Tag Archives: school

Afraid to be Wrong

Over the past few days, mostly while shovelling snow, I have been listening to one particular podcast from the CBC Ideas Program: Knowledge and Democracy.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 7.29.04 AM The program examines the interaction between science and society, looking at the “position” of the discipline “science” in a democracy.

It is of particular interest to me because of our  recent experiences with a government that chose to muzzle scientists and withdraw support from scientific inquiry.

The podcast is a combination of a talk given by Harry Collins at Memorial University in Newfoundland, and a conversation he had with Paul Kennedy.

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It raises important questions about the position of science in society.  I recommend it to anyone interested in how science is perceived in our society, and particularly for those advocating for science instruction and literacy in our public school system.

One sentence that resonates this morning is, “Would I prefer a society where people expose their ideas to criticism, or where they hide them away so nobody can tell them that they are wrong?“.

In our work with open learning, we often hear that education leaders are afraid to openly share their learning – to be “lead learners” – because it will expose what they don’t know.

Schooling promotes this thinking – that it is better to hide your ignorance.  It is very challenging to shift people who excelled in  school – many who then entered schooling as a profession – into believing that it is better to share ideas than to hide them.

How do we create the conditions in our public education system that encourage leaders to be learners, and to openly share their learning with others?

If we want “innovation”, we need to embrace ideas.

The only way to have great ideas, is to have a lot of ideas.

If our school culture values ‘being right’ more than it values learning, we can’t be innovative.




Are we All Scientific Experts Now? (by Harry Collins)

Ideas with Paul Kennedy: Knowledge and Democracy

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What’s Our Next Step in Spreading Great Practice Around #TELT?

In Ontario we know we have pockets of excellence when it comes to Technology-enabled learning and teaching.

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When I refer to “pockets of excellence”, I mean schools and classrooms where learning to do this, digging into doing this well, and supporting the understanding of how learning needs to change to meet the realities of today’s world, are front and center in their thinking and sharing.

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Progress in improving learning and instruction through the use of technology is not “by chance” in these spaces. This is where communities are working hard and inviting input into figuring it all out.

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The work of eLCs in Ontario has shifted significantly this year into a leadership role in boards to enable a better understanding of how we can use technology to enhance learning and teaching. As we worked to build capacity/capital in the eLC community, engaging them in conversations and learning with these ‘pockets of excellence” became a priority.

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Last week, many of the northern eLCs (Thunder Bay Region, Sudbury-North Bay Region, Barrie Region) went on a “field trip” to do school and classroom visits.

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ADSB eLC Tyler Hankinson listens to ASPS students reflect on TELT in their school.

Their generous hosts from Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and Trillium Lakelands District School Board were as follows:


Ancaster Senior Public School, HWDSB (Principal Contact – Lisa Neale)

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SGDSB eLC Stacey Wallwin and eLO EO Margo Palmeter share learning with students from ASPS.



Innovation Centre (Holbrook School) HWDSB (Teacher contact – Zoe Branigan-Pipe) Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 9.42.56 AM

Dr. J. Edgar Davey Elementary School, HWDB (Teacher contact – Aviva Dunsiger)

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The Virtual Learning Centre, TLDSB (Principal contact – Peter Warren)

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Special thanks to host eLCs:

Paul Hatala (HWDSB)

Jeremy Cadeau Mark (TLDSB)


The connections, the conversations, the learning and the sharing were incredibly rich. The eLC visitors and the host schools have been sharing their learning through their blogs. Some of these are posted below (eLCs/hosts: please contact me when you have more visible thinking to add to this list).

Host Aviva Dunsiger: Class Learning  and  Personal Reflections.

Host Lisa Neale: Principal Neale

eLC Anne Shillolo: eLC Reflections

eLC John Gibson: eLC Road Trip

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So now what?

How do we continue to spread and share our thinking about how learning needs to happen for our students in a world where the industrial model no longer meets their needs?

