How Innovative is My School?


How Innovative is My School? (Beta)

This should provoke some interesting debates! Give it a try and let me know what you think. It isn’t perfect, but it will give you some idea of where your school lies on the spectrum of innovation. I would like to refine it in the next few weeks, so suggestions are welcomed. (Please make specific reference to question numbers if possible.)

Note: You can probably guess what the right answer should be, but what would be the point of that? If you answer honestly, you’re more likely to get an accurate score, and with a more accurate score, you’ll be able to make the changes you need to make in order to call yourself a truly progressive school.

Again, any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated. (Thanks to David Theriault for his help in the early stages!)

(Please brew a cup of tea before you start – the questionnaire does take a while to complete.)
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Top Schools: The Most Innovative High Schools in South Africa

Top Schools in South Africa

(The Most Innovative High Schools in the Country)

Update: I have now created a survey which you can take to see how innovative your school is. It is also accompanied by a reading list to help you to improve your score. Here's the link:

I've wanted a list like this for a few years now. I couldn't find one, so I compiled my own. This list represents the top 1% of the most innovative, child-centred, forward-looking high schools in the country. Many of South Africa's 'elite' traditional schools did not make the list. If the foregoing is more your cup of tea, you may prefer this list.

A few things:

First: This is a subjective list based on my own research into and visits to some of these schools. (Please see the criteria I use to decide on whether a school qualifies for this list below.)

Second: This is an open list and I will be modifying it over time. If you know of a high school that meets the criteria listed below, please contact me with the details and a short justification. If you have an objection or correction, please also let me know. I have included a link to a Google Form for this purpose here:


(Note: Please provide as much detail and as many examples as possible. Short, acerbic suggestions are dismissed as spam.)

Third: I am very much Johannesburg biased simply because this is where I live. I am looking for more schools (especially in the Western Cape). If you know of any truly innovative schools in Gauteng, the Western Cape, or any other province, please let me know.

Fourth: The list is very 'private school heavy'. I would love to add more innovative state schools. Give me a shout if you know of any.

Last: I will not add your school purely on the basis of your 'traditions', 'long history', 'outstanding sports results', or on how well your school performs academically. I will also not debate the 'importance of traditional methodologies and values' with you… if your school does not look to future as much as it dwells in the past, there is no room on this list for you.


Criteria for being listed as an innovative high school:

Any meaningful combination of…

  • A sincere child-centered approach which puts students needs above the curriculum.
  • Innovative approaches to pedagogy.
  • An emphasis on personalised / individualised learning.
  • The building of independent reasoning and critical thinking skills.
  • The nurturing of creativity (in a meaningful sense), as well as a focus on discovery based learning and problem-solving.
  • A different take on learning spaces.
  • A rethinking of timetables.
  • Questioning and debating the role of standardized testing, assignments and homework.
  • Rethinking the role of parents, teachers and students.
  • The meaningful use of technology.
  • How happy the students are.
  • The emphasis on life-long learning.
  • Structures which allow staff to try new things.
  • Social upliftment and environmental awareness initiatives.
  • A real and clear inclusion of students' ideas, opinions and concerns.

But of course, a truly innovative school creates its own contextualised mixture of these criteria and more.


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Why I Teach (Part 4)

(Click on image for full page view)

So this happened to me today and left me feeling quite emotional.

Just thought I share it.


(With thanks to the effervescent Mrs Perry!)




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The Future of Education: More of the Same?

Look at these two pictures:


Now look again closely.

Besides the technology, the two scenarios are basically the same (down to the little 'hands-on' display in the front of the class).


Now a question:

Is this truly what we want for the future of education?


Image credits:

Image 1

Image 2


(With thanks to Professor Ethan Danahy of Tufts U for the idea!)


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2 Questions to Help You Figure Out Why You Teach.

Imagine every student in every class you teach gets an 'A' for everything.

How do you spend your teaching day?

What does this tell you about your priorities as a teacher?


