6th July 2013
DID SOMEONE SAY CULTURAL CHANGE?
A 'Cultural Darwinism' theory roughly explained....don't worry it's got nothing to do with fascism, fascists don't understand natural selection at all!
There has been an awful lot of talk about 'change' lately. I've been to several conferences, meetings and training days about change and we've even delivered the odd corporate training event and consultation session centred around the idea of instigating a culture of change within a corporate structure or community. Cultural change, it seems, is the thing everyone is looking for in order to sort out their own particular organisational mess or lack of progress. We where invited to a conference about healthcare reform the other day, 'Integration' was the buzzword of the day because, we were told, integration of people and resources is a step towards the cultural change our health service is seeking. So steps are being taken, plans being drawn up and directives being issued so that a cultural change has its positive effect on the way public healthcare is managed and delivered.
Maybe you haven't given cultural change a second thought yet. I'm pretty sure you will do at some point soon though.... one thing you can be totally certain of is that change is a coming, the world is changing right now and it's changing very fast. Huge changes are afoot technologically, socially, economically and environmentally. I reckon the last time things changed around us humans this fast the industrial revolution was in full swing. Just as it was in Victorian times our changing world will propagate winners and quickly dispense with the losers, it's been estimated that if you have a thriving business now, in ten to twenty years time you're business will have bitten the dust! If you're in business or work for a local authority or other organisation and not thinking about cultural change then I bet you're probably talking about sustainability? I think cultural change and sustainability are one and the same thing, or at least you can't really consider one without the talking about other. So if you run a business how are you going to survive? What's your plan? Have you even got a plan....and anyway do you really need one because how can you plan for world that's changing so fast?
What drives change?
I think that possible drivers for cultural change might be an environmental change of some sort, something as simple and catastrophic as a global recession will probably do the trick. Social attitudes can create change too as can technology advancements....not to mention climate change! Just in case you haven't noticed all of these changes are taking place right now by the way. Just as it is with the survival of a species by process of natural selection, I'm guessing you'd want to be supremely adaptable if you fancy your chances at making it through these environmental changes. Maybe your chances of survival would be even better if you happened to be a bit random or at least a bit different already, poised and waiting to slip into any niche opportunities created by the afore mentioned environmental shifts. As seems to be the experience these days, during times of difficult environmental flux there are going to be lots of casualties, unable or unwilling to adapt there are those that will inevitably fall out of the dysfunctional system they have come to rely on. When one entity falls so will another and another and another and so on in a chain reaction of failure and extinction.....or bankruptcy.
Random mutations are good.
Let's get all Darwiny now! Imagine if in amongst the disarray and collapse something was stirring, something that had been around all along but didn't really fit in with the old system all that well. This organism/organisation might have existed on the periphery, scratching out a living by being adaptive. Now that the environment has changed perhaps this is the time for this random whatchamacallit to step out into the light. It's been waiting in the wings for quite a while, waiting for it's randomness to mean something, waiting for a time that it might fit in, waiting for it's oddness to somehow make sense to the world it exists in, waiting for its own moment to be useful. What if the random thing was you or your organisation? Suppose you weren't all that reliant on the old failed system, if that were the case you'd now have the opportunity to be big part of a new system, a new way of living where you can help to shape a new environment . In short your mutant past is now understood by everyone as a adaptation for a successful future. And, it might very well be the case that you might do more than just fit in, you might now be a catalyst for change yourself..... imagine that!
So I think that successful so called 'change implementation' wherever it manifests is probably going to be a spontaneous organic process that positively deals with whatever changing future is thrown at it, a process that can be seeded at ground level but not directed from above, a process that can be nurtured but not dictated and a process that grows upwards and is not willed into being from on high. I also think that cultural change and sustainable business will look different in every place that it springs up. I reckon that it will form as a response to hyper-local issues and as such will be uniquely bespoke to the region in which it was created. So I think that cultural change and by association sustainable business will be novel and well adapted but only to the place that it's in. Whilst I imagine this new culture will undoubtedly become institutionalised eventually, I'm certain that the process of cultural change will come from a non-standardised, non-institutionalised place. Ultimately the success of this 'change process' will come from the fact that the culture it gives rise to has the freedom and flexibility to belong to itself and what's more takes responsibility for the welfare of its own community.
WHY I THINK WE SHOULD TEACH NEUROSCIENCE IN PRESCHOOL!
