It seems lately that the word transformation is dolloped liberally across education, and in the pandemic across many other sectors too. Many of us know we need to transform but the ‘how’ is often elusive. Transformation has become a bit of an ‘aerosol’ word that we hear so frequently in education. These concepts are sprayed around, they smell great but they are ultimately intangible or potentially worse unteachable. In our work with 4C Transformative Learning, we partner with over 60 early childhood, primary and secondary education settings to create action for transformation in all aspects of a school’s life.

The challenge we accepted writing Transforming Education: Reimagining Learning, Pedagogy and Curriculum was to frame transformation around the ‘how’ rather than just the ‘why’. Instead of thinking of transformation as only conceptual, Transforming Education sets out to identify the ‘how’ of transformative change in values, pedagogy, curriculum, teacher education and leadership. One of the ways we can respond to this challenge is to make opaque concepts explicit and understandable.

Words like ‘transformation’ sound great but are sometimes difficult to translate into action

Making sense of ‘aerosol words’

The opaqueness of these ‘aerosol’ concepts sometimes means educators become paralysed in the face of intangible concepts. The danger here is that key concepts such as creativity aren’t taught because they have become unknowable. In Transforming Schools we call this the policy/pedagogy gap. The policy is clear enough, we as educators are urged to teach the 4Cs (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical reflection). However, when it comes to classroom application the words sometimes become ‘mist’. Educators often have a general sense of what these concepts might mean but making them real in classrooms, staffrooms and in the whole school community is a challenge. Our response in Transforming Education is to create coherence makers that provide simple, pedagogical structures founded in evidence and trialled in practice in schools. One of our coherence makers for example is the Creativity Cascade.

Coherence makers supporting transformation

We have coherence makers for all of the 4CS to bring pedagogical coherence to these sometimes-intangible concepts. These coherence makers are a scaffold or schema which allow educators to employ a shared approach to creativity learning and assessment across a school. A shared understanding allows for deeper disciplinary and transdisciplinary learning.

For example, in the Creativity Cascade coherence maker, creativity learning is imagined as a metaphorical cascade with four stages (or pools) that support high-quality learning. We are using the metaphor of the cascade because it suggests a process where one body of water (or understanding) falls (with gravitational force and disciplined but varied form) into each successive ‘pool’. The cascade does not work unless the water flows from one part to the next. The four pools of the cascade are:

  • Noticing
  • Asking why? Really why?
  • Playing with possibility
  • Selecting and evaluating.

The Creativity Cascade

This coherence maker has been applied across year levels and subject areas to support an understanding of creativity as a knowable, teachable process that can be applied as readily to science, as to mathematics, dance or geography. Like any effective scaffold, the Creativity Cascade appears simple at first but as it is put into practice the depth and the complexity of each pool or phase of creativity becomes apparent. For instance, at first glance noticing may appear simple, but as Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon argues the attention economy generates ‘a wealth of information [that] creates a poverty of attention’. As teachers know, we are bombarded with so much information that we (and our students) often don’t know how and what to pay priority attention to. In the classroom this means that noticing is a skill and a process that needs to be explicitly taught. By way of examples, students need to be taught how to uncover number patterns in mathematics, how language is used in a novel or how a tree achieves photosynthesis: ‘noticing’ is crucial to their learning and understanding. For creativity to flourish, students need to notice their world deeply without being distracted.

In Transforming Education we tell the story of transformation occurring in schools and other education settings across the world. Transformation in education is critical if we are to face the super complex challenges facing our students now and into the future. Coherence makers are just one strategy we need to prepare a framework for learning the 4Cs (and many other concepts too) that can overarch and underpin learning. We have seen in our partnership schools that transformation is possible when we can articulate the story (‘the why’) and the journey (‘the how’) to make transformation achievable and sustainable.

About the Authors

Michael Anderson is Professor of Education, The University of Sydney and Co-founder of 4C Transformative Learning.He has taught, researched and published on education and transformation for over 20 years and is the author of 13 books on the subject.

Miranda Jefferson is Co-founder and CEO of 4C Transformative Learning. Shehas been involved in leading innovation in schools for more than 20 years. She has taught drama and media arts learning and teacher professional practice in the Education Faculty at the University of Sydney.

They are the co-authors of Transforming schools: Creativity, critical reflection, communication, collaboration (Bloomsbury 2017); their latest book is Transforming education: Reimagining learning, pedagogy and curriculum (Bloomsbury 2021).

Transforming Education book cover
Transforming Education: Reimagining learning, pedagogy and curriculum

Visit their website: www.4ctransformativelearning.org