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How do we create the conditions in Ontario to allow teachers to be researchers into best practices for student learning?

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How do we continue to deepen the conversations and engage all educators in reflective practice?

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How do we ensure that all of our classroom (bricks and mortar, and online) educators access the richness of learning available online 24/7? 

With the structures currently in place in Ontario, what needs to happen to ensure optimum learning for students in every class?

Your input is both welcomed and appreciated.

Some further examples:

Using twitter to survey the world, and connecting with other classrooms: http://byodasap.blogspot.ca/2015/03/a-global-survey-electricity-usage.html @HTheijsmeijer

Using twitter in eLearning to survey the world around water treatment:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/15YmGqJQphAr35ghoOZnhsDcrIow7c5VO6ByZaT6k20E/viewform?c=0&w=1 @lauramitchellwa

Thoughts: Labour Day 2014

I wanted to tell a funny story on this Labour Day.

I will share this entertaining piece instead: Teachers Don’t Sleep on Labour Day by  @albertfong

I have plenty of my own crazy tales, of course, having spent nearly 30 years of Labour Days ignoring my family in spite of it being my daughter’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, a stressful time for my kids heading back to school…

Even though today is the first Labour Day in 25 years where nobody in our household is heading off to school, I don’t feel like being funny.  I have a very heavy heart as I think of the teachers in British Columbia and the conflict they are embroiled in.

I think of the passionate educators that do so much for students in B.C. – educators like Karen Lirenman,  David Truss, and Bryan Jackson.   How do I know what they are doing?  Because they share.

They openly invite everyone to see how they think, what they struggle with, how they learn, and what they are working on.  They do this through blogging, through Twitter (and other social media), and through face-to-face presentations throughout the year.

I know they love what they do, because they openly demonstrate this all year long.

As we once again see teachers as a political target, it is important to ask ourselves why this profession is so often attacked by politicians. Take a moment to read this very thought-provoking essay on the Future of Schooling in Canada by Stephen Murgatroyd.

Here is a short excerpt:

“Teachers need to “take back” their schools, supported by mindful school leaders, if they are not to become the new laboratories for corporate greed….

…The final challenge relates to the conditions of practice which teachers and school leaders face. There is a growing distortion around the importance of class size and composition – classes of 30-35 with up to six students with special needs are seen as “manageable” (they are not) with a single teacher and little if any access to other supports. Custodial services are seen as being only required before and after school – not during the school day, leaving teachers to clean up after sick children or some accident in the chemistry lab. We are neglecting the basic conditions in the name of economy. Attempts to challenge the creeping Fordism which such class sizes force on school systems are seen as “teacher whining”, yet parents and citizens should be appalled at some of the conditions under which we are asking teachers to produce the next generation of imagineers, artists, scientists, engineers and trades persons.”


If we really believe that our children are our greatest resource, and if we really believe that teaching is the most important profession for our future, then we need to tell our stories to the world.

“Teaching in isolation is no longer consistent with professionalism.”(Catherine Montreuil, August 2014).

This year, don’t just do great things for kids.

Tell your story.

Tell it loudly, and openly, and show the world what you do every day.

Show the world that every single day, teachers are making a positive difference in the lives of our children.

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Photo credit: venspired via Compfight cc

Are You Really Willing to be Disturbed?

Today is my day to participate in the #OSSEMOOC Pic and Post, where we encourage learners to pick ONE piece of learning, take a shot of it, and share it with others.

Got something to share? Of course you do!

Here’s how to make your learning visible so others can learn too: http://ossemooc.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/collaborative-blogging-2/

If nobody shares, nobody learns!

Are You Really Willing to be Disturbed?.

What is the Purpose of School? Nova Scotia Considers Its Future

It’s perplexing to me that as Canadians we can unite at ungodly early morning hours to cheer on our hockey team as a country, yet when it comes to education we live on seemingly unconnected islands.

