Frances Valintine, the founder of The Mind Lab and The Tech Futures Lab and the author of “Future You,” explores learning in and out of schools today. She describes “embracing change” and how leaders support a learning organization with an environment that embraces change.
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:29 School as a learning organization for students and staff. I’m excited today to have Frances Valentine from New Zealand on our podcast. Frances is an educator, innovator technology futurist, and the founder of the Mind Lab and the tech futures lab. And I’m currently reading her new book and thoroughly enjoying it and recommended to you future you welcome Francis.
Frances: 00:55 It’s great to be here, Steve.
Steve: 00:57 Would you start by telling us a little bit about The Mind Lab and the Tech Futures lab?
Frances: 01:03 Sure. Both of them are graduate schools. So we work with professionals of all fields, but a lot of them are education specialists or teachers right through to people who work in corporate offices and they are looking towards the future with this idea of how do they get the skills they need today, given their jobs and roles and responsibilities have changed so much. So we teach across technology, sustainabilitym disruption and really looking at digital as it changes the roles that we do.
Steve: 01:34 I’m just wondering as I’m listening to you, how did the pandemic fit into that? These programs were up and going prior to pandemic?
Frances: 01:44 thankfully they were, I think particularly for our teachers, we had already taught over 10% of the teaching workforce here in New Zealand before the pandemic hit. And so we knew that at least 10% of the teaching workforce were gonna be ready and able to teach online but certainly it’s been a very busy couple of years as more and more people have realized that this new world of digital and online is a big part of the future.
Steve: 02:11 So I pulled the phrase “learning organization” for our conversation and I’m wondering if you’d give me a description of how you would define a learning organization.
Frances: 02:24 Look, I think any organization that is going to thrive in today’s world has to be a learning organization, which means that they are constantly looking to the future needs and capability, but actually understanding the skills that are needed to keep evolving over time. And so like in individuals, if you stand still for too long and become stagnant, actually, it’s very hard to get back moving again. So a learning organization is one that is just constantly moving forward slowly and changing over time, adapting and adopting as circumstances around change. And I think it’s a really a key attribute of all successful businesses because not only does the world change in the technologies, but so do the demographics around us. As we get older, the divide between ourselves and young people also changes so we have to understand them, but we also have to look forward to the generations ahead of us. And so there are many different these levers of change as we call them, things that are around us which are really changing how we think about the way we work and live and entertain and communicate, but actually heart of it is learning. If you learn and you’re curious, you can always move as the world changes around us.
Steve: 03:43 So it’s the individual’s learning that drives the learning organization?
Frances: 03:50 Well, I think the individuals are part of the ecosystem. So there’s actually at two levels. There’s the individual who learns as part of the organization and then there’s the ecosystem. If you have a critical mass of individuals, then you have a whole ecosystem that’s moving or entire organization moving. And so sometimes, that’s even connected with externals. It could be they’re part of communities which
are also moving. They can sort of tag along, so to speak. So it’s all levels, but it starts with an individual.
Steve: 04:22 In your book, you share an example of a gentleman – I think you described him as a neighbor who had a change in…
Frances: 04:34 Made redundant.
Steve: 04:35 Yeah. He had been made redundant and he sensed that he was at the spot that he couldn’t learn the new things that he needed to
Frances: 04:45 Yeah. What was amazing about that situation was, he’s 55, very talented guy. The company made him redundant and they gave him two opportunities as part of his redundancy. One was to have his CV professionally curated by someone who could help him and the second one was
the ability to go and reskill and go into training with no actual cost limitations. So it could have been an executive program, could have been a degree, a master’s program. It could have been a pottery class for all it mattered. But he chose not to do anything. He just said he was too old at 55 to keep learning and saw that as a negative, that it was going to reflect on him badly that he had to go back and actually sharpen the tools in terms of his trade. And it was interesting because even a few months later when I caught up with him, he was still looking for a job. And I just felt what a lost opportunity and how self limiting by this idea that some stage in life we’ve learned enough. We’ve never learned enough. There’s always more to discover.
Steve: 05:49 Well, that story jumped out at me because as I’ve shared, retirement age has come and gone for me. and part of the reason that I just don’t see that in my near future is that seems to me there’s too much to learn. And it’s a whole lot easier for me learning while I’m engaged and working. As such, it causes me to have the conversation with you today.
Frances: 06:17 Which is wonderful. I love it.
Steve: 06:19 Which is part of driving my continuous learning. If I wasn’t working at doing this, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.
Frances: 06:26 It’s interesting, within both my organizations, we have scholarships for over sixties. So people are 60 can get full, 100%
tuition scholarships, and they are some of our most popular scholarships that we have. And I just love that. And what happens within a cohort of students, we have an average student at somewhere between 35 and 40, having somebody over 60 or a few people over 60 in the cohort is just magic because they bring a whole breadth of life experience to the conversation, which others can’t have. So we really love it.
