Monday, 20 October 2014

Newlands Junior College: Optimism Bias... Or Pessimistic Vibes?

Newlands Junior College
I have not always been a fan of having a sales background.Today I am proud of my sales experience and my abilities. What changed? Today I only sell projects and ideas that I believe in... Actually, I don't sell anything! I put forward an argument for projects that encourages people to "Buy into" an idea once I've outlined the benefits.

Today I hope to encourage educators to "Buy into" the idea of Newlands Junior College in Glasgow which opens today. I will detail the benefits to educators and encourage people adopt some "Optimism Bias" towards this new education model.

First, what's my association with Newland Junior College? I tried to contact Jim McColl when I first heard about the college a few years back, but didn't hear back from anyone. How much do I know about the college? I've been on their website and read a few press releases about the model.

Why try to encourage buy in for this college when I'm not involved and don't know a great deal about it? Because;

1) I like what I see. I mean I really, really like what I see! The model ties in with a lot of my findings
2) I have a standing offer of "How can I help" anyone involved in education.
3) I'm gloriously and unashamedly "overly optimistic" about the potential of this College.
Social Selling & Newlands Junior College: Sharing my experiences with FE 
I have enough evidence to believe that this will be the source of education reform within Scotland, the UK and maybe even globally.

Education & #The45Plus: A Culture Experience
My blog has been taken over by politics over the last month, the reason for this is because I had realised how little progress I was making in my attempts to make a difference in Further Education. I saw in the #Indyref #VoteYes and #The45Plus a forum where I could implement some of these ideas... and on a larger scale.

Three of my #Indyref posts were on the potential that I saw in this network. Then 19 posts were in some way related to the importance of culture when establishing this network. Like a handful of other people, I tried to influence the culture of the forum, but the attempts turned out to be futile.

I am extremely grateful for this experience! It has reminded me:
  • How fragile culture is
  • How easy it is to shatter
  • How it must be constantly monitored and cultivated 
Culture! Culture! Culture!
More importantly than anything this reminded me that culture is the responsibility of every member of staff and every stakeholder. In education, a single negative event or soundbite in the press involving a student, parent, politician or member of staff and the culture can be badly affected and difficult to repair.

Carefully cultivating culture is the reason Zappos offers staff a months wages to quit after the induction period. This is why members of the Apple 2 team were given an Apple PC during induction, if they used it they got to keep it... if they didn't they were sacked.

How can you improve on a product that you don't use? Compare this with politicians preference for elite schools for their children and the Education Secretary's advice to Headteachers of "Stop whinging" (See P19 Culture in FE Report), or tenure in the US and "The Lemon Dance"

My frustration with politicians because of what they had simultaneously created and then destroyed with #The45Plus led me to write two posts exploring the contribution to education, the built environment and the economy compared with business people.
Scanning through my bookshelf looking for advice, reflection or even a bit of escapism could only ever lead to one destination: Ayn Rand.

Over-Optimism and Over-Confidence
I am re-reading "Atlas Shrugged" at the moment and this comment from Rand's journal jumped out at me;

"Dagny's error is over-optimism and over-confidence... she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad single-handedly, she thinks she can make people do what she wants or needs, by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they'll catch it from her... This can't be done. This is her crucial error. This is where she fails" Ayn Rand, Journal April 18, 1946.

Now I know plenty of people have issues with Rand and her philosophy, so please allow me to put Dagny Taggerts plight in the context of less divisive and more practical example.

If we look at Rands character within Dave Logan's "Tribal Leadership" scale we will find that Dagny Taggart is a Stage 5 leader working with Stage 2 Teams. She only wins when she collaborates with other Stage 5 leaders before, eventually, switching to work with Stage 5 teams permanently... these teams are capable of changing the world.

These teams also don't need to be big, Silicon Valley, HP and Google all started out with 2-3 people. Unfortunately I am not in contact with too many Stage 5 teams (few people are as only 2% of organisations operate at Stage 5), but I sure do support them when I see them.

Stage 3 Teams:"I'm great... You're not" The attitude of most teams
There is plenty of information out there to detail how to make culture work for any organisation that is interested in the topic. But few organisations seem to be. 

