When the wave of excitement gouges the public good

Since the truncation of the heavy rail line into Newcastle there has been a growing mood of excitement as cranes become features in the sky; the rail lines have been removed and grass planted where once were rails, sleepers and ballast.  Access to the harbour is now easier and there are surely some very interesting times ahead as a new paradigm looks set to shift thinking about town ‘centres’ and what constitutes revitalisation.

Having moved to Newcastle in 2008, the changes have, for us, been hugely exciting as new buildings have emerged and quirky precincts developed; all within a city which is bikable and rich with cafes and bars; and an ease of getting around.

Some groups have been seen to delay progress or to simply be oppositional to any form of change without seeming to have a plan for anything other than letting what exists whither on the vine of past glory. Within the thinking of groups like this, the use of the term ‘developer’ has assumed a connotation of greed and exploitation which goes way beyond any sense of altruism or social contract at all.

As a pushback against this, a growing swell of social media traffic has formed into a wave of excitement and anticipation at the way that a ’New-castle’ might look. This wave sometimes crashes against any opinion of difference, calling out the naysayers and ensuring that those who support change are in turn well supported.

So, when it was announced that the V8 Supercars would be calling Newcastle home for 5 years from 2017, the general mood was one of excitement and anticipation at the fact that millions of people would be seeing footage of what a great place we live in and that thousands of people would bring pockets full of money to spend locally and interest which should lead to significant collateral opportunity.

‘Vroom vroom’ tweeted the Lord Mayor.

After a little while, some of those who live beside the proposed track where cars are expected to hurtle by at great speed, started to ask questions about specifics; access to homes, actual length of the period of construction, contingency planning in case of emergencies or accidents. A section of the Council website has been dedicated to providing answers to many of these questions.

Unfortunately, these questions have seen those who asked them vilified and mocked in public; on social media and in the comments sections of the local press. The general consensus seems to be that they should simply ‘suck it up’ and ‘take one for the good of all Newcastle.’  Some of the tone of the commentary on the intellectual capacity and mental health of fellow Novocastrians has been frankly disappointing.

In the midst of all of this, however, there seems to have been little made of what is likely to be one of the greatest long term impacts on the public amenity of Newcastle.

in the latest iteration of a track layout it now appears that it has been mandated that a 300 metre section of new track will be constructed from the roundabout near the Nobby’s Surf Club straight across the existing carpark, roadway and lawn to meet with the carpark near Horseshoe Beach where there’ll be a very sharp left turn.

This will need to be a well engineered piece of track, with about 1.5 metres drop off in elevation between the roundabout and the carpark, not to mention the sheer intrusion of a bitumen racetrack bisecting the lawns which have previously been home to festivals like Fat as Butter, charity events and the well attended Anzac Dawn services. Presumably, in 2017, access to this area and its parking will be significantly impacted by construction and the fabulous work undertaken in forming Bathers Way potentially compromised.

And, it seems that this has been announced as a fait accompli: riding the excitement wave and driving a gash of v8 track blackness right through a public park.

Is this really what we are willing to give up in the name of ‘change’ and ‘progress.’

2017

Here we are in 2017; getting seriously close to the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century. Ten years since the rise of Facebook; it seems like it’s been around, like, forever? #hasntitalways

So, maybe it’s time to get active again in ‘web-logging’ some views about the ‘stuff’ that I see going on.

I especially love my adopted home of Newcastle and the life that I share here. The reinvention of Newcastle is exciting; successful pitches and innovative project outcomes around ‘smart city’ ideas follow years of engagement via social media and IRL – in real life – of people with a passion for engaging with possibilities.

I’m hoping to share some thoughts here about stuff: stuff happening here and anywhere. Stuff and, probably, some nonsense.

It would be great if you felt inclined to comment.

 

Give way to overtaking vehicles

DSCN5560This time last week I was driving a Mercedes nine seater van around the Sorrento peninsula in Italy, on roads narrow and winding. Our family group of six adults and one 2 year old was enjoying the opportunity to get away to a beautiful part of the world.

 

Villa View Marciano

 

From a villa perched high on a hill near Massa Lubrense, we were able to see the beautiful sunset to the West over the Isle of Capri.

DSCN5489

Road - Hotel_Termini MassaOn other days, we toured on a myriad of small roads where, through Termini and other villages along the way, cars, buses, three wheeled vehicles, cats and pedestrians all manage to share the road and get where they want to go.

Further on, winding along toward Positano and the Amalfi Coast, the road provides both a spectacular set of views and a number of challenges in dealing with buses and other vehicles.

positano road

Before we’d left home, having talked about the possibility of driving in Italy, we were regaled with horror stories of mad driver behaviour and a seemingly endless number of reasons why reasonable people shouldn’t countenance such irrational behaviour.

