14 and Wiser Than Most

An amazing insight in to the thinking of a 14 year old boy, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez determined to bring about meaningful change in the way mankind interacts with the environment. He says, quite simply that it's not climate that needs to change, but the mindset of society.

Here's the MIC article about him and the making of the short film:

Mic - Article
(click on the link above to open the article)

And, here is his TED talk and hip-hop performance with his younger brother:

Power to the young Earth Guardian Crews!

Educating the Whole Child

The article linked below says a great deal about where we are in education today and, I believe, what still remains so very wrong in the system (regardless of which country you’re looking at).

The article sets out to share some research that suggests that an emphasis on empathy skills, emotional intelligence, approaches to social skills and understanding one’s own learning process are required in the higher classes in schools, as well as Kindergarten and primary – as though these findings are a big shock!

KQED News – Mindshift Blog Article

I’ve seen this and how it manifests for myself. It represents a kind of schizophrenia in school education. Even many highly regarded educators will reconcile themselves to espousing ‘whole child’ education, holistic education and a nurturing, child-centric approach whilst children are in KG and lower classes. But then, somewhere when the children reach middle school those same supposedly child-centric educators will snatch back the learning ‘power’ from the children and take over, shunning child-centricity for a hard nosed, syllabus based approach where the educators will drive and the children are expected to compliantly accept. So, this begs the question – did we ever really believe in child-centricity and holistic learning, or did we just go along with it because everyone else was talking in those terms? Or, does it come down to a lack of faith in the teenage child to do the right things for themselves? If we leave them to their own devices, let them make choices etc., they might make the wrong ones! better that we take over and drive the learning!

To my mind, among teachers who teach in higher classes in schools there is way too much interest in their subject, the facts and knowledge contained within it and themselves as jugs to fill empty glasses. There is one way in which this is understandable – the secondary teacher who teaches children ‘the stuff’ meticulously, has them memorize the stuff faithfully and reproduce the stuff in an examination gets the simple endorsement and validation represented by their students’ examination scores. (Ironically, of course, all the evidence is we don’t really know what “stuff” will be important in the lives of these children)

To focus on equipping a young person with the skills for life, the emotional intelligence, social and inter-personal skills can’t necessarily be measured and that makes it less comfortable for the educators. Ironically, it’s also less comfortable for the parents and for those in government who want/ need to believe that they can drive education as a driver for economic progress. So, all parties collude in ‘the game’. And all the time they continue to swear allegiance to holistic learning, developing the whole child whilst reliant upon the elementary classroom for the evidence and proof of that commitment.

My belief – plain and simple, educating the whole child and maintaining a focus as much on process as learning outcomes is as right with the 15 year old as it was with the 5 year old.

Leadership and Communication

Here’s a nice little short video (only about 5 minutes), with some interesting thoughts on how leaders can communicate most effectively.

My biggest takeaway: personal, future, story

Bluepoint Leadership Training Video

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Peter Gabriel – Video to Fight Human Rights Abuses

Long admitted the man’s music,  but as time has gone on have come more and more to respect the man.

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Grit and Perseverance

Closely associated to ‘Growth Mindset’ on which i wrote a few days ago, recent months have seen increasing focus on grit and perseverance as qualities that reflect the positive inclination to stick at tasks and to see effort and ‘trying’ as the means to effective learning (as opposed to the fixed mindset belief that intelligence and ability to learn is just innate and shouldn’t require effort).

I was so pleased to find that Edutopia had done a great job of bringing together a wealth of resources on these subjects.

The first link contains a curated collection of articles, websites, videos and other resources related to grit and perseverance:;

Resilience and Grit – Edutopia Resource Rounup
(Click on the link above to access all the resources)

The next is an interesting article about the value and merit of the growth mindset as applied to teachers and professionals, as opposed to thinking of it purely from the perspective of students:

Edutopia – Developing a Growth Mindset for Teachers and Staff

Finally, an article about strengthening and building executive functions – the skills related to controlling one’s own mind, points of focus and ‘mind management’

Edutopia – Strategies for Strengthening Executive Functions

For anyone who wants to know and understand more about these areas, this is a great set of resources with which to begin.

Writing to Heal

In a teacher recruitment interview a few days ago, the issue of children who lack the motivation to learn writing came up. This teacher was not unusual in advocating ‘more practice’ and various process oriented responses to get the child to do more of the activities that would eventually manifest in the ability to write.

These, I find, are the typical responses – if what we’ve done with the child so far isn’t working – do more of it, push harder, take a more pro-active stance, but by hook or by crook we will make the process happen. These kinds of perspectives are inevitable in a system that sees teaching as what matters (as opposed to learning). This approach says, essentially – it’s on the syllabus, all the children will learn it. Next – if most have learned it, any who haven’t are in some way or other inconvenient misfits. Compliance, consistency and the regulated outcomes of the factory are what we appreciate and value. And so, the quality control, remediation process commences as we, the educators, seek to bend the child in to conformity and consistency.

Even if we are successful, what have we done to the child? What have we lead them to believe about themselves or about the learning process? Phrases like, “I’m not very good at this school learning stuff,” “learning for me happens when someone older and wiser makes it happen,” “learning is something that has to be done to me, for my own good, not something i do for my own good.” Should we really be surprised if these turn out to be self-fulfilling prophesies?

