Monthly Archives: June 2014

Inspiring leadership in education

This week I attended the Global Education Conference in Boston sponsored by Harvard and Goldman Sachs. This was one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve attended in recent years. Sessions were spread over two days and included hot topics such as “financing disruption”, “creating value in a world of content abundance”, “bridging the skills gap” and “the promise of accessible education”.

I could happily write a post about each of them. But I will write about just one. The absolute highlight of the meeting for me was the opening keynote by Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a charter school network of 12,300 students in New York. He has been instrumental in improving the performance of his students over a period of two decades such that 95% of high school seniors these days are accepted into college. He gave the best live keynote speech I have ever seen.

GeoffreyCanadaMuch of the focus of the conference was on technology, and I certainly believe that technology can be a great enabler in improving education.

However, Geoffrey’s impact comes from excellent leadership. In particular in taking actions to re-set the normative behaviour amongst the stakeholders including the local community. In a nutshell, in changing expectations in the community from “you have to be a genius to go to college” to “if he can do it, I can do it”. And amongst teachers from “don’t blame me, this is a mission impossible” to “my job is to get these kids into college”.

I personally believe that excellent education can be delivered when skilled teachers, motivated pupils and high quality learning materials play together effectively for the benefit of the learning of the pupil. The role of the school leader has not been strong on my radar. But of course, these three cornerstones rely on selecting and leading the right teachers and ensuring that a healthy culture and practices are in place in schools and their communities! The role of the school leader is pivotal. I should re-examine my beliefs!

Canada is a brilliant and inspiring speaker. You know that he wants the best for his pupils. You know that he will do whatever it takes to make it happen. He is highly engaging and has tremendous energy. He’s firm but fair. It’s not about him, it’s about the future of the kids at his school. I liked the clarity of his message. “Your job is to get these kids into college. The military is good. Vocational training is good too. But your job is to get these kids into college. That is what I expect from you”. I liked that he saw it as a journey. Year-on-year he saw impact. But transformation is a journey and the impact 20 years later was massive.

What would the equivalent message be for my own team? The essence of it is “help teachers to excel at developing the talents of every child in their class”. I believe this is the right direction and will be the journey of learning in the coming decade. How to achieve and measure that? If you have inspiring ideas then you are welcome to join our Learning Lab this coming Autumn!

Most of Canada’s keynote was energetic and funny. He is also a poet and took a more serious tone at the end by reading one of his own poems “Don’t blame me”. Inspiring and touching. Thanks Mr Canada, a brilliant leader, for making a positive impact on thousands of lives, and for inspiring me too.

February 2007

The girl’s mother said, “Don’t blame me.
Her father left when she was three.
I know she don’t know her ABCs, her 1,2,3s,
But I am poor and work hard you see.”
You know the story, it’s don’t blame me.

The teacher shook her head and said,
“Don’t blame me, I know it’s sad.
He’s ten, but if the truth be told,
He reads like he was six years old.
And math, don’t ask.
It’s sad you see.
Wish I could do more, but it’s after three.
Blame the mom, blame society, blame the system.
Just don’t blame me.”

The judge was angry, his expression cold.
He scowled and said, “Son you’ve been told.
Break the law again and you’ll do time.
You’ve robbed with a gun.
Have you lost your mind?”
The young man opened his mouth to beg.
“Save your breath,” he heard instead.
“Your daddy left when you were two.
Your momma didn’t take care of you.
Your school prepared you for this fall.
Can’t read, can’t write, can’t spell at all.
But you did the crime for all to see.
You’re going to jail, son.
Don’t blame me.”

If there is a God or a person supreme,
A final reckoning, for the kind and the mean,
And judgment is rendered on who passed the buck,
Who blamed the victim or proudly stood up,
You’ll say to the world, “While I couldn’t save all,
I did not let these children fall.
By the thousands I helped all I could see.
No excuses, I took full responsibility.
No matter if they were black or white,
Were cursed, ignored, were wrong or right,
Were shunned, pre-judged, were short or tall,
I did my best to save them all.”
And I will bear witness for eternity
That you can state proudly,
“Don’t blame me.”