In my province, Ontario, we have just completed a “visioning” exercise, looking at how to move our public education system from “great to excellent“.  In the meantime, in what feels like a different country (because we rarely connect and share what we know), the province of Nova Scotia is about to embark on an education review.

Last week, the Province of Nova Scotia launched its urgent call for change.

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The report states that a crisis exists that threatens the standard of living of Nova Scotians.  It outlines 19 goals and 12 long-term strategies that are needed to turn the economy around and stop the current decline.

Robert Sutton, in his recent publication “Scaling Up Excellence” demonstrates that using logical arguments to spread the need for change are often not effective, and we need an emotional attachment to an idea to really move change forward.  The Ivany Report, with the focus on Urgency and Mobilizing Strengths, has created this “hot cause” to “stoke the engine”.

However, critics say that the report, while strong on ideas, lacks concrete policy.

As an educator, I read the report looking for how the education system would be redesigned to meet the goals of “One Nova Scotia: Shaping our Economy Together”.  With a quarter of the population under the age of 19, it would seem that transforming an economy would certainly require a transformation in how young people were educated.  But there is very little in the report to suggest how this might occur.

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A small section entitled “Excellence in Education and Training” (combining those terms is concerning) suggests that a “rigorous curriculum review” and “setting the bar high” will hold Nova Scotians accountable for reaching their goals.

There is essentially no conversation on how a system of schooling, created with an industrial mindset, could now produce young adults who thought like entrepreneurs rather than obedient assembly line employees.

So what, then, should be the purpose of Nova Scotia’s upcoming comprehensive review of the education system?

In Ontario, we have learned that public support of public education is critical.  In our three priorities, raising the bar, lowering the gap and securing accountability, we have focused on how, as a province, we can believe in what we are doing as being the best for our students.

At the same time, research must be central to learning.  So what, then, is the role of public consultation?

Perhaps the real question Nova Scotians need to answer is “What is School for?” How can we possibly determine what is working, and what needs improvement, if we aren’t in agreement on why we have schools in the first place?

Once we know what schools are there to accomplish, there is a world of research available to help move those goals forward.  High yield strategies like assessment for learning, and student-work-study teacher initiatives are well-documented.

The citizens of Nova Scotia,  faced with the findings of the Ivany Report,  now need to deeply consider their expectations, their beliefs, and their understanding of the purpose of the school buildings in their communities, and the reasons for the hours that young people spend there every day.

What kind of person emerges from the years in the school system, and what kind of province results from that education system?

As Canadians, what do we see as the purpose of school?

Further reading:

The Future of Schooling: Are Students Being Prepared to “Dance with Robots”?


Stop Stealing Dreams – Seth Godin


What should a school be?


Student Mental Health in the Media

Recently, there was an uproar about math scores in Ontario.  The media called the results of the PISA test “a crisis” and quickly blamed schools, teachers, the education system, and anyone else related to public education.

Yesterday, we learned shocking statistics about the state of students’ mental health in Toronto District School Board.  The response? Train the teachers better to deal with students who have mental health issues, and train the students how to better deal with stress.


It’s interesting.

Schools get all the blame for math scores, but mental health issues are caused by other factors and we just need to work with it.

But I have yet to hear a response similar to the math “crisis”, that schools need to change to help students have a better state of mental health.

By change, I don’t mean adding mental health support, though that is also critically needed.

I mean change structurally.  How are schools contributing to the stress and anxiety students are reporting?

Where else do bells ring all the time?

Where else are you ostracized and singled out for being late even though you were outside and you can’t afford a watch and your best friend just told you she is pregnant….

Where else would it be considered right to stick kids in a huge gymnasium to write final exams that are “important assessments” that determine whether they get credits or not?

And we wonder why they are anxious?

As long as we see students as products and not people, we will create structures that work better in a factory than in nurturing people.

As long as we see school as preparation for life, when school actually is life, we will forget that providing rich learning experiences in a safe and nurturing environment is our role.

What structures in the school system can we change right now to provide quality of life and a relaxed learning environment for the youth in our communities?