For example, I contacted 4 senior members of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) as I felt the current course of action could be improved. In particular I felt that that the culture could be affected in a more efficient manner with the adoption of technology. (See FELTAG Cultural Considerations and The Problem with FELTAG)

I made sure my voice was heard as any concerns I had about about one of FE's entrepreneurship projects went unheard. This project has cost the sector £3.5 million... and not a great deal to show for it. (See The Problem with Gazelle)

How was my FELTAG input received? One person ignored me, one person (who I had liaised with for over a year) requested that "we cease communications"; 2 people said they would value my contribution... but never came back to me or responded to any follow up emails.

I have spend the last 2 years trying to make some new ideas work and have had to abandon the plans I was working to because the culture simply wasn't right. (See Leaving FE)

Unity Matters
Culture matters. Unity Matters. Collaboration Matters. These are in short supply between some education stakeholders... check the social media feeds and see what the employer/employee relations are like in Education. There is very little unity or collaboration between educators and politicians.

In my various attempts to make a difference I have been guilty of "Optimism bias." I have myself to blame. I've met MIT's Bill Aulet on three occasions over the last 4 years and each time he's advised me "EdTech is tough." So I was warned... but I have no regrets.

When people judge their chances of experiencing a good outcome - landing a big account, getting promoted, having a successful marriage, making a good financial investment - they estimate their odds to be better than average. When they consider something bad happening, they assume odds lower than what they estimate for others.

Optimism bias inflates over-confidence. It is the reason that 90% of drivers think they're above average behind the wheel of the car. It's why almost all newlyweds believe there is 0 chance of their marriage will end in divorce, even when they know that 50% of marriages self-destruct.

It's the reason new restaurants in big cities continue to open, despite well documented failure rates as high as 90%. Restaurants know the numbers, but they do not think they apply to them. In regarding ourselves, successful people tend to be optimists. (A good thing too. Without it, people wouldn't get married, or plunge their life savings into a startup. A society that doesn't take risks based on optimism is doomed).

But something happens to our optimism when we stop evaluating ourselves and begin evaluating our peers chances of succeeding. We're not as optimistic when we take ourselves out of the equation. In fact, we can become pessimists and cynics. As evidence, gauge your level of optimism when you present one of your cherished ideas in a meeting. It should be high. 

Compare that to your level of optimism when an arch rival presents his or her best idea in the same meeting. It's probably not as high. Part of this is predictable envy and competitiveness; we don't mind a rival succeeding, but not more than us or at our expense. Part of it is the difficulty in being optimistic about someone else's abilities where we have no control over the outcome. 

But much of it is simply our failure to be generous in extending our optimism to others. That's the downside of "Optimism Bias." We may see everything that could go wrong with the other persons idea while remaining blind to what could go wrong with ours. It's not a quality that we should hang on to.

If we can take the positive spirit inside us toward what we are doing now and extend it to what other people are doing - in other words, make our optimism contagious - then each of us has a better chance of becoming a person who can rise from a setback that might crumble others, a manager who doesn't yield to the standard cynicism and negativity, and a leader whom others will follow. Marshall Goldsmith, Mojo

Newlands Junior College
In my previous post I detailed how a culture of suspicion, mis-trust and cynicism between educators and politicians can lead to good ideas being dismissed (along with bad presentation, questionable implementation and poor roll out)

This poor politician/educator relationship has led to some unfair comparisons with state and charter schools/academies in the US and UK. I don't think it is a fair comparison because one has the autonomy to set the culture, the other I think has too much "history" to foster the right culture.

Untangling this history is a messy business and you'd be forgiven for throwing your hands up and saying "Let's scrap it all and start again." Something that I think both politicians and educators might agree on!

We can see this as Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has blocked inspections of Academy Chains while State Educators had #EndOfOfsted trending over the weekend, the source appears to be this article The Entire Schools Inspection Culture is the Problem

But different treatment between academies and other schools will only add to any animosity and comparisons. Just because a charter school has the autonomy to set the culture, this is not to say that they will set the right culture. The wrong culture along with rolling academies out too quickly could be disastrous... as we are already seeing in the UK and US.

However, just because the relations between policy makers and state educators is low due to politicians making questionable decisions... is it fair to be cynical or envious of a new education model?

New & Alternative Edu programme: Isn't that the Reform we are all keen to see?
My plans in UK education have not panned out. I have suffered for the same reasons that educators do. It's been exta-ordinarily difficult for me over the last 4 years... Especially the last 2-3 years.

But am going to take Marshall Goldsmiths' advice regarding "Optimism Bias" and wish Newland's Junior College every success!

Furthermore, I would like to extend an offer to pass any ideas I have had over the last few years to the college... and to assist in any way I can with the implementation of any projects they might feel is worth exploring further.