Sanoma Learning Lab: Co-create for Impact

sloa-header-1We’re going to run a Learning Lab this Autumn and I would like to invite you to join us. We’re going to develop new concepts with you, to improve and evidence the impact of education on learning.

There are 3 reasons why I would love you (teachers, academics, university students and Sanoma employees) to apply for a place at our learning lab:

1. Fantastic learning experience

You’ll get trained in start-up methods and work with experts on developing your idea. You might even win a place at bootcamp to build a prototype of it with a dedicated team of designers and developers. I’ve previously blogged about how such a program works and what happens at bootcamp. It’s really exciting to be part of it!

2. Great networking

The Lab will be a great way to build relationships with other professionals passionate about the future of learning, both locally and internationally. People from diverse backgrounds, from instructional design to user experience to learning analytics. People who want to make a difference in education.

3. Make an impact on the future of learning

We’ll co-develop new concepts with you, to improve and evidence the impact of education and to contribute to the future of learning. Concepts that will improve learning results, support the ways of working and help to better engage pupils. It’s about the future of learning.

Join us!

We’ll be accepting applications until 24th August. Please go to and apply. I really hope you’ll join us! Looking forward >>.

The killer app in education is the teacher

edtech-logoLast week the second EdTech Europe meeting was held in London. It was an inspiring day and attracted high quality participants including quite a large audience of start-ups, established operating companies and investors. Thanks to Charles McIntyre, CEO of IBIS Capital and Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet, Founding CEO of Edxus Group, for having arranged this excellent meeting!

I was a speaker on one of the panels and also a member of the Advisory Board, so I was happy it was a success. I loved engaging with the entrepreneurs running the edtech ventures. It’s inspiring to hear their stories and feel their energy. And it was also a great networking event for meeting peers from across Europe.

Technology, platform, content, data?

This was a meeting about educational technology, so there was rightly a lot of discussion about the transformation of education and the roles that technology, platforms, content and data will play. What will be the “killer app” of education in the future?

The killer app in education today is the teacher

Today I believe that the “killer app” of K-12 education is the teacher. Great teachers engage individuals and classes, ensuring that they are motivated to learn. They stretch and support individual pupils so that they reach the best learning outcome they can. And they guide the ways of working such that learning time is spent usefully.

Technology will both enable and disrupt teachers in the future

Effective use of technology, platforms, content and data can help to raise learning outcomes (e.g. data-driven personalised learning), bring efficiency to the ways of working (e.g. automation and performance dashboards), and support engagement and motivation (e.g. gamification and storyfication). The teacher is therefore likely to get both enabled and disrupted by technology in the future.

Yet although the role of the teacher will change, I believe they will remain the “killer app” of education in the future too. They are likely to remain the leader of the classroom. They will probably more-or-less remain as the primary guide and gatekeeper to the learning activities that are carried out. And their relationship with classes and individual pupils will remain pivotal to engagement and motivation.

Enable teachers to develop each child

Our ambition is to use edtech to enable teachers to excel at developing the talents of every child, resulting in higher outcomes, better engagement and new ways of working. That’s something I believe in and would be keen to invest in.

Lifelong learning

Last week was the anniversary of the week that my father died – a long time ago in the meantime. He was a good and decent man and our family grew up in a loving home. These days I think about him when there is something happening in the family and during that last week of May that has just passed.

I got my passion for learning from my father. He was not educated, but he believed in the power of education.

  • He made me want to contribute to creating a better world
  • He encouraged my curious mind
  • He expected me to have high expectations of myself
  • He taught me to work hard and to be persistent.

I remember the happy times we had together in the past. I am thankful that our family is in good health and good spirit today. And I am grateful that you gave me a life-long love of learning.

Rest in peace Dad x.