Image: Any Questions? (Flickr)


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Resistance is Futile: Why Some Teachers Are So Quick to Proselytize for Big Tech. (And Why That’s Dangerous)

Here's a thought:

It is a later day trend that's making me increasingly uncomfortable: teachers who push some or other big technology brand as if they are getting paid to do so. You find them speaking about this or that brand at conferences, during Twitter chats, on their blogs and almost everywhere else. Whether it's Microsoft or Google or Apple, or any other popular device and/ or app maker, these teachers seem disturbingly keen to become unpaid proselytizers for big tech. (No doubt, some actually are receiving a kick-back for their marketing endeavors – often in the form of a 'certification', but the majority are not.) Moreover, the majority of tech-pushers push one product or service above the others: It's either the Google gaggle, the Microsoft minions, the Apple apostles, and so on.

I may be going too far here, but when I listen to these people, I always think that they behave a lot like the Borg from Star Trek: Their aim is to assimilate. Resistance is futile. (But then my mind does work a little strangely at times.)

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On Being a Free-Thinker


(Click on the image for a full screen view.)

Image credit:


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A Student Speaks: Why Schools Should Encourage & Celebrate Alternative Paths to Success

This is the fifth post from one of my students. Here, a young lady describes the alienation she feels at falling for the traditional narrative put forward by schools regarding how to be successful. She argues that schools need to encourage students to find and choose their own path.

When I think about all the things that I wanted in my life and all that I’ve strived for up to now, I actually only ever wanted to be okay. And by ‘okay’ I mean successful and happy – normal, in other words. At the heart of it, I just wanted to feel that who I was and what I did was normal, and that my life would turn out alright.

Because of this overriding desire to be normal, I followed a path that was never my own. In the end, following this path ended up causing me to sacrifice a large part of myself. Now, I feel I must talk about it – both to try to regain this missing piece of myself, and to put the idea out there that just because things are a certain way, it does not mean that they have to remain that way.

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What is a ‘Quality’ Education? (Advice for Policy-Makers on Implementing the New Sustainable Development Goal for Education)

(See the full infographic here)


I love the United Nations's new Global Goals for Sustainable Development (GGSDs). I'm one of those strange people who is always optimistic that a better world is within our reach (perhaps because I spend a large part of my day with optimistic young people). I think that even if we only meet some of the 17 GGSDs, or only meet most of the targets for most of them, humanity will be a lot better off. And I believe that education in particular is going to play a massive role in alleviating poverty and inequality, decreasing environmental despoliation, and creating a better, more sustainable future for us all.

The GGSD for education is this:


But what exactly is meant by 'quality' education?

It may seem like a trifling matter to some, but, to my way of thinking, this term is going to be a major stumbling block in achieving better education, and thus a better world.

I am sure that many nations will see a quality education as increased emphasis on the oddly named 'three Rs': reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. Perhaps some will even interpret 'quality' as a fourth R: 'rigor' (and will – very unwisely – advocate longer school days, more homework and more content.) I am also sure that many will see this as the need to focus more on the STEM subjects. But I think that a quality education is something else entirely:


A Quality Education:

  • Encourages students to question and to think critically about real world issues.
  • Nurtures creative problem-solving in order to encourage independent thinking and a sense of agency in the world.
  • Develops a sense of empathy and tolerance.
  • Teaches kids to think on a variety of scales, from the local to the global, and to make connections between what's going on in their communities and what's happening in the world (and vice versa).
  • Guides young people to identify and nurture their own unique talents and to refine and express these in multiple ways.
  • Helps students to express themselves confidently.
  • Demonstrates that doing is as important as knowing.

Yes, the 'three Rs' are important, but so are the seven priorities listed above. It is important to know that we should be teaching the foundational skills at the same time as we teach these 'soft skills'.

And now add to these the ten targets under Goal 4, and you have the scaffold to build a truly remarkable education system.

I'm just a teacher, and I have no qualifications to make these statements, but I do believe that the moment education authorities make the foregoing a priority, we are sure to see a new generation of global thinkers who have the skills, the confidence and the compassion to help build a better world.



Posted in Activism, Critical Thinking, EDUCATION, Thinking

Letter From an Old-Fashioned Teacher to All of You New-Fangled, Pie-in-the-Sky #Eduwhatsits

(Disclaimer: After a number of concerned messages, I feel I need to say this up front: what follows is a piece of satire. Read it closely and you will notice how patently ridiculous it is. Oh, and I am not the “old fashioned teacher” – I’m the “eduwhatsit”!)