When I was a kid I spent many hours in the garden of my home on my knees or lying flat on the ground face down. The reason for this odd behaviour wasn't the result of childhood narcolepsy or fainting fits it was simply that this was the best way to get close to the world of nature that was under my feet. You see I was one of those kids who noticed that the world around me was full of things that had more legs than I did or for that matter wings, jaws, stings, compound eyes, feathers, fur, scales, slime etc etc, in short I was fascinated by the natural world that surrounded me. This passion for living things started before I can remember and by the time I was 6 or 7 years old it had led to an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history . Whilst everything that walked, flew, grew and swam interested me it was invertebrates that really captured my imagination. From the earliest age perhaps 4 or 5 years old I realised that the front and back garden of my family home were as exciting and awe inspiring as the Serengeti or the Amazon basin, you just needed to get down on your hands and knees to see it, and when you did there was a wilderness laid out before you in all its glorious technicolour and high definition reality. As a child I watched Violet Ground Beetle's hunting slugs, I saw Hornets ambushing honey bees and I witnessed mesmerised male Speckled Wood Butterflies as they were entranced by the pheromones of a female Speckled Wood Butterfly...I saw these things and many many more unbelievable happenings around my home and in the first handful of years of my life.
THE ART OF TEACHING
Pedagogy. A strange word used mostly by academics that means 'the art of teaching', this then is what Dan Roberts and I went to Sweden recently to talk about at the Centre for Flexible Learning in Söderhamn. There's a good deal of irony in the fact that we went to speak to delegates from all over Europe about the 'art of teaching' since neither Dan or myself make any claims to be teachers....still, we were asked to attend and so in the spirit of enterprise we did.
By Nigel George.
I'm often asked by people what Eccleston George is exactly? It used to be a tricky question to answer because I found it really hard to describe what we do without making us sound completely ridiculous! "Well we're working with tigers at the moment, last week we were working with turtles, next week we're working with third year architecture students at Pompey Uni and the week after we're making a record with 10 year olds" that sort of thing! Lately though I'm very glad to say that's all changed. These days, thanks to the people I work alongside, I don't worry so much about trying to verbally do Eccleston George justice simply because of the extraordinary back catalogue of successful works we have to our name.....to put it another way, our group actions speak very much louder than my own words when it comes to conveying what we do.
So, when I visit a new client be it a business, council or school for the first time I always start off by saying that Eccleston George is simply a name, I explain that as it stands we are neither a company nor a business but rather just a name that a group of freelance creative people use to deliver a variety interesting projects, build a reputation and hopefully offer as a quality assurance to its clients.
Scuzi, I’o non parlo Italiano!
It's true I can't speak Italian! However I bet if I'd spent a couple of weeks or so in Milan I'd now be able to have some kind of conversation with the people who live there in their own language, as they say, the best way to learn a language is to spend some time in a foreign country and learn by mixing with the locals. The funny thing is that this is precisely the way we at Eccleston George deliver our education projects.....we call it 'experience led learning'.
This is what I went to Milan to talk about, whether or not I got my point across I'm too not sure but hopefully something of the passion I feel for the subject came across to the delegation at least.
People have been asking me what I made of the conference, well, now that I've had time to digest what I saw and heard, I think I'm beginning to understand one or two things about where the idea of creative education is up to on a European scale.
The conference, and it's associated study, is looking at the idea of embedding a culture of creativity and enterprise in to the education system European wide, no mean feat given the way things are at moment! Held in Milan, the conference saw the meeting of the four countries that are taking part in the academic study and gave an opportunity to representatives from schools from those countries to talk about their best practice projects and discuss ideas. I was invited as a so called 'creative practitioner', from what I could tell I seemed to be the only non-teacher/non-academic invited to speak. The member countries are Italy, Sweden, Check Republic and the UK, Estonia was taking part but I believe has since dropped out.
What's interesting for me is that before the conference I assumed that creativity and enterprise went hand in hand with each other, now though I’m not so sure. I'm still as certain as ever that an enterprising person must first be a creative individual capable of thinking up novel ideas with value, but I suspect that to become an enterprising entrepreneur, a creative individual must have an overwhelming desire to pursue the potential of their idea.......this, I think, is what sets the enterprising entrepreneur apart from a someone who is j3E
In school, children are generally taught that answers to problems are usually right or wrong or black or white. I think in many cases and in all sorts of ways this can be far from the truth, I would argue that it's just as important to teach children about the wondrous shades of grey that make up the beautifully nuanced world we inhabit. I'm pretty sure that if we fail to do this then our young people will inevitably miss out on a lot of knoweldge and opportunities that would otherwise help them to reach their own potential. I'm not suggesting that one plus one doesn't always equal two but rather there might be more than one correct way to work it out!