Steve: 06:56 And history
Steve: 06:59 They could talk about the technologies that the other people in the room don’t know what they are. The younger and the old both could talk about technology that the other side doesn’t know what it is. .
Frances: 07:12 Yeah, exactly.
Steve: 07:14 So what should students be experiencing in a school that’s functioning as a learning organization for kids?
Frances: 07:24 I think any student, regardless of your age or stage in life, if you are a student, you are there to expand on what you already know. So if you’re reinforcing what you already know, because you can easily discover it on Google, then actually it’s probably not a great learning experience. So a lot of it is saying, the sum of parts is a collective of all the people in the room. So a learning organization or a great school is one where you’re learning equally from your peers and from the projects that you collaborate on and not so much just from the individual, the teacher at the front of the classroom. And a great workplace does the same thing. It says, okay, let’s bring as many people together and problem solve as a collective because actually you’re bringing in the expertise of many and also the viewpoints.
Frances: 08:11 And one big part of learning is also stopping the things you no longer need. And I think one of the challenges teachers have is knowing when you are delivering a class in content that you know is now out of date. It’s no longer relevant. You cannot contextualize it in today’s world. To continue to teach that, unless of course it is history, to continue to teach that is actually not utilizing the time of learning. We want to make sure we can go, “wow, I can use that information. I can see how that fits in my life. Gosh, I can really benefit from that knowledge.” But I know there’s still a lot of learning out there where people go, “where’s the context and why are we learning this?” Because it just feels like it’s either antiquated, outdated, or irrelevant. And I think those are the things where learning becomes difficult and you lose people. You lose the love of learning if you’re learning things you can’t contextualize.
Steve: 09:07 So in effect, the school as a learning organization needs to be almost in a continuous state of change. And part of that change being driven by the learners, as well as the educators.
Frances: 09:24 I think you need to always have the learners at the heart. They have to be at the heart of every conversation, but there is a self-editing process. We do it in our lives. We decide actually, there are things that we no longer need. We replace over time, we gift to charities. We need the same context where it’s like, what is no longer fit for purpose? Let’s take that away. Let’s bring into that space, the things that are now really relevant. And I think this sort of editing is really important, not only on an individual level where we edit out the things we know are no longer true, I mean, there are so many scientific principles or mathematical things that if you continue to use what we thought was true 20 years ago in today’s world, we realized had been outmoded by new information.
Frances: 10:13 And I think it’s the same thing within the education system. If you are a student or a teacher, it’s this personalized view of how do you edit this out? The other thing I thinks really important is not to learn anything you already know. And it’s either because some people like to show they’re clever. So, you know, I can show you I know these things, which you already know it, or because actually the teacher hasn’t replaced the information. And so they’re basically reiterating things they learned the year before. And so there is no stretch on the learning.
Steve: 10:47 It was probably 30 years ago, that I told the stories when I was working with teachers that if I were to look back when I was in high school and my teacher had 180 days of a one class period, my history teacher couldn’t get to modern times and 30 years later, that history teacher still has the same number of minutes and the kids in front of them and 30 more years to cover. So if he’s not figuring out some change process, you’re getting further and further behind every year.
Frances: 11:31 Maybe you need to start with current time and go back.
Steve: 11:35 Exactly. That whole structure didn’t fit. But it was the way the texts were laid out then and the program and the standards.
Frances: 11:47 So this is where I really love classrooms. I’m a great fan of this idea. If you took the same history teacher and they said, okay, we have this many centuries or decades, whatever it might be to cover, we have this many days, as a class, which ones do you wanna focus on? Let’s get some kind of consensus around this. So let’s go through this journey of actually saying, okay, let’s get all the questions and we’ll put some waiting on them and we’ll start with the things that everybody wants to do. And we’ll interject these throughout the year. And the ones that no one’s really interested in, let’s just not do them. If you are the one person in the class that really wants to understand that there’s a whole lot of learning opportunities for you to go and self-learn, that’s an easy thing to do.