The problem is, of course, that like so much else, we approached the situation from the perspective of what we know: the existing and dominant paradigm in which the rules are there to regulate and order the environment.

Then, after seeing cars overtake other vehicles in seemingly extremely hazardous situations, I finally saw a sign that said the following.

ITALY - GIVE WAY

And there it is: a simple way to challenge the dominant paradigm.  Rather than wait until all risk has been effectively managed before taking action to overtake or get where we want to go, this sign encapsulates an attitude that says: “If we all want to achieve our objectives, and get where we want to go then there is a need to be aware that there will be others taking risks.”  Put simply, it implies: “expect the unexpected and don’t vilify the risk taker.”

How often, in businesses, organisations and society generally do we judge the behaviour and actions of others from a notion of regulation and righteousness rather than as a celebration of our shared ability to recognise that it works best for all of us when we actively share the commitment to avoiding collisions and collaborate to achieve shared objectives? So simple when we can see the sign that invites us to disrupt our dominant paradigm and develop new schema through which to interpret and respond to our world.

positanoAnd, then there is room for us all; even the cat.

 

Because they can!

We could hear the noise; it sounded like a band rehearsing. As we assembled and fitted a new baby bike seat for Frankie we grew more curious to find out what was happening.
A short cycle later, we found a band in the bowl. The Islington Park skate bowl was being used as the set for a music video for a young band and a bundle of willing extras as they saw the light fade behind the figs and arranged car headlights to deny the night.
One camera on a tripod and a roving phone. PA pumping with a portable generator. Crowd asked to jump in and mosh.

And the guy on the microphone said: look out for each other – respect each other
Because they can.
IzzoMTV

Great to get a gig at DiG

It’s been a busy week this week, with an ‘Ignite’ style presentation on Tuesday night at the Delaney as part of the combined Lunaticks Society and SlingshotRipItUp‘ event.  logo-1For some reason, I got to be the first presenter on the night in a program full of great ideas, and an emphasis on creativity and the harnessing of ‘killer ideas.’

Within that context, it was good to ask the simple questions about whether, (when we are seeking to encourage and support the dreaming of dreams, and the building of the skills and attitudes necessary for entrepreneurship and vision); our current policy and community vision of what’s important in ‘schooling’ is still relevant.  Five minutes: 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide.

 

newinstlogo

On Wednesday night, it was down to City Hall for the Newcastle Institute Candidates’ Forum.  I had the job as MC for the night and the candidates from the 2 major parties in both the seats of Shortland and Newcastle were put through their paces with a ‘personal’ chat with Felicity Biggins which sought to underscore the fact that political candidates are still fundamentally human beings and have personal values and priorities which drive their decision to seek office.  Then, all candidates presented their 5 minute ‘policy pitch,’ before being asked a number of questions by Newcastle Herald reporter Jason Gordon.

There was some chagrin expressed online afterward about the fact that only the candidates from major parties were involved and even that other seats weren’t involved.  No doubt those expressing these concerns haven’t caught on to the fact that the Newcastle Institute is simply a group of volunteers trying to promote and stimulate discussion and interest in topical matters within Newcastle and simply doesn’t have the resources beyond the small donation requested from event attendees.  That aside, it was great to see so many people turning out on a cold July Wednesday night to hear from our major party candidates.

dig-slide-03Also announced this week was the speaker lineup for the inaugural DiG Festival coming up in October this year.

The DiG Festival and Conference is loosely based on the extremely successful SXSW festivals in Austin, Texas which are run over 3 weeks and cover Film, Music and Interactive. Over the years SXSW has helped Austin become recognised as a leading technology centre with a vibrant artistic culture. SXSW now contributes over $100 million to the Austin economy annually.

The Australasian DiG Festival and Conference will feature a series of Keynote Presentations, Panels, Performances and Workshops lead by international, national and local industry leaders. There will be a strong emphasis on innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and ethical business.

We aim to attract several major speakers to anchor the event and ensure that it is seen as a truly national or international event.

 

Featuring a great lineup of keynote speakers and a host of ideas in the areas of Design, Interactivity and Green Tech, I’m thrilled to be presenting a session on Designing Education Futures.

DesigningEducationFuturesHave a look at the full lineup of speakers and program outline here. If you have ideas about what you think is important in designing education futures; from a community, parent, student or educator perspective, why not click the ‘Comments‘ link below and leave your thoughts.

Designing your vision for a digital school.

A quick introduction by the conference MC and there are just over twenty minutes left to outline some ideas about ‘Designing your vision for a digital school’ to the audience gathered in the huge main hall at the Brisbane Convention Centre during EduTech 2013.

