Access to the Highest levels in Formal Education

There are institutes of further studies in India where, because of such enormous desire for seats, admit only 0.01% of all applicants. However, interestingly, some years ago I saw an interview with a prominent business head in the country during which he was asked whether he would rather recruit the ‘intake list’ of those institutes or the graduates coming out of those institutes. His answer was – the former, not the latter. In the case of those Institutions the entry requirements are handled by some very clear cut, very rigorous and taxing examinations. The ability to absorb the vast volumes of information required to do well in those exams becomes the key criteria of entry. From that business Head’s perspective, if he recruited those who could get in to these Institutes he’d know he was getting people with high intelligence, a strong work ethic and ability/ willingness to compete at extreme levels, putting themselves through whatever it takes to get through. Amazing stories abound of the arduous experiences people have gone through to jump the hurdles.

The best and most respected centres of learning in other parts of the world have different methods for selecting the students they wish to attract through their doors. This was a particularly interesting article about Oxford University’s interview and questioning process;

The Guardian – Solving the Riddle of Getting in to Oxford

The Oxford University approach is very clear about the kinds of students they seek to attract through their admissions process. The interviews are designed to identify students who think critically (individually and in discussion with others), who challenge and question and don’t just accept the knowledge they’re ‘given’ at face value. If you want even more insight in to the kinds of questions that were being posed to potential students and the sorts of answers that professors were looking for, you can read this page;

University of Oxford – Sample Interview Questions

The mismatch between what some education systems produce and what places like Oxford University are looking for was brought home to me very starkly when I worked for two years in Bangladesh. There, every year, there would be celebrations of a handful of students who had achieved 5 A* A levels in a single sitting. Like anyone in the world really needs five A Levels? And yet, up to that time, no individual student from Bangladesh had ever been admitted to either Oxford or Cambridge Universities for undergraduate studies. Some had obviously made it there at the post-grad level. These students were seen to be too one dimensional – able to mug up vast amounts of learning to score highly in exams, but lacking the critical depth of view.

Returning to the Indian scenario of the IITs and IIM’s, there is no question that they do fulfil a role of a very strenuous filter – in an environment where the age profile and population size means a massive educable youth at any one time. However, it’s a system that cannot contribute to having every person achieve their potential. It just pulls a few with innate intelligence and ability to pass exams and places them at the top of the pile with masses of self-belief thrown in. Even in this respect, they experience certain challenges. Across India, over the last 20 years a number of academies have arisen that take youngsters from very modest surroundings and ‘hothouse’ them through the IIT entrance exams. However, I was told a few years ago by a number of IIT faculty that these youngsters struggle once they’re in. The goal of getting in figures so massively in their lives that once achieved some struggle to re-calibrate to new longer term goals.

There are also doubts and issues raised about whether these institutes are adequately and effectively preparing young people for the world environment in the Twenty First Century. A lack of emphasis on the development of social-emotional skills is something I know has been a point of focus in the last few years, especially for the IIMs.

By their very nature, seats to study in the very highest of educational institutes will always only be for a very small minority. Only a few have the motivation to test themselves in such an inferno atmosphere and even fewer have the character, competences and skills to achieve entry or to pursue a course of study in these places.

For those who do, enormous and varied opportunities are opened up in the world for how the person will contribute. For those students who have such aspirations and the potential, preparation needs to start early. That preparation needs to be focused very much on what the person’s goals are, their vision and values and how those align with the Institute they’re looking at. Then, the focus needs to be very much on what that institute requires, how their system works and how to be as prepared as well as possible.

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Classroom Posters

Teachers are often looking for some good, powerful and effective posters for their classroom walls;

Edutopia – Motivational Printable Posters

The Over-Scheduled Child

A child, just like the rest of us, has 168 hours in a week. They typically spend about 56 of those hours asleep. Most spend around 30 hours a week in school with a further 8 hours getting ready for and travelling to and from school, with about 7 hours of homework thrown in for good measure. Those are hours when the child is under instructions, following a clear agenda set by others, under the control of strict discipline regimes.