Frances: 12:28 So if, rather than actually just saying, we’re gonna do all of it and we’re gonna squash the last little bit in the last five minutes of the year, start by that conversation about saying let’s cover all the things. And even by creating the list of things that they want to cover, they’re learning because people are going, “wow, what’s that? What’s a dynasty? I’ve never heard of that before.” So I think it’s really about discovering the interests of a group and a classroom is a perfect place to do that because everybody’s there for the purpose of learning. So it’s an easy audience to say, okay, blank piece of paper. Where are we gonna start? Let’s get the list on the ground or on the board. Or probably on the laptop, I should say,
Steve: 13:16 Just a real quick connect. I went crazy the first time I started teaching graduate level teacher ed classes. And they would look at my syllabus and they’d want me to lay out 13 weeks and what we would be doing each of the 13 weeks. And my immediate response was I haven’t met the class yet. So until I know who it is that’s enrolled in this course – I understand there’s a set of standards. There’s a chunk of knowledge they have to walk away with, but it’s gotta be designed with the people who are in the class in mind. So for me to lay out 13 weeks when I haven’t met the people yet, it didn’t make any sense. And the best I got was two weeks. They give the first two weeks of class to get it laid out and submit it. So that really rings to me when you laid that out.
Frances: 14:13 Yeah. And we also now know today how many different learning styles there are. So if it’s all one to many, and it’s the only style they use, and it’s all from a textbook where you’ve just lost half the class, no matter how good the information is. Without having group work or practical assessments or assignments, or where you’ve got the ability to discover and things in different ways. And if you’re not looking at different learning styles, then actually that the unfair advantages of those who are really academic and great memories will always win and you’ll lose those who are highly creative and innovative, but they’d like to see things either visually or they like to work on projects together, or they want some time to draw it out and do diagrams and think it through and sort of mind map.
Frances: 14:55 So, I think all those things, now that we know them, we have to apply them. It’s part of the role of being a great teacher or a great parent to be fair, is actually understanding that everybody learns differently. And I know that even with my staff, that I have a different learning relationship with my different members of staff, depending on how they like to learn and actually come into new information or new skills and the acquisition of new talents. Some of them are just naturally curious and they’ll pick and jump into everything that’s put in front of them and some are reluctant, and then you have to figure out why, and you work through the process of the type of learning. And it comes back to a pottery class. For some people, learning is just give me something tactical to go and work on for a little while and I’ll learn that way as opposed to going in and ask me to sit in a language class when I’ve got no interest in language, for example.
Steve: 15:50 The first chapter in your book is on embracing change. I don’t know if it’s first chapter, but I know you wrote about embracing
change and the listeners to this podcast who are school leaders and instructional coaches in school, frequently have the role of leading those changes or supporting those changes. So I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the concept of embracing change.
Frances: 16:21 Well, I think humans have a wonderful ability to adapt and actually for the majority of things that we get to do, they’re
really rewarding. Whether it’s learning or learning an instrument or going parachuting or eating a meal you’ve never tried before, for the most part, the things that we have the ability to try, we get rewarded because they’re actually enjoyable. And yet if we have one or two experiences where we try something and it doesn’t feel very comfortable, or it feels difficult, we often overly weight that one negative experience across the potential of all the good things. And so you might have somebody who’s trying to learn a language for example, and struggling compared to their peers and they feel like they’re flying ahead and they’re still struggling with the basics. So then they throw their hands up and say, well, I’m kind of done with learning this whole change thing and learning a new technology is too hard. I don’t wanna do it.
Frances: 17:18 I learnt last year’s flavor of the month and I learnt Google docs last year and now you’re asking me to use Trello boards. I’ve had enough. But actually, the pursuit of change and actually adopting new ways of trying things, is one of the most rich experiences we can have as a human. It’s the one that takes us traveling. It’s the one that has us trying different foods or listening to different music or the one that engages us in a conversation with someone you meet at the bus stop. It’s that ability to go, this is a new input, which gives me that sense of either accomplishment or information or warmth because suddenly we are open to these new, profound, or different views.
Frances: 18:05 All of those things are part of growing. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s this idea that there is no finite part of your brain that says, okay, we’ve done enough time to close shop and actually not experience those changes. And so for me, it’s about saying, what are the changes that you are limiting in your life? Like, what have you already just decided that you are not prepared to do that could reward you so dramatically in terms of your ability to connect with others, to combat some of the fears that come with changes that you don’t expect? You know, we’ve all experienced COVID we didn’t expect that and yet, we are starting to build that resilience to understand it. Now we can see our way through and we will and continue to experience things which don’t plan for, but the more comfortable we are, the more we are going to learn from those experiences. And eventually when you get really good at change, you actually embrace things that come at you sometimes out from the unexpected, but you can see the benefit from it. So if someone turns up at your house and it’s no longer a catastrophe, you invite the in and you feel like this is great. I’ve got a conversation with someone who I didn’t know yesterday, or haven’t seen for a while.
Steve: 19:22 I want to try my words that came to my mind as I was listening to you – that discomfort of change is almost a a signal of an excitement that the learning’s about to occur.
Frances: 19:38 Perfect.