In Milan I met a couple of inspiring teachers who, out of desperation, had used their creative initiative to resolve problems with teaching underachieving children . One Swedish teacher noted that her primary students found it hard to concentrate in her English lessons, yet, their English was already pretty good when they came to her. She asked them how they had learned to understand and speak English and they told her that they watched English and American films and listen to music with English lyrics…..so she now uses popular culture to teach English to her class, her students are engaged and levels are going up as a result. Another teacher, this time from Italy, told me that she had found it almost impossible to teach anything much at all to the underachieving children in her class. So difficult was the class that the teacher almost gave up teaching as a result, however instead of giving up she used her initiative and knowledge as a trained art teacher to engage her students in learning in a completely different way. By using Microsoft Excel in an astonishingly creative way students became interested in all sorts of subjects and once again as a result attainment levels and results went up. Whilst it's wonderful to hear these stories and we know and work with other teachers that are doing amazing creative stuff in their classes they do seem to me to be in the minority, most teachers are too bogged down with directives and paperwork to take matters in to their own hands in the way I’ve just described. Teachers need support and to be given flexibilty to deliver the curriculum creatively....in most cases that support and flexibility just isn't there I think.
Very much more often, I’ve noticed, it’s the support staff who take the initiative with some alternative teaching ideas, uncluttered by directives and paperwork they seem willing and able to use their own ideas to instigate some creative teaching. Over and over I’ve seen this in lots of schools, in one such case that I’ve personally witnessed, so effective was the teaching assistant’s interventions at a preschool that she was eventually given the coordinators roll, within a few months she had turned the Early Years unit around, her classroom was held up as an exemplary case and other EY units came to learn from her, sadly her efforts we’re eventually thwarted as 12 months later the school was told it had broken the rules by giving her the position as she was not a qualified teacher….the roll was subsequently given to a teacher and all the headway made with the children was slowly but surely undone. Don’t get me wrong I don’t blame teachers in anyway for the lack of creativity in schools, I put the blame squarely with the system, a system that bogs teachers down so much that they have to rely on support staff to come up with the good ideas……that can’t be right can it?
So the question we’ve been asking ourselves and the one being asked in Milan seems to be, is it possible to teach 'enterprise' to children and young adults in school? For what it's worth my answer is this, I've seen with my own eyes that we can use creative teaching techniques to engage students so that they can learn in a creative way, and I think that as part of the school day this style of learning gives the learner a much more rounded (dare I say holistic) education as a result.....as for teaching enterprising or entrepreneurial thinking, I personally think it can be done and in fact I think we (EG) and other creative practitioners working in schools are probably already doing it, the problem is I'm not sure how one would prove it or measure the effects in terms of grades and levels, we have tons of anecdotal evidence but outside of the Creative Partnerships program evaluations we can’t really provide the kind of proof the people in charge of our education systems want to see, I guess the effects we're having will be much more long term and if and when they happen will be much more to do with a future effect on economies, productivity and possibly even local culture, all of which is big stuff and guaranteed to make most people in influential positions run for the hills!
Finally, with the Comenius study and it's linking conferences in Prauge, Italy and Sweden in mind, I think it's fantastic that all this stuff about embedding enterprise and creativity in the curriculum is being properly studied by people much smarter than me, and for an education system underachiever like me, playing even a small part in that study is hugely exciting, if a little ironic! I really hope the study continues and that efforts are made to integrate it's findings in to the various education systems across the EU. Of course funding is crucial if we are serious about embedding enterprise and creativity in to any curriculum and there, I'm afraid, is the rub. In the UK we have just lost our only official facilitator and funder of creative education projects because of the dreaded spending cuts. The loss of Creative Partnerships will hit our cause very hard indeed. Those of us who are passionate about the subject will try hard to carry on our work in the education system, but the truth is we know we are up against it. We at EG will help schools however we can to embed creativity in their own curriculum, we have some ideas about how to do this and are currently making connections with like minded individuals and organisations who wish to do the same but it ain't gonna be easy!
For your interest here are some of the Creative Partnerships facts and figures that seem to have been overlooked by the people that matter where education policy is concerned -
The Creative Partnerships programme is expected to generate nearly £4 billion net positive benefit for the UK economy, the equivalent of £15.30 of economic benefits for every £1 of investment in the programme – Price Waterhouse Cooper.
Creative Partnerships has worked with over 1 million young people and engaged over 90,000 teachers in local projects. Research highlights include:
Young people who have attended Creative Partnerships activities made, on average the equivalent of 2.5 grades better progress in GCSE (NFER)
Creative Partnerships was shown to be associated with an educationally significant reduction in total absence rates in primary schools (NFER)
Around 70% of the programme’s funding goes directly to the practitioners and over half of those working with Creative Partnerships have developed other work and employed other professionals as a result. Thus having a positive impact on the economy (Burns Owen Partnership).
Even if you are a total cynic were a creative curriculum is concerned, how can you argue with that?