these challenges, it is essential to infuse education with the awareness that we stand at a pivotal juncture. We must redefine success as a future where humans thrive sustainably, inseparable from the wellbeing of our planet. Every teacher is now a Climate Teacher, playing a pivotal role in shaping eco-conscious minds.

Addressing eco-anxiety requires action, and for young people this can be growing food, caring for animals, and greening schools. Some teachers are doing an exceptional job integrating nature into the curriculum. Check out Year 3 student Emma Glenfield’s cutting-edge research about magpie swooping. Victoria now has a wonderful Environmental Sustainability in Schools Policy. The UK has committed to appointing sustainability coordinators in every state school by 2025.

Beyond traditional sustainability, the concept of regeneration beckons—a paradigm that goes beyond avoiding harm to actively repairing and restoring the damage inflicted upon the planet. It’s time to shift from an extractive approach to a regenerative one, giving back more to the environment than we take. In Victoria, the Woodleigh Institute is building an alliance dedicated to propelling change in education through a focus on systems thinking, wellbeing, and regeneration.

The challenges facing our education system demand a profound shift in perspective, acknowledging the discontent of young people as a crucial signal. Book learning isn’t enough in a climate-changed world. We must prioritise the development of schools explicitly designed to cultivate people who can thrive in a world undergoing transformative change. The canary in the coalmine of youth disengagement, combined with the urgency of warnings from climate science, underscores the need to reimagine education as a cornerstone for a sustainable and regenerative future.

Introduction to Compassionate Systems Framework

Last week I participated in an Introduction to Compassionate Systems Workshop, co-facilitated by Dr. Peter Senge and Dr. Mette Boell from the MIT Systems Awareness Lab and the Center for Systems Awareness. The Compassionate Systems Framework is an approach that’s empowering students and teachers to address complex challenges and shape the future. 🌍💡 It integrates wellbeing, mindfulness, and systems thinking, highlighting the importance of understanding interconnectedness and change through systems thinking. This framework encourages ethical behaviour driven by awareness of consequences. 🌱 By nurturing these skills, students become better equipped to navigate and positively influence the intricate, interdependent global systems they are a part of. 💪✨

This framework challenges the traditional approach of transforming large institutions with a compliance-oriented culture and emphasises the importance of cultivating employees’ understanding of the need for change. It recognises the value of personal reflection, meditation, and relationship building in improvement, moving away from viewing employees as mere cogs in the system. The focus is on employees as humans, and it acknowledges that changing the world begins with changing ourselves.

“The structure of education needs to change. The only way that this can change is through how human beings show up. If it doesn’t come with an understanding of how people turn up, nothing will change. Changing the world comes from changing ourselves.” (Mette Boell)

The core of the Compassionate Systems Framework lies in cultivating “compassionate integrity” in students and teachers, promoting alignment between thoughts, feelings, and actions through an evolving awareness of interconnectedness. It introduces concepts like mindfulness meditation, generative social fields, and core capacities of compassionate systems leadership, emphasising the significance of emotional literacy and the quality of connections.

“If mindfulness was a drug, it would be ripped off the shelves of the pharmacies.” (John Gabriel, MIT)

It encourages a shift from the traditional leadership model, acknowledging that real learning involves being open, embracing ignorance, and recognising the need for personal growth and development. Leadership is no longer confined to a hierarchical structure but is a shared responsibility for creating a vision-directed organisation.

“Imagine if we created schools that students didn’t want to leave and educators didn’t want to go home from.” (Mette Boell)

The framework highlights the importance of vision, reflection, and the science of wellbeing. It underlines the role of empathy and compassion as essential tools for creating positive change in the educational system, addressing issues like ADHD as responses to an “insane” structure.

The Compassionate Systems Framework promotes designing compassionate systems in the classroom, emphasising understanding and collective experiences with students. It advocates for a shift from rigid scaling to cultivating growth in a living system. It challenges the status quo and encourages us to embrace new ways of thinking and acting to bring about a more compassionate, interconnected, and effective educational system. 🌱💪✨


ReSchooling for a Green Revolution

Our education system faces significant challenges. Decision-makers adhere to conventional, linear thinking, focusing on immediate issues instead of strategizing for the disruption that is shaping our future. Outdated beliefs about schooling, rooted in an industrial and colonialist society, limit our vision of what is possible. In this era of hyper-change, our education systems fall short in preparing young people for a different future. The fixation on test scores feels like a parody of Vietnam War body counts, imposing a rigid, conveyor-belt approach that hampers both teacher and student agency.