Frances: 19:39 I love that. And if you thought about the idea that, if I said to you, we’re going to have a shared dinner, a potluck dinner together with a bunch of friends, but instead of bringing the dish that you absolutely love to make, because you’ve made it a million times before, how about you just bring some ingredients along and we’ll all look at the ingredients and we’ll go, let’s make something we’ve never made before, how much more enjoyable would that be as a collective, to collaborate together and say, right, what do we do with these ingredients? And let’s find some recipe books, or let’s just kind of work it as we go. We’ll figure it out. Compared to this idea of doing the same thing. Here’s another meatloaf dish, here’s another bolognese . So, I think we should look for the opportunity all the time to do something a little bit different.
Steve: 20:27 There’s a phrase I use in my coaching work that you’re looking to create an organization where people are comfortable with discomfort. And what I mean by that is that discomfort of change, I recognize that it’s uncomfortable, but I’m comfortable understanding that that’s what creates the opportunity. And in many ways, I see that’s the job of the teacher in the classroom, to create that environment where kids are comfortable with discomfort. If there isn’t some discomfort, there’s nothing generating that curiosity or risk taking that’s critical to learning. I saw somebody who can produce something I can’t produce and that’s challenged me and that’s pushing me into that learning. It’s uncomfortable. It’d be easier to walk away, but I know that going through that discomfort is what’s gonna take me to that learning opportunity.
Frances: 21:20 Yeah. And look, Steve, I think if you refer back to my book, I talk about when I left New Zealand to head to London at the age of 17, the other side of the world, it’s a 26 hour flight to get there, but I didn’t have a cell phone because there was no such thing. There was no internet, there was no credit card. And I think in today’s world, students have so many safety nets. And in fact, if you are going to be traveling across town to a suburb you don’t know, the first thing you do is you Google map it and it tells you, the algorithm tells you the fastest way to get there. But what if the scenic route was actually gonna give you more reward and enjoyment? And so a lot of the efficiency we’ve built into life is that telling us what to do next.
Frances: 22:07 And the expectation of we wanna get the fastest way or the most efficient way. And I think meandering and sometimes just having the ability to do it differently, stopping in a different shop, going to a different restaurant, meeting with a different group of friends that you haven’t seen for a while. All of those things are about extending our humanness and actually saying, these are the things if we could have stir it up in our minds about this idea that changes a really great thing and extremely rewarding, then the next time we get in the car, we don’t put into Google and say, take me to the next town. You’re just gonna drive. We have a name for it here in New Zealand, we call it a ticky tour. It’s like, let’s just do a ticky tour, which means we won’t have a particular way of getting there. We’ll just find our way there and we’ll arrive when we arrive.
Steve: 22:57 I like it. Before we wrap up, I introduced you, one of the phrases as a technology futurist. So I’m just wondering before we sign off here, what what should educators be dreaming about that could be around the corner?
Frances: 23:17 Look, the one thing at the moment that I’m spending far too much time trying to get my head around is the metaverse and this idea that we are moving into this sort of this virtual world that combines with our real world. And there are now these platforms where you can have your avatars, you can hang out, you can do class. There are many schools now developing programs where you you’re physically having avatars talking and relating in a virtual classroom. But instead of being yourself, you’re an avatar and people can go shopping and you can buy things in this virtual world and then they’re physically delivered to you, but you can also buy virtual clothing or virtual shoes and they’re only ever stay virtual. It’s this whole space where you’ve got the next step away from having a class on Zoom. It’s going to be a class in a classroom, but in the virtual world.
Frances: 24:15 And it’s not something that’s five years away, it’s it’s happening today. But obviously like everything, a technology, it starts with young people first. They’re very adept at going into digital first and it’s the extension of people who have played games and e-sports, and all this sort of world, but actually, within five years, we will have entire universities. We will have tourism experiences. And in fact, I saw today that they’re now going to be having real movies played inside the metaverse. So you’ll be able to go and watch the latest movie in a virtual world, sitting in a drive-in movie theater. So for me, it’s always interesting thinking about what comes next. It’s not easy, I’m not young, but actually, this discovery for me is half the enjoyment. It’s like trying to get my head around it and I’m trying to be in there and going, I can see
where this is going and that’s really important.
Steve: 25:11 Terrific. Would you tell listeners how they can find out more about the work that you’re doing and connect with you?
Frances: 25:19 Sure. So the two organizations are techfutureslab.com or themindlab.com and then Frances Valintine on LinkedIn or Instagram. The tricky thing with my name is it’s Frances with an E and Valintine just like Valentine’s day, but instead of the E in the middle, it has an I. It’s a little confusing, but I would love to hear from you.
Steve: 25:42 Terrific. We’ll put all that in the lead-in to the podcast so folks can go back and find it online.
Frances: 25:49 Perfect.
Steve: 25:50 Thank you. Have a great day.
Frances: 25:53 You too.
Steve: 25:55 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.