When Knowledge and Belief Collide

Recently I had a second opportunity to listen to the Director of Education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, John Malloy, speak at a conference (#NOELonline).

Below are my notes (with personal annotations) from his presentation.

What are our beliefs as educators?

Traditional Classroom
Photomatt28 via Compfight cc

We have beliefs around what classrooms should look like and what should happen in schools.  Parents have beliefs around what they expect for their children.  There is a shared experience of what school is, and the ‘one size fits all’ approach is essentially the universal past experience for adults.

These beliefs have a stronghold on our vision for schools.

We KNOW that the current approach and structure are not adequate.  But shifting our beliefs to align with what we know is very challenging and tough work.  Changing the ‘rules of the game’ is most threatening to those currently winning at the game (just try to remove competition from classrooms and awards ceremonies for ‘top students’).

If we are going to shift, we need to support teachers.  They need to learn to use technology meaningfully to engage students and enhance instruction.  They need training in 21C skills, or should we call them 22C skills now that we are almost 15 years into the 21C?  There can be no easy outs.  We have to do the work and stop making excuses.

Teachers need to deeply know their students.  They need to understand their passions, strengths, and especially their needs.  Teachers need an inquiry stance that asks what they can learn from their students.  It takes a genuine process of integrating student voice into school planning.  How will we authentically know, engage, serve and learn from students?  What has to change to really do this?


Kerri Lee Smith via Compfight cc

A student-centered approach to teaching and learning is only possible where the culture of the entire system is supportive.  What does this look like?  Focusing at the student level means that classroom decisions are key, learning must be personalized, and teachers need exist in an environment that allows them to do the work.  Classroom work must “bubble-up” and inform work at the system level to support teachers in determining and responding to the greatest needs of their students.

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If we want a culture at all levels that encourages continuous improvement (and we really need to think about that because it means constant change), then the culture needs to  promote and embrace risk-taking.  Educators are a vulnerable group because they have been seen traditionally as those with the knowledge.  Teachers need to understand that they don’t have to (and can’t) know everything.  They need to feel safe learning how we expect students to learn, taking risks, receiving feedback, and growing within that supportive structure.

Does your system work like this?

Teachers care.  They are maxed out on dedication and time they put into their profession.

We need to work differently, to think differently about the type of instruction, the learning conditions, and support teachers in the learning process.

“The only way to provide what our students need, is to collaborate together to learn from one another, to take risks, ask questions, experiment and respond to what our students are saying, creating and doing.  Support each other to be brilliant.”

OTRK12: The Learning

I am in my second last session of the OTRK12 Conference in Mississauga.  As the twitter feed flies by me I am reflecting on how much I have learned and how much I need to share.

Here are some of my notes from this morning’s chat with John Malloy, Director, HWDSB.

@malloy_john  HWDSB Director
@malloy_john HWDSB Director

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Some of the other thinking during the session:

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The Speed of Trust

When I landed my very first job as a secondary school administrator, a friend took me aside and handed me a copy of The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey.  Trust, she said, was the most important part of relationships and the key to success in leadership.

BLOG 2013 Photo Credit: Dru! via Compfight cc

I believe that.  I work hard at being a trustworthy person.  It pains me when I let someone down, even if by accident or because it was unavoidable.

Our schools are built on trust.  We tell students “if you do this, you will be successful”.  They trust us, and we follow through. Teaching is a rules-oriented profession.  Every day, we play by the rules, we ask our students to play by the rules, and we expect others to play by the rules.

So when I read Stephen Hurley’s blog post about “The Schools we Want“, where he asks us to write about our vision for public education, I had to respond.  I think that calling the current situation “labour unrest”, and talking about the need to find a resolution to it, misses a fundamental point.  For me, the broken system we have right now is not about labour unrest, it is about the destruction of trust.

Permit me to share my story, with apologies to those who have heard it too many times already.