In this scenario, what’s important?  It’s a sure bet that just about all of those present have seen and heard Sir Ken Robinson call for a refocus on creativity, or that they’ve taken part in discussions seeking to define ‘skills for the 21st Century’ or even around ideas like ‘21st Century pedagogy’ or consideration of models like the ‘flipped classroom,’ or learning facilitation strategies like ‘Project Based Learning,’ or even ‘Design Thinking.’

Yet, the rhetoric from policy makers and politicians has been related, so often, to the concept of a ‘race.’  In the US, successive administrations have promoted ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and then ‘Race to the Top.’ In Australia, we’ve heard that the goal is for Australia to be in the ‘Top Five.’ One of the strategies to achieve this was to be a ‘Reading Blitz.’

Is this linear view of education, and the rhetoric of races and league tables, useful?

What is absolutely critical, for anybody leading or seeking to lead at any level, is the clarification of our own perspectives.  As professional educators, we must ensure that the lens through which we view what’s needed is as clear as possible.  What, in fact, is our own paradigm?  Just what is our attitudinal stance, and how does that impact on our perception of what is needed?

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 9.25.03 PMOne of the huge difficulties, of course, is that we can’t really be sure just what it is that communities expect.

When we ask the deceptively simple question: ‘Why do we have schools?’ there is usually a pause.  Try asking that question in a staff meeting, or with a group of community members.  There will usually be a range of answers; generally falling into categories related to socialization and the acquisition of skills, knowledge and attitudes relevant to future employment.

To gain insight into what the collective consciousness of Google thinks when it thinks of the purpose of schools, or schooling, try a Google image search for similar terms.  Hit the enter key and a page full of images appear: piles of books, cute schoolhouses with bell towers, teachers with chalk and apples for the teacher.  School, as an experience which is almost universal within Western countries, is so often seen in terms of a wistful remembering of times and images which have long been left behind, but which, nonetheless, still guide social ‘groupthink’ about what school is, and what it’s for.

While there may be a case for tearing it all down and starting over, most realize that this isn’t possible.  And, to be fair, there is much in the culture of the past that is worth preserving.  chihulyglass

The true appeal of planning new settings will come from the smart juxtaposition of the new with the organic past.

Building a vision, planning school; requires, like Yin and Yang: balance.

We have recently seen a lot of different ways of describing teaching and learning.  Project Based Learning, Expedition Based Learning, Challenge Based Learning; and many more approaches are demonstrated and challenged. They all generally rely upon the encouragement of curiosity. There has been much made of the potential for the internet to provide mechanisms for course and content delivery.  In the tertiary education sector, MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Courses), have spawned hundreds of delivery channels, from Coursera and EdX through to examples at a university near you.   In the school sector, the Khan Academy puts the learner in charge: using a range of verbs as a call to action. Learning can be done anytime, anywhere; with excitement in many quarters about the potential of the ‘Flipped Classroom.’

To develop a vision for a digital school within this context requires, along with clarification of the leader’s perspective, a sense of balance and a willingness to blend.  While the binary nature of the digital world is enhanced by the increasing sophistication of complex algorithms, there is still a hugely significant role for the passionate educator: acting as the ‘human disruptive,’ introducing connections and ideas unrelated to the recommendations made by binary process.  Most importantly, this means that the value of any form of ‘Anything Based Learning’ will be critically dependent on ‘Passion Based Teaching.’

Another challenge, when trying to develop a vision for a digital school, may actually lie with the paradigms related to pedagogy itself.  While generally using ‘pedagogy’ as a descriptor for the ‘art and science’ of teaching, we can’t ignore its Greek origins in notions of an older, generally wiser, holder of knowledge, leading a child to know the same. The implied power construct within this relationship mitigates against much of the other rhetoric we would use in describing learner centred approaches. A truly passionate teacher is not motivated by what they believe they know and must transmit, but by the desire to want others to share the excitement of finding out, in ways that matter to them. Passion based teaching is that which is remembered years later, as something which created an urge to know, to find out, to be curious and to find ways to satisfy the curiosity.

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 9.09.42 PM“A truly passionate teacher is not motivated by what they believe they know and must transmit, but by the desire to want others to share the excitement of finding out, in ways that matter to them.”

 

Any vision for a quality school, digital or otherwise, should have at its core, a commitment to passion based teaching.

Within this context, the tools we use become complementary to the processes in play.  Pen, paper, tablet, laptop, video, audio or conversation: all become parts of a range of possibilities. Bringing your own device sits within an environment where the critical idea is that we use what we have, to provide the most effective tool to assist the processes of finding out, of collaborating, redefining, communicating, expressing and demonstrating understanding.  It is no longer on or off, black or white, flipped or unflipped, digital or analogue, but rather a blend of all possibilities where learners feel enabled to give it their best shot, using everything at their disposal; including the passionate leadership and support of the educators around them.