Dear ‘education revolutionaries’

I’ve been teaching for three and a half decades now. I know what works and what doesn’t. I’ve seen teaching fads come and teaching fads go. I thought I would just wait out this new spate of edu-mumbo-jumbo, but this time it seems particularly intense. And now I must speak up. It time for us real teachers to stand up against those pie-in-the-sky so-called experts and their new-fangled ideas on education.

What follows is a list of things I think are important in education. I hope this list will bring some clarity to the debate around what’s relevant and worth prioritizing in our classrooms.


What’s Really Important in Education


I despair for those poor kids in countries like the USA who don’t have to wear uniforms. I have a passion, a true passion, for a uniform worn correctly. It engenders respect for one’s elders. If we don’t take the school uniform code seriously, our schools are always one step away from anarchy. Also, if kids all look the same, they will be less inclined to try and rebel. Straighten the tie and you straighten the child.

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Making Teaching Real: What If Teachers Failed a Little More?



What have WWE wrestling, Don Quixote, a Jimmy Fallon Saturday Night skit and Fleetwood Mac got in common that could perhaps be of use to teachers?


They all involve little 'reality slips': times when they allow real life to intrude into the fiction.

These thoughts come from a RadioLab episode I listened to recently, titled 'The Montreal Screwjob'. Whether it's The Heartbreak Kid vs Shaun Michaels, Lindsey Buckingham singing 'Go Insane' or Jimmy Fallon giggling during a skit, as an audience, we're always intrigued when a little bit of reality slips into our fiction.

My thoughts then, are these: What if we let a little bit of reality slip into our teaching? What if we failed to keep a straight face or showed a bit of weakness now and then in our classrooms? What if we were not afraid to be human and to fail a little when teaching? What if we didn't keep a straight face, let our emotional stance on the issue we're teaching show, or even make plain our shortcomings?

A large measure of teaching is acting, and a lot of what we do takes place on an artificially constructed little stage. Wouldn't our students find this world more intriguing if they got to see it for what it is now and then? Would they not learn to see through and beyond the process a little more, and begin to question it more often? Perhaps a glimpse behind the scenes would allow them to be more enthralled by it? Perhaps they would be even be more willing participants in it?




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A Controversial Intelligence Test

Are you brave enough? (Warning: not for the morally sensitive)

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Earth Sciency Baby Names

We need more geographers and earth scientists. One way to do this is to give them a name to grow into. Here are some baby names for you to choose from. Hopefully in a decade or two we'll have a boom in earth scientists.

  • Ait
  • Arête
  • Arroyo
  • Aurora
  • Ayre
  • Barchan
  • Bay
  • Berg
  • Bornhardt
  • Brazil
  • Chad
  • China
  • Cirrus
  • Claudia (Cloudier) Continue reading
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The Best Teachers…

(With thanks to Craig P)

Image: By Sofia Marie Where the Wild Things Are. *Explored


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Not Good to Not Great: How to Completely Demoralize Your Staff (A Guide For Mischievous Managers)

Hi there

Are you at the helm of an organization and possessing of a dark sense of mischief? Are you tired of trying to be the kind of leader who inspires and leads? Want to see how rough you can make the ride for your underlings? Love to push your crew to near mutiny just because you can?

If you answered yes to these questions, then this guide is for you. Go from good to great using these handy pointers.


11 Ways to Completely Demoralize Your Staff:

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Black and White Makes Octarine: False Dichotomies in Education

Black and White Makes Octarine: False Dichotomies in Education

Note: Some of these might offend some of my readers. If they do, I apologize in advance. My intention is merely to emphasize that these issues are far more complex than so many ‘education specialists’ and ‘thought-leaders’ out there make them seem:

False Dichotomies in Education:

  • The Edtech Evangelists: You’re either using technology in your class or you’re a dinosaur.
  • The PD Pushers: If you’re not tirelessly updating your skills, you’re irrelevant.
  • The Cuddlies: If you don’t care for the heart, you miss the mind.
  • The Neuro-determinists: I have quite a few clever kids in my class – and then there are the ‘strugglers’. (Or vice versa.)
  • The Pedagogical Preachers: Teaching is either teacher-led or student-centered.
  • The Conference Sound-Biters: We can do what’s good for us or what’s good for them.
  • The ’21st Century’ Skills Club: Either we teach content or skills.
  • The Neophiles: New is good. Old is bad.
  • Kohn’s Misreaders: The solution to too much homework is no homework.
  • The Gritters: Kids either learn grit or they wallow in failure.
  • The Righteously Rigorous: If all we do is play and be creative, kids will never learn discipline and rigor.
  • The Exam Expungers: We have to personalize assessments or else standardized tests will stunt learning.
  • The Motivational Mavens: Education is either 100% engaging or it is drudgery.
  • The Passion Fruits: If you don’t teach with passion you shouldn’t teach.
  • Employers Everywhere: Teachers teach because they love teaching, not because they care about money.
  • The Brain Busters: Some kids are left-brained, some are right-brained.
  • The Tinkerers: Learning is either hands-on or it is inaccessibly abstract.
  • The Product Partisans: Apple or Samsung / Google or Microsoft.
  • The STEMers: STEM subjects are more valuable in the modern world than the Arts.
  • The ‘Real World’ Rationalizers: We either prepare them for an exam or we prepare them for life.
  • The Global Contextualizers: Either sound learning principles are universal or they are contextual.
  • The Growth Groupies: Children either learn to adopt a growth mindset or they are lost.
  • The Parent Trappers: Parents are either with us or against us.

Any to add?


Image: Almost “Splash of color” unedited on pc (Miguel M.A.S.)



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7 Logical Fallacies Simplified



Circular Argument


A circular argument is one in which the conclusion is essentially the same thing as the step or steps which go beforehand. In other words, the conclusion is already part of the preceding argument. The form of a circular argument usually goes like this: A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true.

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Cat Report Card

My delightful and vivacious wife-like girlfriend sent me this about our cat, The Tigger (Real name: Gandalf Solo Twinkle-Toes). I’m publishing it because I think it’s so cool…





Ability, Capacity & Capability: On Neuro-Bigots & Cognitive Fatalists

Everything else you grow out of, but you never recover from childhood.

Beryl Bainbridge


Let’s begin by sorting this out:

Ability: Simply means what someone can do. It relates to their present level of skill in a particular field. Eg: Lazarus has the ability to run fast.

Capacity: Is future-oriented. It means that little bit beyond your current ability: the things you might be able to do if you worked hard. Eg: Lazarus has the capacity to win many of his races.

Capability: For the select few. Everyone has abilities and some even strive to realize their full capacity. But only a small percentage are capable of doing spectacular things. Eg: Lazarus has the capability of winning an Olympic medal.


Applied to cognitive functioning, according to these definitions, people can have particular intellectual abilities and, with hard work may reach a certain capacity. But only a rarified few will have the capability of becoming truly gifted thinkers.

My question is this: Who decides? Who looks at what you are able to do right now and then decides what your capacities / capabilities might be?

The answer is simple: all of us do it. Regardless of how qualified we are. Adults in particular do it to children. And the things parents and teachers tell us about our abilities, capacities and capabilities so often stay with us for life. The things these neuro-bigots say about us become self-fulfilling prophecies not because they are true, but because we trust these people and internalize their judgements of us. We thus believe we are only capable of so much, and begin to limit ourselves accordingly.

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John Stewart’s Parting Thoughts on Bullshit: If You Smell Something, Say Something

Thank you, John Stewart, for leaving us with your sublime insights on bullshit:

Bullshit is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit. Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. Or at the very least innocuous. “Oh, what a beautiful baby. I’m sure he’ll grow into that head.” That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social contract fertilizer and keeps people from making each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit, your premeditated institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshit-talkers.

[It] comes in three basic flavors:

One, making bad things sound like good things. Organic all-natural cupcakes. Because “factory-made sugar oatmeal balls” doesn’t sell. Patriot Act – because “Are You Scared Enough To Let Me Look At All Your Phone Records Act” doesn’t sell. So whenever something is titled “freedom, fairness, family, health, America,” take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.

Number two, the second way, hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit… But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement, so i’ll just click “agree” even if it grants Apple prima nocta with my spouse…

And finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshiters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. “We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything.” We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns.

Now, the good news is this: Bullshiters have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an “I Spy” of bullshit. I say to you tonight, friends, the best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.



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