I have given every ounce of energy I have to the public education system for the last 30 years.  My family would suggest I have given more than that.  I have marked through the night to meet deadlines on many occasions.  I have taught online with a broken arm, cast balanced carefully so that some of my fingers could reach the keys. I have been punched in the stomach by a student, and punched in the face by another student. I have spent a small fortune on classroom supplies, food for hungry students and sports fees for kids who couldn’t afford to play.  I will continue to do this because I believe with every cell in my body that public education is society’s equalizer, and that given the opportunity, our children can do great things with their lives.  And this is my work.

I have worked my way up the salary grid by taking courses at night and through the summers, I have driven 2000 km round trips on weekends to take courses.  One course required 10000 km of driving.  But that’s what we do up here.

I have also earned my retirement gratuity by banking my sick days, because this was my short-term disability plan.  “Plan” is the operative word here, because when you know the rules, you can plan accordingly.  Never, ever, did I ever expect that the McGuinty government would break the rules.

Four years ago, I accepted a position with a different school board.  This is not uncommon for principals, and I believe it is good for public education.  It results in a mixing of ideas and connections, and more learning for everyone involved.  The “rules” of my transfer were that after five consecutive years of working for my new board, I would be able to retire with my full (and already fully earned) retirement gratuity.

Like all other principals in this position, and there are many, I trusted that both sides would follow the rules. Not in my wildest dreams did I anticipate that the McGuinty government would pass Bill 115, making it illegal for my board to allow me to have that gratuity.

When I tell people outside of education that my earned gratuity has been taken away from me, they say “They can’t do that!”.  But they did, and just like that, the trust is gone.

It takes a lot to flatten me.  I am a trapper’s daughter, and resilience is my strongest characteristic.  But this has literally taken me out of the game.

How do I go back into that school and teach students Civics?  How do we teach our Careers students that they have labour laws to protect them, because they don’t.  How do we teach our students about the Human Rights Code, because now their government can just pass laws to say it doesn’t apply to them.  What about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

So @Stephen_Hurley, before we can have any vision for where public education needs to go, trust must be restored.  Agreements must be respected, democracy must be held in high regard, and the very people who are entrusted with student learning need to be valued by people in this province, including those in power.

Kathleen Wynne can’t put a bandaid on this.  Our wounds are too deep, and assaulting the very people who give so much free time to our province’s youth is the wrong way to make public education work.  

“Fish discover water last…In a similar way, we… discover trust last…We take it for granted-unless it becomes polluted or destroyed…Without trust, society closes down and will ultimately self-destruct.” The Speed of Trust, Page 273

Bill 115:
… Restrictions on jurisdiction
Limit on jurisdiction of Ontario Labour Relations Board
14.  (1)  The Ontario Labour Relations Board shall not inquire into or make a decision on whether a provision of this Act, a regulation or an order made under subsection 9 (2) is constitutionally valid or is in conflict with the Human Rights Code.
Limit on jurisdiction of arbitrators
(2)  An arbitrator or arbitration board shall not inquire into or make a decision on whether a provision of this Act, a regulation or an order made under subsection 9 (2) is constitutionally valid or is in conflict with the Human Rights Code.
Restrictions on review
No review by court
15.  (1)  No term or condition included in an employment contract or collective agreement under or by virtue of this Act, process for consultation prescribed under this Act, or decision, approval, act, advice, direction, regulation or order made by the Minister or Lieutenant Governor in Council under this Act shall be questioned or reviewed in any court.
(2)  No steps shall be taken to have a court question, review, prohibit or restrain any consultation, review or approval process prescribed or initiated under this Act at the Minister’s or Lieutenant Governor in Council’s discretion.
Restriction on review by arbitrator, Ontario Labour Relations Board
(3)  Terms and conditions included in a collective agreement under or by virtue of this Act shall not be questioned or reviewed by an arbitrator, an arbitration board or the Ontario Labour Relations Board, except as provided by those terms or conditions.