Recent survey evidence has suggested that the average child is spending 60 hours a week engaged with screens; gaming, watching TV or using social networking. By my reckoning all of the above leaves them a paltry 7 hours for ‘growing up’, for the unstructured time to think, be themselves and develop their unique human consciousness. And that’s all assuming that they’re not among the rare children who still sit down to eat family meals, if they do, those might easily take out another 3 hours in the week.

When you think about a child’s time in this way it becomes even more startling to think that parents would be tempted to cram in to every child’s days a variety of ‘after school activities’ – tuitions 9to repeat the school learning, clubs, activities, organised sports etc.

Here’s an article recently written about what this means in the Indian context, but how growing numbers of Indian parents are thinking twice about what they’re doing by scheduling their children so heavily. The article does, honestly, hint at the fact that some of this over-scheduling is done in circumstances where parents are convincing themselves that the activities are for the child’s benefit, when at times it’s a convenient child-care facility to enable them to live their lives with all the choices that they’ve made about how they’re committing their time.

Scroll – Over-scheduled, under-slept children experience neural fatigue

I have a strong wish that the parents who are scheduling their children in this way would invest more time in learning about the latest thinking and knowledge about children, the development of the mind, positive psychology and the science of human potential. Along with this, they would benefit personally, as well as be better able to support their child if they learned more about the scientific awareness of the learning process. I’ve written it before, but i do believe, that as parents we have to ask ourselves some challenging questions when we’re prepared to invest time and effort in to the learning required for running a business or pursuing a profession or job role, but not invest any significant amount of time in to learning how to fulfil our life responsibilities as a parent.

One of the saddest ironies is that the over-scheduled approach has little to no chance of leading to a child achieving mastery of anything. Spreading oneself so thinly, going through so many activities is going through the motions. It doesn’t permit for passion, motivation or the focused practice that can lead to achieving any decent level of competence at something.

I’ve had occasions where I’ve been saddened as I stood with a parent whose child obediently agreed that they love doing all the different things they’re doing. This isn’t producing genius. if anything it’s more likely to destroy the potential for genius and worse, it plays on the child’s desire to please the parent – to be seen as an obedient and good child who will receive the recognition and praise of their parent. this is conditional parenting and a major cause of stunted lives in later adulthood.

Of course, on the scheduling of tuitions to extend beyond school learning, parents will claim that this is necessary to achieve the results they need because there is inadequate trust that the child and their school are achieving the levels of learning needed. I wish that parents would solve this by talking more with their child’s school and teachers – instead of subjecting the child to duplication through tuitions and other ‘driven’ learning approaches to extract more academic outcomes.

We can do so much better for our children, with the right information, the right learning and the right approaches. Parenting isn’t about quantity. We’re not going to enable our children by just doing more stuff to them. We must work with their interests and allow them the space and time to grow up, to become fully rounded people.

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Online Inspiration

I’ve been a regular follower of the K-12 Online Conferences over the last few years.

There’s an energy that flows through so much of the material, visible when you dip in to the (now extensive) archives. This is a pure ‘teachers sharing with teachers’ platform, with some fascinating examples of teacher creativity, courage and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, especially when harnessing the power and potential of ICT.

The conferences have been able to harness the ideas and inputs of some incredible educators spread across the world. It’s incredibly refreshing to find these being shared openly without any financial cost. This aspect of educators freely and openly sharing their ideas, experiments, innovations and trials has a long history and is vitally important to preserve. through the power of the internet and online collaboration it is given new energy and momentum with the potential to reach far bigger audiences. each incident of sharing is worth so much more when so many more can be inspired and helped on their journey as innovative, creative educators.

The 2016-17 Online Conference had a different format. Instead of happening in one short burst of time, it was spread out over some months, with three major themes. These were;
(i) Learning Spaces
(ii) Design Thinking
(iii) Creativity

K-12 Online Conferences Website

I would also thoroughly recommend checking out material from the earlier conferences, all archived on the website.