We are, however, still faced with the problem of schools as a parallel universe.  How do we disrupt this eternal separation and seek convergence instead?  This is where leaders, as professional educators, need to build on some of the things that can assist this process.  Within our communities are pram pushers full of desire for their children to have creativity nurtured. In those same communities are people who demonstrate over and over their appetite for community based projects: space activation, the renewal of neighbourhoods and the willingness to participate in projects which harness the general ‘goodness’ of most. The digital environment, with its multiple channels for communication, provides us with a host of tools for engaging, and for building our schools with an identity which matters within this world.  If your school was a person, how would you like for it to be seen and described?

To whom will you ask this question?

While the concept of ‘design thinking’ is serving as a disruptive force on traditional business processes, with its focus on planning with the needs of the customer and the user experience in mind; just how much value is placed on student voice?  Any vision we construct must take strongly into account the voice of our students, along with that of communities, parents and professional educators. And then, having clarified our own perspective, we must also be willing to lead and challenge where necessary, negotiating a vision for a school through using an ‘inside out’ process of collaboratively ‘planning school’ rather than continuing with the ‘outside in’ practice of ‘school planning.’

potato-sack-race-picIn the end, if what we are planning is a race anywhere, it needs to be different and fun, with falling over and getting back up again encouraged and seen as legitimate signs of authentic engagement and learning.

We owe this to our children.

What a difference a brand makes

Earlier this year, I decided that it would be good to seek some professional help in getting some decent branding for my website, business cards etc to identify my ‘brand.’

Through social media, I was aware of the young team at Neon Zoo, who were one of the businesses which represent talented young professionals ‘having a go.’ I was interested to see what ideas they would come up with for my brand as Pryor Commitment: offering, along with the capacity to be The Human Disruptive, a range of services in Professional Learning and Leadership Development. MC and conference/event facilitation and as a musician and entertainer.

As a man in his late fifties, I wanted a brand which made a case for being a contemporary thinker, but with experience and a pragmatic approach where necessary.

Recently, I received all the files and cards. You can see the result on the branding for this blog and at my main website.  Please don’t hesitate to hit the comment button and provide some feedback.  It has been amazing how having this branding has impacted positively on my ability to define what I can offer and present it as a marketing proposition.  If the range of services offered fites with your needs, why not get in touch?

The wind changed today

The wind changed today. And so, we move toward winter.

Bob knew about this stuff.  Bob was a cleaner, and a boat driver, student of humanity and observer of patterns. He told me that the change in this wind was the signal that the mullet would run, that the season had changed. Crowds would gather to savour the schooling fish on the island in Deerubbin, and, decades later; lookouts would stand atop the headlands with polaroids and whistles to alert the waiting fishers that a school was imminent.

The starkness of the change serves to remind us that all change occurs against a backdrop of some of the cycles of being which perpetuate themselves around us.  There will be, always, within these: the need for patience.

And that is one of the toughest challenges.

Planning School – renewal of space

This week sees Newcastle playing host to the Creating Spaces: Community Renewal Conference.  I’m looking forward to acting as facilitator for a number of the sessions throughout the conference program, and hearing from a range of people who are in the business of conceiving more creative and liberating ways of activating spaces within communities.

Creating Spaces Conference will bring together regional-based community leaders from across Australia who are passionate about renewal and creativity, and interested in reactivating spaces within their own communities

The notion of activating spaces links strongly to the concept of ‘placemaking’ and taps into the connection with places which human beings build through culture, awareness and a range of practices; from sustenance to faith.

What is Placemaking?

From the Heart of a Community

Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them. – http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/

It’s apparent to me that a key element in these processes is engagement with the user.  Activated spaces add value when they provide something which is valued not only by the direct user, but for the affect which is provided within the community and wider ‘place’ for all.

So, just what sort of places should our schools be?

Our schools are, as critical ‘places’ within our communities, no less deserving of attention and yet, sadly, we often ignore the place that wider engagement can play in designing the places we call school,  and retreat to a formula of nostalgic hankering to ‘put it back how it used to be.’

It will be interesting to see just how willing the policy makers are, as they continue with a mantra of local schools and local decisions, and ’empowering local schools’ to enable and provide permission for genuine community and student engagement around exactly the design thinking needed to activate any other space.  If we are to get the best use out of what we have out there in the form of massive investment in places, then it is way past the time when we need to be much more serious and focused on asking some fundamental questions:  What is the intent of having this space and; how can we make sure that it, too, includes:

looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.

and then, demonstrating a real commitment to enable the realisation of these needs and aspirations.

That is what planning school is all about.