Barring cases of severe mental or physical retardation, did you ever see a child that failed to learn to walk? I’m guessing not. That said, you might have seen plenty of children who would have been defined as failing if they didn’t walk among the first batch of their age peer cohort. My understanding is that walking starts between 9 and 16 months from birth. If we educators got to interfere in the process I suspect that by month 14 all those children who weren’t achieving at least a B grade for walking competence would be in remedial class, being set extra practice and would get to hear themselves talked about as a ‘late developer’ and ‘low achiever’ by educators and parents in not so hushed whispers! Who knows, if we could really get our hands dirty, some of them might be inclined to give up on the whole idea of walking completely.

The same could go for speaking.

And yet, aren’t these the very responses that come from the industrialised model of education when a child is ‘late’ in developing the skills of reading or writing? Should we wonder that in countries like UK and USA where there is decent quality school education, free for all, there is 20%+ functional illiteracy in the society? Isn’t this criminal?

The first major issue, to me, is that with us staying out of the process children graduate from crawling and bottom sliding to walking when their brain has reached the development stage to have the appropriate neural network to support the sophisticated process of walking. When this happens over the extended time period mentioned above seems to make no difference whatsoever to their eventual level of competence as walkers – it’s not as though late walkers are destined to be poor ‘D’ grade walkers for the rest of their lives. So, when the network’s right, it will happen.

The second major issue, to me, is motivation. Now, to the industrialised model of education this whole matter of motivation is way too fuzzy, unmeasurable and therefore something to be squeezed out of the process and/ or ignored as much as possible.

When a child is crawling they come to realise that this is only partially effective. There are too many interesting things that arouse their curiosity that remain out of their reach. Crawling has severe speed limitations. The child has the desire to move faster, to keep up with older children, to go where the big people do, to move away from being held and to move and explore the world around independently. All of these things add up to enormous levels of motivation that spur the child through the immense learning required to master walking.

Similar can be said for oral communication. The child develops a massive desire to communicate; to express physical needs, to share feelings and emotions, to join in and feel connected to all the other people around who are using language and oral communication to share things. This all adds up to vast levels of motivation that provide the spur for the child to work through the most challenging aspects of mastering the monumental skills required for oral communication and language learning.

Then we come back to writing. My concern here is how much time teachers spend talking with children about issues of motive and motivation when it comes to writing. The expressions on some small children’s faces when you see them in class made to do endless repetition of forming a particular letter appear almost bemused – as though they are being subjected to some form of bizarre, repetitive process that seems to have little or no purpose. In such circumstances, should we wonder that so many lose their enthusiasm so quickly? Should we be surprised when we hear teachers through all the Primary school years saying of a child, “He/ she doesn’t want to write, but he/ she’s quite happy sharing his/ her ideas when speaking.”

How long could you or I sustain enthusiastic practice for some form of repetitive practice for which we didn’t believe we had any purpose, desire or wish. Worse, we can see and think of a whole variety of things we would rather be doing. Is the child to be turned in to a ‘pleaser’ by the fact that the biggest motivation they can identify for writing is it seems to keep the adults happy/ stop them getting angry at me?

There’s something else that tests a child’s motivation for writing in the early stages – what they write doesn’t look very beautiful/ perfect/ aesthetic and it certainly looks like a poor version of what they see adults and teachers producing. If we paid more attention to motivation, I think we’d pay more attention to these things. We’d be more likely to spot the signs when a child is struggling to maintain the motivation or finding it difficult to make the mental connections between the processes they’re being asked to do and the practice of capturing one’s ideas, stories, messages and feelings permanently for communication to one or many others. And, educators would focus far more on strategies to help with that motivation.

I’ve read a few times and had first hand experience of the joy a child experiences when their oral rendition of some idea or a story is captured for them by an adult (either with pen and paper or on a keyboard), then maybe decorated with a nice font, a border, maybe a relevant picture and printed off. Suddenly, the child has a full and complete mental connection with the power of the written word and the endless possibilities that lie ahead for them when they master the skills of writing.

As children get older, we need to share with them the full multitude of ways that people use the written word to communicate. We need them to know and recognise that the people who write books are not ‘gods’ or unreachable heroes on pedestals, but normal people like them with ideas they want to share and who have mastered the skills to do so in ways that reach out to others and touch something deep in them.

Even adults these days say they don’t write very often and struggle to find the motivation to do so (said I as I approach 850 articles on this blog!). Well, for any of the adult readers who need the motivation to write, here’s a nice article i came across that mirrored some of the evidence I’ve read in the books of Tal Ben-Shahar on happiness.

Mic – Science Reveals Qualities in Those Who Love to Write
(Click on the link above to read the article)

We’ll know when we’re genuinely breaking away from industrialised ‘one-size-fits-all’ models of education when children’s motivation gets respected as a critical factor in the development of writing (and reading) skills. Then, I believe more children will grow up to be far better and far happier readers and writers.

Mindset

I’ve written a few times before about the work of Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University on Mindset. However, as time goes on and I come across more of the evidence, i become even more convinced that Dweck’s research conclusions are not only right, but have far-reaching implications we are yet to fully explore in education.

I was really happy to come across this great article and wanted to share it. Not only does it have a great summary of the ideas behind Mindset, but also this superb visual representation with a great infographic:

Taschen book: mindsets

News – Mic Article on Mindset

In the simplest terms, my awareness of Dweck’s work has made me very alive to how and when I use praise and the uses of praise that I hear around me. The evidence appears solid enough as to make it clear that educators (and parents) have to focus on praising effort, grit and determination (including praising failure when appropriate) and certainly avoid praising intelligence as though it was an innate attribute of the child. If we can even bring that improvement, other benefits of this research can follow.

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