Beware of the red rabbit - an interview with Ewan McIntosh

Education needs people who think differently. It needs people who aren’t afraid to tackle the problems. People who hold on to it and try to change it. Step by step. Just like Ewan McIntosh.

I met Ewan on a teachers' convention about teaching with iPads. He inspired all of us to think differently and take action. Not in a week, but at that very moment. How could we change education?

Who is Ewan McIntosh?

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, a company that helps their clients to discover their problems and challenges. Understanding and then deconstructing the whole situation before helping to build a solution is a critical part of their approach.

Whether it’s a company or a school, Ewan’s aim is the same. He wants to guide people from passive thinking to dynamic activity as well as equip people to work problems out for themselves and become more self-efficient. Ewan also focuses on creating a climate in which it’s safe to be experimental and creative. He wants to develop a language that’s shared between individuals, across teams and throughout organizations.

The red rabbit

Ewan impressed all the teachers in the room with the story about the red rabbit. Does your classroom or school has a red rabbit? Let’s find out!

Ewan McIntosh: “I couldn’t believe that a €2500 machine - a 3D printer - was being marketed with its best use case being … the printing of a red plastic rabbit. Surely these machines can do some good in the world, and not just fill it with more junk for landfill. To make that happen isn’t down to the manufacturers. The onus is on students, teachers and parents giving some thought as to why one might use (and buy) such a machine. What does it add to the learning, first and foremost? Unfortunately, too many schools have these things either gathering dust, or producing stuff that hurts the planet, rather than helping it.

3D printing in education

Source: cincinnatilibrary.org

So what does this mean for your classroom? Think about your teaching. Is there a red rabbit hiding somewhere? Are you teaching your students something that is just not worth mentioning? Can you change that red rabbit into something more powerful and useful?

The red rabbit is a common problem in the education system. It represents the need of good education, with a true purpose. Don’t create a red rabbit when you can create a 3D printed hand. A hand that actually makes someone really happy.

Design your thinking

Then what are you doing wrong? You passionately teach students, think about what question format is best to become students' thinking. You are teaching them new things every day. You are already moving mountains on your own. What does Ewan teach teachers that can change education?

Ewan McIntosh: “NoTosh has been at the heart of design thinking in K-12 education for the past seven years. When we help people to “do” design thinking, we’re helping them to “design their thinking“ - to have a specific thought to how they want to teach, how they want to learn, and for what purpose. Then they work out how they’re going to achieve that with the thinking tools (and technology!) that they’ve got.

Ewan had left the education sector, despondent with naysayers in Government who hadn’t taught a class in the last two decades. While he was “escaping“ this side of education policy, he was Commissioner at Channel 4 TV.

Ewan McIntosh: “There, I was working with some of the most creative minds in the country, all of whom could describe their process for coming up with great ideas and making them happen. I wanted teachers and students to be able to do the same, instead of thinking that great ideas and creativity just fell out of the sky.

His motivation has been there from the start, and is firmly stated today in NoTosh’s vision: “We see a world in which people have the creative confidence to find their place in a team and achieve something bigger than they are.”

The future of education

Since Ewan has a particular idea of education, teaching, working together, sharing ideas and thinking, I was a bit curious about his expectations for the future of education.

Ewan McIntosh: “I think control is moving from Government to regions, from regions to schools and from individual school leaders to the wider community. That’s certainly the move in Scotland, and I notice it happening elsewhere in the world. It makes it harder for help to be coordinated from the outside, but makes it much more competitive - you’re relying on the success you’ve helped create in one school and the word of mouth to develop similar successes in schools elsewhere. We’re enjoying this new world of devolved decision-making and empowerment. It’s getting rid of mediocre leadership slowly (and painfully) and the cream is rising to the top.

And then there’s personalization. We have personalized sneakers, personalized phone covers, you name it. Almost everything in this world is personalized. ALMOST everything.

Think about what you are teaching now and what you were taught 30 years ago. It’s still the same isn’t it? Education isn’t personalized… yet.

This made me pop the question to Ewan: “Is personalization in education necessary?”

Ewan McIntosh: “Yes. But not in the top-down way. It’s necessary that every learner knows how to make decisions on their own learning, not have them taken for them. We’re getting there with our schools!

Let’s get started and get rid of the red rabbit. Start designing your own thinking and teach your students to make their learning their own by personalizing.

Lucie Renard

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