In 1971, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society called for a radical transformation in education, arguing that formal schooling perpetuates a harmful and oppressive system that fosters dependency and hinders true learning. Perhaps, rather than “Deschooling Society,” Illich should have titled his work “Reschooling Society” because the concept of “school” still remains highly relevant, but it is quickly transforming. Standalone institutions and rigid attendance patterns are becoming less frequent, as time, space, people, technology, and partnerships are being reconsidered within the educational landscape. However, preserving the social spaces that schools provide is crucial, and the physical space of the school should not be overlooked. As we explore diverse approaches to “doing school,” we should protect the school as a distinct and collective living space where meaningful interactions thrive.

When envisioning schools of the future, it is tempting to imagine gleaming “futuristic” structures filled with cutting-edge technology, virtual reality, and AI-driven personalized programs. While these technological advancements will play a role, what matters most is how schools construct a future where humans can truly thrive. In the book FutureSchool: How Schools Around the World are Applying Learning Design Principles For a New Era, the authors present inspiring examples of reschooling:

  •     Green School in Bali is dedicated to nurturing a new generation of global green leaders and environmentally conscious citizens. The school’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its construction, which utilizes fast-growing and renewable bamboo, showcasing an exceptional example of eco-friendliness. Its vision is to provide students with a holistic and sustainable education, immersing them in a natural, green environment that fosters a deep connection with nature.
  •   Liger Leadership Academy in Cambodia empowers promising youth to rise above a historical backdrop of trauma and emerge as socially conscious and visionary leaders. It offers a residential scholarship program to underprivileged students, granting them access to a comprehensive education enriched with an innovative STEM and entrepreneurship curriculum. The accomplishments of Liger students are remarkable, from becoming international authors and app developers to trailblazing in digital currency, robotics engineering, and award-winning filmmaking – all before the age of 15.Top of Form

The authors, Valerie Hannon and Julie Temperley, argue that profound transformative change is sweeping across all aspects of human life, and the rapid advancement of convergent technologies hold immense promise in shaping a brighter future. While education systems might not fully grasp the gravity and potential of this moment, key school innovators certainly do, deeply understanding that we cannot thrive if our planet does not. We should infuse everything taught and learned with the awareness that humanity stands at a critical juncture, facing the choice between extinction and transformation. Thom Markham writes, Get young people out. Stop sequestering them in rows, in 30 x 60 foot containers. Turn them loose on community issues and show them how to design solutions that matter to well-being, climate, and equality. Tap their innovator spirit and trust they have the genius to create a positive future.”

  •     Copenhagen International School has woven service and sustainability throughout its curriculum. In the primary grades, sustainability is a part of every inquiry-based learning unit. As students progress from grades 6 to 10, they select a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of their choice, delve into its implications for the local community, and actively engage in generating innovative solutions, exemplified by projects such as constructing birdhouses and crafting recycled mats for those experiencing homelessness.
  •       The Climate Action Leadership Diploma program at Pearson College UWC in Canada equips students with the skills and knowledge to pursue careers in biotechnology, education, sustainability, and filmmaking, serving as a powerful tool to address the pressing challenges of climate change through early and solution-oriented education.
  •       The International Baccalaureate Organization is launching an innovative pilot program for 16-19 year-olds, featuring a project-oriented curriculum focused on addressing intricate real-world challenges, known as the Systems Transformation Pathway, targeting critical global issues including Biodiversity, Energy, Food Security, and Migration.
  •       In Australia, at Hills Grammar School, students have the opportunity to partake in the Innovation in Complex Systems Program, engaging in a project aimed at devising a comprehensive strategy for their school to attain Net Zero Carbon Emissions.
  •       The UK aims to make sustainability a cornerstone of education by assigning a dedicated sustainability coordinator to every state school by 2030.
  •       The Green School in Bali cares for 14 stray dogs, reminding us of the power of thinking locally and nurturing our immediate community to effect lasting change.

When we engage with the perspectives of young people on addressing climate change, their common response tends to revolve around the concept of ‘recycling.’ However, it’s worth considering whether our greater moral imperative lies in equipping the youth we educate with a commitment to infiltrate the ranks of the eleven corporations accountable for 85% of the world’s emissions, an approach that would yield a far more impactful change towards combating the climate crisis. To achieve a green revolution that safeguards our environment, sustains life on Earth, and fosters a profound shift in our relationship with other species, we must prioritize the development of institutions explicitly aimed at cultivating new humans. Schools and new ways of schooling are vital to enabling us to thrive in a transforming world.

My Editorial for ACEL’s Vic newsletter July 2023

In July, the ACEL Victoria Patron’s Oration marked a momentous occasion—the celebration of ACEL’s 50th Anniversary. Dr. Frank Crowther, ACEL National Patron, eloquently traced ACEL’s remarkable journey, acknowledging the undeniable influence Victorians have had on its growth from the very beginning. This milestone event offered ACEL members a unique opportunity to connect across generations with inspirational educators like Frank, whose pioneering efforts paved the way for the present and future.