Learning about Leading Change

If you have seen this video a hundred times, please don’t go away yet.

Scroll down …

If it is new to you, please take a moment to view it.  It was produced in 2008.  At the time, it was at the leading edge, and it was used as an introduction to so many presentations on school reform and educational technology.

I encountered this video this past week in an interesting context.  I won’t share the context right now, but I do want the share my reaction to the video as it relates to the question, “How do you lead change?”.

This video is really old, yet so little has changed in the 4-5 years since it was first produced.  Why is it that there has been so little change?

Perhaps I think this way because of my current perspective.  There are pockets of change, pockets that have reached that critical mass and are growing now.  This was so evident at #ECOO12 last month, and #Unplugd12 earlier this year.

When I moved to northwestern Ontario, I wanted change to happen fast.  I created this wiki, hoping others would collaborate on it with me.  I led professional development sessions on Web 2.0 tools.  I think some people were interested, but not committed, and it fizzled.

I failed.  But from failure comes learning.

Back then, my approach was “here I am, this is what I know, you should do this too”.  I couldn’t understand why nobody else was excited about this.

How do you lead change?  How do you turn this frustration, this utter frustration, into leading change?

For me, there was a strong need to flee.  I felt so totally isolated in a place where nobody seemed to be “getting it” that I just wanted out.  I was scared that I was getting behind just because my own learning felt like it was at a standstill.

Fortunately, I can live in the beautiful, isolated place, yet still find my tribe.  The movers and shakers in education are just a tweet away.  By building and growing my online Professional Learning Network (PLN), I could still move my own learning forward while modeling the kind of learning and change I knew had to happen.

When you are trying to lead change, finding your own peer group, your own learning network, your own support system is critical.  Going it alone isn’t going to work.  A leader needs to be able to thrive in the environment too.  If a leader feels like their own growth is being stifled, the excitement, the learning, the conversations will not have the energy and enthusiasm needed for change to move forward.

Learning from exceptional leaders…

Leaders need to keep growing and modeling change, they can’t get stuck.  Leaders need to celebrate all the little events that show progress. We need to build that critical mass where you have so many people sharing and learning together that collaborative learning becomes the norm, and those not doing it are the odd people out.

Patience.  Patience. Patience. Patience. Patience.

Teachers have taught me this year that I have to meet them where they are.  This is not about where I am, this is about where they are and what they need to move forward.

It was a career highlight for me this week when I walked into the staffroom and heard a teacher say, “ Did you see that video that Donna posted on Twitter last night?”.  Then, the teacher proceeded to show the video to her colleagues on her smart phone.  Wow.  That is what a staff room should look like, full of excitement about sharing and learning.

Early one morning this week I woke up and checked my Twitter feed to find that another aspiring leader had joined our conversations on Twitter.  Within a day she was already writing about how “addicted” she was to the learning and how blogging was the next step for her.

When another teacher asked about starting a wiki, I shared with her the wiki I started four years ago.  We talked about how four years ago, this was the wrong approach.  I didn’t recognize that it was too early, that change isn’t linear, that there are the right starting points for different people, and that where I was, was not where they were.

Building capacity with teachers is critical if change is to happen.  With social media, “giving the tools to teachers” has become much easier.

Talking about tools and sharing resources and enthusiasm is not enough. Listening to teachers talk about their ideas for their students, and matching that enthusiasm with the right tools for them to move forward is essential.

We must introduce educators to places where they can enhance their own learning and find others with the same needs and goals. We can all learn on Twitter 24/7.   There are over 300 educational chats, and the amount of information on how to bring 21st century learning and skills into the classroom is overwhelming.  Encouraging teachers to use technology, and to model their own learning, needs to be a priority if change is to occur.

Change involves learning.  It is an exciting time for learning for all, not just students.   Learning to learn is critical for all of us to thrive as we move to make our schools better reflect where society is, and to focus on preparing our students for the world as it is today and as it will be for them, not the industrial model of the past.