I would strongly encourage my education contacts to do the same, and not even out of any sense of alturism or optimism, but because I think that if you let them... they just might save your bacon!

How Newlands Junior College Can Help Other Educators
Please allow me to back this statement up by demonstrating why by challenging some of the concerns/criticisms from this "Businessman Jim McColl's vision for non-academic pupils" article.

"Some teachers are enthusiastic about the concept. Others are more skeptical and see potential risks: for instance, taking a child out of a school where they are settled and have friends is always something of a risk"

If a student is disengaged with school, what kind of friends will there be the potential for them to be settled in with? Are they likely to "Fall in with the chess club?" or "Fall in with the wrong crowd?"

Steve Jobs parents MOVED TO A DIFFERENT TOWN because his parents were worried that young Steve was getting in with a bad crowd. Is part of KIPP schools impressive results for the same reason? Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it might do:

"To become a success at what they do KIPPSTERs have to shed part of their own identity because the cultural legacy they have been given does not match their circumstances – not when middle and upper class families are using weekends and summer vacations to push their children ahead. Their [KIP students]communities do not give them what they need. So what do they have to do? They give up their evenings and weekends and time with friends – all the elements of their old world – and replace them with KIPP" Malcolm Gladwell, Blink

The largest teachers union the EIS says it is not opposed to the creation of the junior college but is not a cheerleader for it either.
Why not? Unions like EIS should be cheering from the rafters! A counter culture like this could wring in the changes across the board. NJC will have an open door policy and I hope this will be a well trodden path for reformers at other schools and colleges. 

Maybe it will even act as the kind "free space" that change agents need in order to wring in the changes... This kind of space is vital for reform! (For more info see "Twitter #EdChats: Chat or Change?).
A spokesman said that while the motivation behind it was sound it seemed to duplicate some of the work of existing partnerships between schools and colleges and some of the Wood Commission's recommendations.

I don't mean to be controversial but... Seriously? Are you kidding me? The mismatch between education and employment is a HUGE concern! 

I've seen reports like the Wood Commission since I've been involved with FE. All these reports seem to do is keep civil servants in a job! Who better to make up a curriculum around the job market and establish links with industry than a captain of industry* 
* With the right motivations and the right level of due diligence! As NJC appear to have. 

How many jobs have those involved with the Wood Commission created compared with Jim McColl? Here are 4 examples to back up any controversy about this kind of suggestion;

We have so many local and national enterprise, entrepreneurship, LEPs, career advisors and apprenticeship schemes that they are coming out of our ears... all producing fancy reports, but I do wonder about the value of it all... or the return on investment (or the level of collaboration!)

The union said that they did not oppose philanthropists like Mr McColl supporting education but believed proper funding of the state system was the best way to ensure consistent high quality provision.
I'm not sure that I agree with this. Not because of anything that the school is doing, but the culture between the various stakeholders. There needs to be unity. Unity isn't easy. It's hard work!

In my opinion, there is too much suspicion and cynicism between teachers and other stakeholders whether parents, governors, Ofsted, politicians or employers. Surely it's difficult to have Maverick Buccaneering Head Teachers when the the culture is this fragmented.
It can feel as though educators are under fire by everyone, this is not something that I am trying to do here. Quite the opposite! It takes a village to raise a child... this is why I believe that private education works so well.

But the villagers that used to raise the children in the inner cities have all gone. From what I can see NJC is going to be connecting the first cohort of students to some new villagers through mentors and guaranteed progression. 
With this new, lean and unencumbered school there will be new learning ideas and methods. Mr McColl and Mr White have already stated that NJC will complement, and work in tandum with, the state sector and has a guarantee of an apprenticeship or College place for students.

This will assist FE with admissions... this is a win-win situation for all stakeholders are this may have been a group of young people who could have otherwise dropped out of the education system.

I do not think that the stakes could not be higher for FE either. It is my belief that FE is in a state of decline and risks some serious threats from new suppliers, so collaborating with a small independent college could deliver significant benefits. Need evidence of this?
Compare this with this article about Southern New Hampshire University: How a Tiny Struggling Uni Became the Amazon of Education.

There will be more posts and reports detailing why I feel this college is a good idea. For the moment, I hope that I have put a convincing argument forward for educators accept Newlands Junior Colleges' open invitation to visit the college and to collaborate with them.

Newlands Junior College... It's gonna be big!
Newlands Junior College

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