ACEL has seen remarkable growth, with around 80,000 members since inception. Throughout its history, prominent figures have left indelible impacts and invaluable lessons. William Walker’s pivotal leadership played a significant role in propelling ACEA (now ACEL) beyond bureaucratic barriers, fostering mutual respect among three education systems, and encouraging sustained growth.

One of ACEL’s core strengths lies in promoting adaptability and openness to change among educational leaders, a principle strongly advocated by the late Hedley Beare. His image, as vividly painted by Frank, with outstretched arms in his Harvard crimson gown, continues to inspire ACEL members. In the context of our rapidly transforming educational landscape, one can’t help but wonder what Hedley Beare would have thought of Chat GPT—an educational transformation of unparalleled scale and speed. It is likely that he would have appreciated the potential of personalised learning and the extraordinary possibilities arising from the fusion of AI’s strengths with the unique contributions of human teachers. His focus, no doubt, would have been on empowering people to thrive amidst the exponential changes reshaping our world.

Another influential figure in ACEL’s history is Brian Caldwell, a proponent of distributed leadership, with an exceptional ability to mobilise ideas. As highlighted by Frank, Brian’s capacity to bring people with different perspectives together, encouraging constructive conversations, is just what is required to bridge the current literacy wars; the fusion of critical and mainstream thinking is what is needed to propel educational progress. Brian’s higher-order leadership skills—enabling a multifaceted understanding of complex issues—remain indispensable in today’s uncertain and volatile world.

The Patron’s Oration served as a powerful reminder of the need for agile leadership in education, capable of navigating a constantly shifting landscape. ACEL’s historical experience shows that leaders thrive in complexity, embracing uncertainty, ambiguity, and messiness, with a ‘learner’ rather than an ‘expert’ mindset. Effective education leaders approach their work with patience, foster respectful and trusting relationships, and engage in genuine conversations rather than relying on formulaic approaches. Intellectual curiosity, the ability to make people feel seen and heard, and inviting them into the process of change rather than dictating it are essential traits of impactful education leaders.

Throughout its existence, ACEL has remained committed to facilitating discussions by the profession and for the profession. By participating in ACEL, individuals open themselves up to opportunities and connections with the broader world. ACEL Victoria has been a driving force in the organisation, consistently spearheading positive change. As Dr. Frank Crowther aptly stated, “We have power and influence. We have shaped the world for 50 years,” and “Our heritage is one of great achievement and great pride.” Here’s to another 50 years of progress and empowerment under ACEL’s guidance!


AI in Education Conference

Informa AI in Education Panel

  • David de Carvalho, CEO, ACARA
  • Cameron Paterson, Director of Learning, Wesley College
  • Mark Grant, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)
  • Dr Catherine McClellan, Deputy CEO, Research and Assessment, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
  • Moderator: Dr Jane Hunter, Associate Professor Professional Learning, University of Technology Sydney

My comments –

The dance of love and fear – teachers love that our reports now write themselves and fear that students won’t submit their own work. Things are changing so fast we can’t keep up. And we need to be comfortable with that. When I’m uncertain, I ask the kids. I’m always blown aware by their insight and awareness.

Earlier this year a Harvard edtech professor ran an experiment with their class. Unbeknownst to the students, half received their feedback from the professor and tutors, while the other half received AI-generated feedback from ChatGPT. At the end of the course the students who had received the AI feedback performed better and rated their enjoyment of the class higher. One student who had received AI feedback without knowing it, stated that while the class was a little boring, receiving personalised feedback was the highlight.

The use of ChatGPT to generate essays and homework is rife and I don’t know that the take-home essay will survive. We will see more in-class writing and the rise of a new breed of oral assessments – TED talks meet the viva voce.

As a history teacher, AI can take my students to any point in time, from any perspective. Ask ChatGPT to be a German immigrant arriving in New York City in 1885 and describe the sights, sounds, and emotions. Prepare for an extraordinary conversation. (But perhaps don’t try asking it to take on the perspective of an indigenous Australian on the shores of Sydney Cove in 1788 and describe the First Fleet sailed in. It might use the word “excited”, an appropriate caution for us). But, we can talk to John Curtain, talk with the sheep-shearers in Banjo Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River, and even talk to the Murray River. Try it. Plato, Rousseau, and Dewey can tell me what they think of our College strategic plan.

AI means better teaching and less work. It can design exceptional lesson plans with:

  • check-ins
  • role plays
  • low-stakes quizzes
  • exit cards

It can provide scaffolds (for those who require support)

And challenge (for those who need to be extended)

AI provides faster and more accurate feedback and it can collate written feedback from a student’s essays over time into one neat report comment.

Artist-scientist Michelle Huang created a time portal to her childhood by training AI on her childhood journal entries, allowing her to converse with her younger self. Envision a future in which, instead of childhood journals, the corpus is learning reflections gathered throughout schooling, allowing students to have conversations about their learning experiences that help them gain insights into their own thinking.

Influencer Caryn Marjorie has created an AI clone to monetise her persona. She reckons it can make her one million dollars a month. What are the implications for teaching?

Remember that this is the worst version of AI our students will see for the rest of their lives. It will get exponentially better from here. It is only a matter of time until AI can:

  • analyse student discussions
  • create visual representations of learning moments
  • coach students to ask better questions

Just as previous generations learned to work with different cultures and genders, the next generation will learn to work with AI and robots. It is going to be tricky while we learn to be AI compatible and rely on backup memory. Young people will lead the charge in developing innovative ways to utilise it.

In the longer term, our view of what it means to be human is going to have to change and we don’t have mental models for such a shift.

IB Global Conference Adelaide 2023

Keynote highlights were Dr Helen Street on wellbeing, mental health, diversity, discrimination, belonging, autonomy, agency – “the pursuit of wellbeing in schools is not working”.

Michael McQueen on the future of education and his comments on Virtual Reality and the Metaverse – “Best practice doesn’t stay best practice for long.”

There was an excellent student voice panel on the importance of curricula decolonisation, connection, open-mindedness, respect of pronouns, and belonging. “Young people must be taught open mindedness, to resist echo chambers and to listen to the voices outside those echo chambers.” (Char Palmer, Woodleigh School student).

I attended a couple of MYP workshops facilitated by Nat Erbes. Tension between structure and flexibility has swung too far towards structure, need to make the curriculum work for us, the MYP is a flexible framework, learner experience at the centre, encourage innovation, incorporate pedagogical/adolescent development research, from a single model to a framework that supports multiple approaches, moving from service learning to community engagement, design for coherence.









My favourite workshop was with Ted Cowan and Rebecca Smith from UWC Singapore on Approaches to Wellbeing. They spoke about belonging and shared vision, psychological culture and relationship culture. I particularly appreciated their reference to engaging and enhancing student voice and hearing about the relationship mapping project with Harvard’s Making Caring Common.

Olli Pekka-Heinonen, IB Director General closed the conference stating, “We are in-between worlds. The practices and mental models of the old world create an existential crisis. We don’t have the words for it or see it properly yet.”

Ways to Teach with AI

 This will be the simplest hack you can possibly think of! The simplest ideas are often the best.

My starting point is that learning is a consequence of thinking. I am curious about how AI might help make students better thinkers. Most classes have behaviour management routines, so it makes sense to also develop routines around thinking, we can automate the approaches to thinking we would like to see more frequently. Many of you will be familiar with some of the thinking routines developed by Harvard’s Project Zero. Thinking routines are prompting tools, scaffolds for thinking, they are patterns of behaviour. They help nudge the model beyond teacher delivers, students receives.

Most teachers are familiar with the Think-Pair-Share approach, where students consider a question, discuss their answers with a classmate, and then share their thinking with the class. It helps to generate knowledge and to promote collaboration.

Credit to Sarah Dillard for this insight. One of the biggest tech-enabled leaps in pedagogy could simply be Think-Pair-ChatGPT-Pair-Share. ChatGPT adds an additional source of thought and perspective.

Take a thinking routine and add in generative AI as another step.

Here’s another one – Question Starts could become Prompt Starts

We know that when students ask more generative and constructive questions, and less procedural and review questions, learning improves. Prompt engineering for Generative AI can help us teach how to ask better questions and think more deeply. The better the prompt, the better the output.

Other tweaks to try might be adding an AI step into Give One, Get One or Plus One Notemaking.

Thinking routines are not static, they are designed to be adaptable.

Don’t reinvent the wheel, incorporate AI into existing teaching practice.

Teaching is a creative act.

I hope I have got you thinking.






Letter to The Age

Young people are entering a highly unpredictable world and the skills required to thrive in this environment are not captured in a ranking (Principals urge education authorities to scrap ATAR, 10 Feb). The ATAR score is a narrow and inadequate representation of a student’s 13-year journey, and it does not reflect their myriad individual strengths or talents. The excessive emphasis on the ATAR as a marker of academic proficiency has become overwhelming. Australia is the only country that employs such a system. It is essential that we create new metrics that are more than just academic, so that each student leaves school feeling confident, capable, empowered, and prepared for life-long learning in an AI world.