Don’t Ignore the Body, When Educating the Mind

Mind and body are intrinsically part of one system. How we must wish that this fact had been drilled in to the heads of the industrial-mindsetted perpetrators of today’s education systems. They may have been ignorant and didn’t have data and information available to them. Today’s generation of educators have no such excuses and yet all too often we see a failure to acknowledge the significance and importance of physical aspects of educational activity alongside the mental and academic studies.

Here’s an article I came across a little while ago from MSN Health Today (click on the link) that highlights the results of a study in the US that found a clear and significant correlation between academic performance and level of fitness. To me, such evidence, makes it unquestionable that a decent amount of high quality physical exercise must be given its due importance in the weekly timetable of all schools.

I stress on the quality. Being given a football and 30 minutes to run around with it is a poor substitute for most children for high quality PE. Firstly, the actual amount of concerted effort put out by each child in such circumstances is quite modest. Secondly, it doesn’t even prepare them well for building competency in football. Instead, it reinforces a belief that football ability is innate – my classmate is lucky and has it, I don’t. Along the way, even the child with the innate headstart can be assured ofpicking up enough bad habits that will probably make it very unlikely that he’ll ever really fulfill his potential on a football field.

Here in India we’re plagued by a lack of understanding or interest in physical education on the part of most school heads, a lack of professional training and development for PE teachers (nearly all of whom refuse to see themselves as anything other than sports coaches) and a host of unhealthy influences on children about what it means to be physically active or why they should pursue a physical activity.

I wish I had never had all those experiences when I have heard supposedly intelligent and educated people standing on a stage telling children and their parents that it’s good if they pursue a sport because that way they might get rich!! I don’t get too excited about whether a handful might get rich. I do get very disturbed at the potential numbers who will suffer physical and health problems at relatively young ages – thereby ensuring that their fine academic educations don’t bear the fruit they should have done. I fear the best chances of getting rich really will lie with the doctors who will reap the benefits of their unfit young bodies breaking down.

Maybe, just maybe, the realization that a fit body can enhance a child’s academic chances will lead to the desired attitudinal changes and proper, effective support to physical education. We can but hope.

Schools for Doers, Not Watchers

I have had occasion when involved in the planning for school construction to feel thoroughly like I was in a minority of one, holding out for the good of the children. I was therefore heartened when I read this article from Education Week that asks whether today’s schools are turning out a generation of observers instead of doers (you might find you need to register on the website to read the article).

I was, on one occasion, part of a very heated discussion when the design for a multi-purpose hall was being debated. The architect had prepared a design containing two basketball courts adjacent to each other. I liked this.

Suddenly, up came a voice – “Where will the spectators sit? If we only have one court, we can put banked bleachers either side for the spectators.”

My heart took a lurch. This went against every instinct I had about how schools should organize. However, on the drive home later that day I found myself thinking about all the other times when seemingly innocuous decisions in schools are tantamount to enticing children to grow up to be a generation of ‘watchers’ who get the thrill of success and achievement vicariously – observing and celebrating the achievements of others;

a) House point systems under which less than 10% of the students are really responsible for which House wins, but all celebrate as if it was their achievement,
b) Drama or dance performances where the entertainment experience of the watchers is given higher priority than the learning of the participants,
c) A whole school ‘party’ because the 11 boys of the soccer team won a tournament,
d) The formation of a ‘school band’ that puts a handful of children up on a teetering pedestal whilst every other student by declaring themselves an ‘adoring fan’ can throw themselves in to the whole experience as though they had achieved something great.

The media has encouraged watchers to believe that they have earned the right to be part of the action. For example, I get troubled when spectators make cat calls at rugby matches in an attempt to impair a kicker’s ability to score a penalty – they believe that they have a right to be a part of the game!

A generation of watchers would be the very opposite of everything that the world requires from the next generation. We need a generation of young people with the courage, the creativity and the wisdom to do things, to change things, to make things happen, to want to operate on the world, not passively waiting to be operated upon by it.

That’s why I don’t want bleachers for school basketball courts. I want twice as many children to be able to play matches at the same time, doing, engaging, actively learning and preparing to be doers in the world.

Women in Leadership

I accept, some men are going to curse me for sharing this, but here goes –

Fox Business Interview – Women Leaders

Jack Zenger of Zenger Folkman (behind the FUEL Coaching Model), talks about a recent survey about women in leadership in the USA. He discusses why there are still so few of them, but also where and why they’re being rated higher than their male counterparts.