Keep Kids’ Bedrooms Electronics Free

There are times as a parent when your intuition just feels so strong that you’re prepared to be the biggest killjoy on earth in the eyes of your child. Your child will readily tell you that every classmate has a TV in their bedroom, that they have an iPhone, that there’s also a PS4 or other games console in the bedroom.

“So, why can’t i have any of those things in my bedroom?” whiles the child, as though you are the cruelest, most heartless parent and you are condemning your child to a life little removed from that of Oliver Twist. Oh, the poor mite.

I once got very odd looks from a parent when I asked her to not to permit my 10 year old son to play computer games in her home that had ’18’ age ratings on them. her son of the same age was playing them for many hours a day. “Besides, I said, he has a daily limit of one hour screen time (1 1/2 at weekends) and so if he was playing these games he would exceed his daily limit.

back then, six years ago, scientific evidence on these matters was hard to come by, but my intuition was telling me in every sinew of my body that I had to protect my child to whatever extent i could in an environment where others were taking extreme risks with their children.

I get no satisfaction, no desire to scream, “I told you so,” when I read articles like the one linked below;

UPI – Health News – Children Suffer With TV, Video Games in the Bedroom
(click on the link above to read the article)

This article shares evidence from extensive scientific research that gathers irrefutable evidence of the harm being done. We have to remember to be scientific in how we read such articles. It’s no good if someone tells you that their child had these gadgets and has ‘turned out fine.’ Firstly, the full implications might not yet be obvious for that child and you cannot go back and know what they might have achieved/ done/ been if they hadn’t had all that exposure. But, more than that, this is not saying that every child will be adversely impacted. However, the statistical risk is high enough that parents shouldn’t be willing to take these risks.

The figure of 60 hours a week now being spent by many children engaging with screens is a stark and shocking one that should make us all think. I can’t help but think that if any adult today is asked to do anything for 60 hours in a week (e.g. work), many will scream in outrage that it’s an abuse to ask them to exert themselves in such a way.

Yet, we live in a world where the same people will engage in endless conversations about the poor state of the economy, society and the world today. They, of course, were all way too busy to get involved or do more than talk about it (reproducing whatever arguments they received through the media!)

Children are even more vulnerable. We know that in their teen years their fully formed limbic system in their brain is ready to lap up every dose of endorphines, with less restraining influence from the pre frontal cortex as the connections are still not fully formed. Anything that has the propensity to be addictive to adults (drugs, mobile phones etc.) is way more addictive to children in these years. We should be doing more, not less, to limit and insulate them from these potentially dangerous influences

A funny old world, innit!

Being Likable

If you bring together two of my current favourite writers for a discussion, you’re going to have my immediate attention.

Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, came to my attention first for articles and a subsequent book on the personal benefits of being a ‘go-giver’. He’s followed up with work related to creativity, success and most recently has published a book with Sheryl Sandberg about how to bounce back when things go wrong. She, of course, was uniquely placed to co-write that particular book having lost her husband very suddenly and publicly, leaving her with young children and a high pressure silicon valley career to manage. That book sits on my shelf as a recent acquisition waiting to be read.

Like many people, I first came across Simon Sinek because of his famous TED talk (still well worth a view, whether you’ve seen it before or not). Then I followed his work talking about millennials, especially how best to lead them, manage them in the workplace and even inspire them to be engaged, committed and passionate employees who do meaningful work. As far as his books, I’ve gone the wrong way round. I’ve recently finished reading ‘Leaders Eat last’ – his most recent book and have waiting on the shelf still to be read his earlier – Start With Why.

The discussion went on for about an hour, led by Katie Couric, the international journalist. It took place at the Aspen Ideas Festival – and it’s a real gem. You could just read the article, but i’d really recommend the video embedded on the page as worth an hour of anyone’s time.

During the discussion there are some interesting insights in to types of popularity and the risks of ‘the wrong type’. They talk about the perils of device and social media addiction and the need for occasional detoxes. There’s an interesting discussion of the skills needed to be likable and the risks in society because people are not getting as many opportunities to practice those skills. The comments about how willpower is an inadequate tool to overcome addiction, or addictive behaviour was a useful reminder.

So, here’s the link:

Heleo – Conversation – How to be likable – no Facebook Required

If you open the page, you’ll see the video some way down the page. I really recommend that it’s worth the time to listen to the whole thing. For educators, or parents, there’s much to ponder on here about how we work most effectively with young people today.

Bold Leadership

Of all industries, education needs bold leadership.

Of all industries, education has lacked bold leadership in the past. Where will the bold leadership come from if there is inadequate attention to leadership in the profession. Education is no more guilty than many other professions that it takes some of its best practitioners (teachers) and promotes them in to roles that require a completely different set of skills and competencies – with no certainty that they have those skills and competencies, are ready and able to develop them or real, cohesive support to acquire them.

The last point may be the real issue. In the same way that there is all too often a hangover from past views of collegiality that suggest that how a teacher taught was his/ her own business, so the prevalence of idiosyncratic leadership styles and methods is almost part of the folklore in the education profession. If we are really serious about change in education, then we have to pay serious attention to the leadership skills of our leaders at all levels in our schools.

Here is a really interesting webinar recording from Zenger Folkman. They have a history of gathering vast amounts of data and evidence through 360 degree feedback processes and then analysing it for the lessons that can be drawn about all aspects of what makes leadership most effective – and especially what leaders need to do more of/ less of;

Zenger Folkman – Webinar – Bold Leadership

As well as the webinar, the page also has a number of other links to very useful and worthwhile materials.

Until we really address these issues of leadership, we are going to see schools vulnerable too often to issues in the leadership. This is especially important in the light of some research I saw a few years ago that suggested that, by some margin, the impact of good or great leadership in schools was of greater significance than differences in leadership in other types of organisation or company. In other words, when our leaders lack some of the fundamental skills of leadership the negative impact is greater.

And yet, as a profession, do we really pay adequate attention to the development of leadership skills. In my experience, when you look at the professional development made available for educational leaders, too much of it is focused on educational pedagogy and practices than on their leadership skills, reflective awareness and continuous development in this area.

Maybe one good piece of news coming out of the Zenger Folkman research is that women in leadership score higher on key aspects of bold leadership than men, considering the educational field has a higher than normal level of females in leadership. However, this is still leaving way too much to chance.

One of the issues that I see standing out way too often is the ‘one size fits all’ approaches to leadership – Principals and senior school leaders who have a limited range of responses to situations that they wheel out in response to all the situations they deal with. Schools are busy and hectic places and when things are happening rapidly leaders often don’t have much time in the moment to stop and reflect. therefore, they ‘act’ often very intuitively. This is not a problem if, at other times, the habits have been built to have a broader variety of tools in the toolkit. Then, intuition leads to the selection of the right tools to fit the situation more often.

With this in mind, I was reminded, this weekend, by the values of the Ken Blanchard Situational leadership model, as a result of seeing this excellent webinar recording;

Ken Blanchard Companies – Webinar – Creating an Effective Leadership Development Curriculum

Education has an inclination to be summative – to focus on the outcomes that we want (exam results, how students turn out etc.) Along the way, we need to put far more emphasis on the processes by which goals are achieved. This is where leadership development becomes so very critical. We need to be sure that leadership will happen in ways that are most effective to deal with any particular set of circumstances. We need to put considerable stress on developing good coaching and mentoring skills, whilst acknowledging that this is not simply meant to replace one always used leadership style with another. There are times when it’s right and times when it’s wrong to coach.

Better leadership leads to more engaged employees, which leads to better learning experiences for children and better parent relationships. These, ultimately, are the best ways to ensure long term and consistent achievement of strong student learning outcomes, development of strong and enduring school cultures and schools that learn and enable learning.

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