Putting the “deep” in deep learning.

Just yesterday I was looking back at notes from our first  NPDL (New Pedagogies for Deep Learning)  global meeting in Hong Kong in October 2013 and was struck as how far we’ve come, at individual, school, cluster and global levels. Perhaps a better choice of phrase might be “how deep we’ve gone”!

Our thinking, collectively, has sharpened and has given rise to rapidly iterative development of supporting resources at local and global levels.

Like any well designed learning activity, the NPDL framework, whilst focusing on impact at student level, allows schools multiple entry points. It offers opportunities for critical alignment to individual, network and systemic priorities. What has become most evident to me is the way the framework provides throughlines for practice, drawing together the streams of leadership, teaching and learning  into a cohesive and highly relational model at conceptual and practical levels.

NPDL model

The schools I support have each focussed on how best to interpret and access the global model – again, as with a classroom task, there is great opportunity for personalised learning. Some have chosen to work on building teacher capacity  – encouraging and developing innovative pedagogical practices. Others have taken the concept of Leveraging Digital, and referencing Mal Lee’s research around “Digital Normalisation” have shifted organisational practices (including teaching, learning, administration and  leadership) to high levels of effect.

Many schools have focussed on the core practice of Collaboration, but not solely at student level. Indeed some of the most powerful work has been directed around the question “What would a highly and truly collaborative culture look like within and across staff at my school?” This hits at the NPDL foundational pillar of Learning Partnerships – the relationships between and among teachers, learners and community. I am constantly reminded of Michael Fullan’s observation in Motion Leadership that “nothing succeeds like collective capacity”, and I take great joy in seeing this in action as teachers and schools connect and work through challenges and opportunities, sharing common goals and aspirations.

I was talking with a colleague and NPDL school principal last month. Somehow we were contemplating the idea of a “Growth Mindset” – a term that seems to have great currency (at least in my twitter stream) at present. In one of those wonderful, rapid fire, exploratory conversations, something clicked, and one of us dropped the questions

“What if we had a DEPTH mindset?”

“What if we went slower to go deeper?”

So I wonder how we draw on Andy Hargreaves’ “Slow Learning”, or Steve Jacobs’ “white space for slow hunches?” I have a feeling that the initial complexity of our NPDL work has forced us to really evaluate school, network and systemic goals for learners and learning, and may have “slowed our thinking” to a point where we can now go deep into a dissection of why kids can’t wait for a different model of education. A model that makes the important measurable, not the measurable important. (Thanks Joanne and Jane).

oakdDeep Learning, and a Depth Mindset, like the mighty oak in the house next door to me, take time to grow. Perhaps we need to be explicitly conscious of time; to allow and make time to go deep as we lead and learn together, so like the oak, we can stand tall through tempest, holding fast to principles deeply rooted in the collective and powerful enough to grow through the ages.

NPDL Toronto Institute input

The challenge – and probletunity that I’d like to share with you comes from a sustained 8 months of work here in Tasmania, where I support 21 schools, primary, secondary and colleges, from K-year 12. The probletunity is around leading and supporting schools in this work; leading them with a real activator mindset, as more than a facilitator of learning.

We began the first of our 6 full day workshops in April, with a 2 day institute for school leaders from all 21 schools, a cohort of around 70 people. We insisted that schools send principals, as well as a team of leaders who would be responsible for leading the NPDL work in each school. This was a high risk – high reward strategy.

The risk – School principals are incredibly busy, so to mandate their attendance created at least a couple of pressure points – the PL had to be compelling, engaging and relevant, as well as clearly linking to their school reform agendas and plans.

The reward – From our point of view, we knew that if we did not engage strongly with principals, as lead learners, to use a Vivianne Robinson term, that the likelihood of successful implementation action and sustainability was negligible. The literature in both education and the corporate world emphasizes the importance of leaders inspiring and guiding initiatives and we know that leadership plays a central and critical role in implementing change.

So our first 2 days were really heavy – examining the NPDL frameworks and documents  – which had not been finalised at that stage, and we followed with a third day in mid-June, after the Global institute in Seattle. Feedback from school leaders was mixed – the most common being requests for real clarity around documentation, expectations and examples of real live deep learning. Whilst we had made some strong inroads into the work, we still hadn’t really nailed it…..

I was left scratching my head. In our NPDL cohort we have the bell curve we see in any classroom – innovators, early adopters, fence sitters, late majority and those grappling furiously to connect the work into context and move forward.

My challenge – my probletunity – was finding how to meet the needs of such a diverse class – to differentiate the learning. It was at this time I recalled a framework I have used to underpin a number of long term PL programs. It comes from the good people at the Berkana Institute, an NGO who are about creating community partnerships.

Their framework is deceptively simple. Until you put it into practice.

It consists of 4 stages that aren’t necessarily linear, or discrete, and the stages are:

Name – Connect – Nourish  and Illuminate.

berkanaTo give you a brief summary of my interpretation of the framework:

Pioneering leaders often act in isolation, unaware that their work has broader value.  They are too busy to think about extending their work, and too humble to think that others would benefit. So Naming them up in fact helps them connect  (stage 2) and this Connection is all about building relationships, finding common threads, practices needs and challenges.

Communities of practice need many different resources. Two have resonated for me in practice:

The first is learning. Learning what works, learning from experience and Ensuring that learning IS the work.

The second, and most significant dimension of connection and nourishment is around relationships. The interactions and exchanges among pioneering leaders themselves. Leaders and teachers need and want to share their practices, experiences and dreams.  Creating opportunities and resourcing people so they can learn together has become a powerful way to nourish their efforts.

So name – connect – nourish – the fourth stage is Illuminate.

It takes time, attention and a consistent focus for people to see different approaches for what they are: examples of what’s possible……….of what our new world could be like.

Illuminating, making visible, celebrating and sharing the stories of pathfinding efforts is a critical part of building a culture of success.

So as this framework for supporting emergence of new practice reoccurred to me, it shifted and concentrated my focus and gave me a new lens under which to reframe the work supporting our schools.

We undertook some data gathering – using an online survey to ask school to prioritise their needs and focus areas. At the same time I visited each school and had significant conversations with leaders about the place of NPDL – digging deep to find the fit with their school improvement priorities. I was connecting and nourishing the work.

The fit was there, in every case – it just took some effort to find. We had many “a ha” moments. These conversations were critical to building individual and shared understanding of this work. These individual conversations were critical to connecting.

With our resource documentation pack released, expectations defined and a growing understanding of what this work was really about in each of our school contexts, connections between schools began to emerge.

Our data gathering allowed me to continue to find and share common aspirations, doubts and possible shared focuses, because I had a view from both the dance floor and the balcony. Again there was that idea of nourishment though thread finding and connecting.

Across days 4 and 5 of our program, we instigated a series called short stories about shift. In 10 minute snapshots, schools shared their journey, successes, connections and challenges with our cohort. Not only were we hearing and seeing, naming and connecting, but we were illuminating, in a trusting and safe environment, and in doing so, building shared practice – using the group to change, or build and empower the group, as Michael Fullan might say.

Sharing short stories about shift has been the singularly most powerful factor in building confidence, and creating authentic links between schools, leaders and teachers.

As I look back on the NCNI framework, it’s very much about emergence – discovering shared meaning and purpose, developing new practices together, and then making these practices the norm….

So what have I learned over the course of leading this work?

  1. This work is about simplexity – “Finding the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences.” (Fullan, 2010a, p.16).
  2. Again and again, we reiterate to schools and leaders; this is long term work- there’s no state of being behind, or failing to achieve – this is doable, but it’s challenging, as any change leadership is – so we have to explicitly remind and support all leaders to bring their A game in strategic change leadership – because they will need it
  3. At a personal level, my role is to activate, exploit, pursue and manufacture connections between and among schools, and school leaders.
  4. And finally, we want to embed this work – to ensure that Deep Learning is a part of the DNA of every school, and every learner…it has to be inseparably linked to each school’s improvement plans so that we can produce sustainable and sustained shift, away from the rhetoric and into tangibly measurable impact of deep learning on teachers, learners and community.

My grandfather was a builder and a huge influence on my life, so I often try to simplify to “build metaphors” so in this case,

Leading this work comes back to 3 builds, if you like:

building relationships,

building understanding,

and building capacity

and for me the Berkana framework Name-Connect-Nourish-Illuminate  provides a scaffold for my practice as a leader of change, and explicitly and effectively helps me grow the emergence of a new community of practice around New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.

It has turned a potential program-halting challenge into an opportunity for growth, reinvention and Education Plus, helping me to model Ethical  Entrepreneurialism in a practical, authentic and concrete leadership role.

As leaders of this work, I think we have to push boundaries, but we have to also negotiate system needs and mandates. The delicate work of making NPDL accessible for all will continue to challenge us. So I want to close by commending  the Berkana framework for emergence to you as one tool that may help us all to navigate this journey.




Berkana Emergence Framework: http://berkana.org/berkana_articles/lifecycle-of-emergence-using-emergence-to-take-social-innovation-to-scale/

When Change Has Legs. David N. Perkins and James D. Reese  http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may14/vol71/num08/When-Change-Has-Legs.aspx

the framework in action: www.thesowhatproject.com

Rich Learning to Deep Learning

ipadMy daughter can immerse herself in learning in ways I could only have dreamed of at her age! I watch her, slightly enviously, as she travels across the solar systems and oceans, and talks (or at least listens to) real live astronauts and experts of choice. Instead of reading thru a couple of possibly musty, dusty, static books about space, she can soar thru galaxies. How magnificently engaging.

The change in our learners’ capacities to access and engage with information, and the increasing impact of media and technology on how young people learn and relate to the world and to each other is a huge driver for being a part of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Partnership.

A question for me is how do we turn this Rich Learning into Deep Learning; several drivers seem to push us in this direction more and more strongly.

A recent book excerpt, Teaching for Meaningful Learning, by Brigid Barron and Linda Darling Hammond finds that:
• Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems, and when they to take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration.
• Active learning practices have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable
• Students are most successful when they are taught how to learn as well as what to learn

We see more and more reports from industry and employers nominating skills such as critical thinking, communication skills, problem solving, initiative – these again confirm for me the need to be explicit about developing the 6 C’s – Deep Learning Competencies.

Shifting Rich Learning to Deep Learning revolves around knowledge construction, and about application of this knowledge in new contexts. It’s about intentionally building learning processes that allow us, and our learners, to navigate unknown learning territory, and emerge with fresh understandings, ways of being, and banks of knowledge that lead to action.

And for me this in one of the most exciting aspects of the project – the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other leaders and teachers, and then connect our learners in work that means something, work that is about learning about each other and acting together to address real issues that affect us all. Developing the 6C’s is critical to continuing to build a productive and effective global society, and doing this work with likeminded colleagues and countries is a huge lever in its sustained success.

Deep Learning must have this authentic base of engagement for both us as teachers and our learners.
An explicit and intentional focus on designing to develop the 6 C’s leverages Rich Learning and shifts it toward Deep Learning. Creating the conditions to support, measure and test this line of thought remains a challenge.
But Rich Learning alone won’t create tomorrow’s astronauts.



Image source:


New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Foundations

Having facilitated our 4th and 5th days of work in Tasmania, I really began to sense a consolidation of our shared understandings. These workshops devoted time to hearing each others’ stories, and further contextualising the heavy content base we have previously worked through. My model of the core New Pedagogies is becoming more simple with time!npdlmodel

The synergy between elements is also becoming more evident. The deep learning progressions are in a way the measure to see if all our other interventions around building capacity are working. If we have invested in developing understanding of the core aspects of NPDL – teachers as activators, new learning partnerships, student agency, fusing new and existing pedagogy and learning conditions – we would expect to see growth in student capabilities, as measured on the Deep Learning Competency Framework, over time.

There is a strong synergy between all of the tools; one that allows us to unpack and analyse components and their effect on learning, but also to bring them all together as a cohesive approach to teaching for deep learning.

Education PLus

I first heard Michael Fullan speak about Education Plus in the first New Pedagogies for Deep Learning institute Hong Kong November 2013. The notion intrigued me – it seemed to me  that he was talking about a social or societal value add component to existing education. The idea that we can lever the future return on educational outcomes by teaching for growth outside the cognitive space, and in a way that builds moral and ethical capacity. By consciously building capacity to recognise and work in an innovative, “adjacent possible” kind of arena, we are building the kind of social capital that is future focussed and sustainable.edplus

In Michael’s paper “Education Plus” (available here) he defines Education Plus as

“….not simply about learning 21st century skills in isolation from doing, nor is it about acquiring basic skills and knowledge out of context. Instead, it is about collaborative learning through reflection in action and on action in order to become better at negotiating the messy, fuzzy, dilemma‐ridden context of real‐world life and work with positive impact. It is about developing an attitude of mind, a set of values and the personal, interpersonal and cognitive capabilities identified repeatedly in studies of successful early career graduates and those leaders who have helped create more harmonious, productive and sustainable workplaces and societies.”

The New Pedagogies, 6 C’s and Ethical Entrepreneurialism are interconnected in a way that reads refreshingly simply. I like the way the threads through New Pedagogies are becoming clearer, yet more tightly interwoven.

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning – Connection at the core

If I could distil our work in this partnership down to one word, I think it would be “Connection”.

In our recent Seattle Institute, the global cohort, now joined by education leaders from Japan and Finland, worked through defining our core message.

NPDL Core focuses

NPDL Core focuses

Cluster Leaders all shared the strong desire of their participating schools to connect, to share and build new and best practice around explicit learning design and leading to create ad support the conditions for innovation and excellence to flourish.

Actively fostering new learning partnerships, between and among teachers, learners, family and community is at the absolute centre of our learning design and leadership.

Workshop activities “making this real” allowed us to build clarity and precision of focus around what this work looks like at all levels, from cluster, to school and classroom level.


Our challenge remains to contextualise global resources, taking into account national curriculum imperatives and drivers, whilst maintaining the directional vision of the partnership work. Pedagogy, Technology and Change Leadership are powerful levers; employed with explicit and elegant efficacy they remain the drivers for change across our work together.

So for me, “Connecting” – locally, nationally and globally, to define and redefine what we do as leaders, teachers and learners, to build a bank of shared and incisive practice, is the most exciting possibility this partnership presents. The Global Partnership supports  Cluster teams, to build the knowledge, skills and competencies needed to transform learning in their clusters.

Interesting to read in the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition the FastTrend Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches, and their definition of Deep Learning: “Deeper learning is a term increasingly used to describe a variety of approaches in which students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to a complex question, problem or challenge.” The elements of authentic engagement in real world issues and problem solving again reflect “Connection” – of learners to learning. Implicit in this is the need for teachers to connect to and to understand their students’ interests and abilities, and design learning opportunities accordingly, focusing on the deep learning competencies of Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, Citizenship, Critical Thinking and Character.

It was fantastic to share the work in Seattle with my Australian colleagues in a rare opportunity to come together in person. Look forward to continuing to lead the shift together……


New Pedagogies for Deep Learning

London Annual Deep Learning Forum, January 2014.

It was a pleasure and privilege to be a part of this week as a learner and facilitator.

www.newpedagogies.org hosts an outline of the partnership, including two whitepapers, Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, and deeper insights into uncovering Deep Learning in A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies find Deep Learning.

There is little doubt that education globally is at an inflection point. Although technology holds great potential, too often it saps productivity and discourages critical thinking. New Pedagogies for Deep Learning: A Global Partnership will develop deep learning competencies that go BEYOND 21st century skills.

The goal is to implement deep learning across whole education systems that are enabled by new pedagogies and accelerated by technology, and to include skills that prepare all learners to be compassionate global citizens who have the ability to communicate effectively, think critically and collaborate to create knowledge and solve real-world problems in an increasingly complex and connected world.

Building on the work begun in Hong Kong in November, clusters met to dig deeper into planning for implementation in their local contexts. Our Australian cluster focussed on the logistics of implementation across 20 Tasmanian and 80 Victorian schools, with school selection to be completed by the end of February.

Highlight of the week was the Partnership Global Launch featuring Michael Fullan, Andreas Schleicher and Peter Hill.

npdllaunchAnd Peter’s observation “New Pedagogies – Why NOW? Because we can.”

Michael Fullan talked us through the push and pull factors influencing education, and making change inevitable. “There is a grand convergence spontaneously erupting. I think it is a natural dynamic of push and pull. The push, to put it directly, is a combination of the boredom and alienation of students and teachers. Students won’t wait, and teachers can’t wait. It is simply intolerable for students and teachers to be at school every day when increasing numbers of them would rather be somewhere else. What kind of existence is that!

On the other hand the digital world is a 24/7 phenomenon of limitless intrigue and consternation. There is something out there but it cannot be fathomed. Humans have stopped evolving physically, but the brain is changing in uncontainable ways. Humankind’s relationship to the universe is becoming seamless. There is no distinction between us and mother nature; between us and what we are creating– digitally, artistically, and spontaneously. We are what we create, and what incubates ineluctably becomes us.

Technology, pedagogy and change dynamics are converging on their own. We cannot stop them but we can take advantage of them to enable and accelerate learning, where learning and living become indistinguishable. This is not a theoretical realm. It is reality.”

The “new pedagogies” are not just instructional strategies – they are powerful models of teaching and learning, enabled and accelerated by increasingly pervasive digital tools and resources and support deep learning at all levels of the education system. “Deep learning” develops the learning, creating and ‘doing’ dispositions that youth need to thrive now and in their futures.

In short, we are in a perfect storm. We have the tools, understandings and strategies to turn the rhetoric around 21st century skills into a concrete reality in contemporary teaching and learning.

Focussing on the twin pillars of capacity building and developing new measures of engagement, attainment and excellence, the NPDL Partnership is ultimately about the evolution of the teaching profession.

To quote my good friend Erika Twani New Pedagogies for Deep Learning is not a pilot. It is the real thing. The time is now. Transform education.

See also “The Plastic Brain” http://dradenozine.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/notes-on-new-pedagogies-for-deep-learning-part-1/ for a great summary of the New Pedagogies whitepaper, and www.newpedagogies.org for more info!