To the men, I say simply that such data needs to be a wake up call that the ‘cave man’ school of leadership is history and people are looking for something more from us. These are not fixed characteristics and there are plenty of men around showing the way – but we still have a journey ahead. Also, as educators, we have to continue to ask ourselves hard questions about the gender stereotyping that goes on and inbuilt misogyny that;

a) keeps down the numbers of women who achieve leadership roles,
b) reinforce character traits in boys that are no longer as productive when they emerge in to the world of work.


If there’s one activity i love, it’s rummaging around in bookshop sales – even more so when i find great books at bargain prices. One of the best recent acquisitions was from Landmark – Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney.

For me, it tied together some of the strands of learning in recent years related to motivation, self-control and human potential. I loved the ingenuity of some of the experiments conducted and the conclusions coming out of them were fascinating. Here’s an excellent review of the book by Steven Pinker in the New York Times around 18 months ago:

New York Times – Steven Pinker Book Review Article on Willpower

Students Before Stuff

About 8-9 years ago I coined a phrase “we’re not here to teach stuff, we’re here to teach Children’. As something of a newcomer ,to K-12 education at that time, it just felt right and made sense. Sad to say I often felt frustrated that neither teachers or parents appeared genuinely ready to take on board what I was saying in a healthy positive way.

How times are changing and how bracing it is to find genuine awakening an desire to provide an education that puts the learner at the centre, instead of the ‘stuff’. Sadly, there are still many educators who saw the arrival of IT tools in schools as simply a sexier way to deliver the stuff, combined with a new marketing set of gimmicks to wow parents.

I was particularly pleased to read this article from ASCD Educational Leadership online magazine that explores these issues from the perspective of Information Technology as a fundamental disrupting force that changes the very nature of what it means to be a learner.

Well worth a read;

ASCD Educational Leadership Article

FUEL Coaching Model

Here”s a great presentation that summarises a very good book I read recently:

This model bears quite a lot of similarities to the coaching approach taken in Kunskapsskolan schools education approach.

Personalised News

here’s a story reported quite extensively over the last few days about Facebook:

Facebook Story from NDTV Gadget – Personalised Newspaper

On the face of it, this might look like quite an innocent innovation, a tweak in a social networking website as it endeavours to push itself in to a more significant position in people’s lives. However, as i read it i found one aspect potentially disturbing. If every one of us is increasingly only exposed to ‘news’ that reinforces and sits comfortably with our existing prejudices, does this represent a genuine danger for the world?

Arguably, there has been a general drift in this direction, but to me this seems like a big lurch in a risky direction. For many years, different newspapers and even to some extent TV news channels sought to make their offerings more appealing to a particular market segment. Some newspapers took very conscious and deliberate strong political stances and made no apologies. However, there was still an innate ‘impartial’ vein that ran through the profession of journalism that ensured that good media carried some degree of balance.

I find the idea that a pervasive media like Facebook could feed people a narrowly defined set of views that equate with (and even reinforce) prejudices, bigotry or myopic perspectives is hardly the way towards a broad minded, informed, thinking populace. I fear that this would also leave some parts of society more prone to manipulation, especially for political ends.

Ultimately, I know that it does me good to be exposed to a broad array of views and opinions, both those that come from ‘people like me’ and those that come from people with whom i may disagree vehemently.

Being Different

Kunskapsskolan has as one of its core values acknowledgement, acceptance and comfort with the fact that all people are different. Today i was blown away when a friend shared this TED talk with me. In it, Shane Koyczan, poet, shares his incredibly powerful take on what it really means to be ‘young and different’.

Seeing this reinforced in my mind the desire to have educational institutions that have climates within which children respect each others' differences, appreciate them for what they bring to a creative environment and where 'coolness' doesn't dictate conformity to narrowly defined paradigms dictated to all by fashion.

Sugata Mishra @ TED: The School in the Cloud

Something every educator should see and think about very carefully - are we ready to get out of the way of our children's learning?

Bridging the gap Between What Educators Say and Do

There are certain phrases or words that trip so readily off the tongues of educators today that their meanings have got lost. As a result, I believe too few educators are really questioning and holding up the harsh critical mirror to see if actions match the words. The ones I’m talking about are ones like; personalized learning, learner-centric, child-centric, holistic education, the child at the centre, nurturing etc.

If we have schools that deep down still basically operate pretty much as they used to 10 or more years ago, with an added layer of sensitivity and ‘caring’, then is that enough to constitute all that these words really imply? If, for example, we organise children in to ‘batches’, obliged to stop and start various activities through the day according to the regular sounding of a loud and raucous bell, with no thought of their interests or inclinations. If we interrupt deep thought and learning with tannoy announcements. If we have children returning after extended absence from school pick up where everyone else is, instead of where they left off – then do our actions really reflect those words?

Here’s a wonderful quote from the Head of ASCD in the US. I would love to hear others’ thoughts on what this should mean in terms of what happens in schools: