House Plants for Clean Air

here’s a good short article that shares the evidence for something I’ve long believed – house plants clean the air. I think this is especially important in new homes where new furniture and fittings leach chemicals (also in newer school buildings):

Mashable Article – House Plants

Particularly valuable when anyone in the home has asthma or allergy problems. This is why four large house plants were one of the first things on my shopping list for our new apartment – and we’ll be getting more.

IT in Education – It’s Not All Good

Diane Ravitch has been a powerful voice in education in the US over the last few years, so i was interested to read her perspective on the risks and ills associated with the rapid inroads being made by IT in to all aspects of education.

In this article she shares three ways in which the technology infiltration is not positive or in the best interest of high quality education:

Scientific American – Diane Ravitch

Of the three negatives she highlights I don’t really have enough experience of virtual charter schools to comment. However, I am in complete agreement and share her fears about the second issue – computerized marking. I first became aware of Pearson’s moves in this area with EDEXCEL when I was in Bangladesh 6-7 years ago. One of my first fears was that the tests/ assessments themselves would get adjusted to fit with the capabilities of the programs, rather than IT adding real value to enhance the existing process.

I am also reminded of a not dissimilar situation that caused me concerns. I once sat through a number of meetings where fellow educators were advocating the appointment of junior teachers whose major responsibility would have been to do the marking for more senior teachers, thereby freeing them up to spend more time lecturing students! my biggest concern was that this over-emphasized assessment as testing, ignoring its formative role. In my view a piece of work isn’t marked just to determine how much was right and wrong. Equally important is the understanding of the teacher from the perspective of both the individual student and the class collectively – in what ways did they make mistakes, what types of errors were made, what can be deduced about their knowledge and what must be done to meet their need. The same problem arises with computerized marking. Thew teacher loses the connect with the nature of where students are in their learning and therefore will fail to respond sensitively in adjusting delivery to meet their needs.

Ravitch’s third concern is the ‘Big Brother’ fear which always arises with most new technology developments. With healthy skepticism and the right checks and balances this one can be addressed satisfactorily.

To me, the most important message coming out of the article is the need to be extremely wary of attempts to turn assessment over to technology. Whilst it continues to play such an important part in our children’s education i believe it must stay in the hands of real teachers.

Defending the Innocence of Childhood

Richie Parker’s story that I posted a little earlier is truly inspiring and the “everything’s gonna be alright” message is a nice feeling to have.

However, then you come across things like the video below which are much tougher to understand or deal with. As an educator, one can never feel comfortable whilst such inequality and callous treatment exists in the world.

In the twenty first Century the world’s governments have pledged that the right to a decent education and protection of the innocence of childhood is a fundamental human right. When we look at the way the future is shaping up, this isn’t just a humanitarian issue in terms of concern for the victims, but also we see that if girls are protected, allowed to grow up naturally and educated these things are in the best interests of society in every way. Those girls will make a worthwhile contribution to the world economically, will through their education be capable of better skills as mothers and protectors of their children and will play a more effective role in families and communities.

As with other repressive practices such as genital mutilation, we are long past the point where child marriage should be defended on the basis of culture or religion. There is progress worldwide on these things, thanks partially to continued effort and initiative from the United Nations and related bodies. However, none of us can rest easy until we have reached a far better position.

I’m not naive and well aware that this young girl, Nada might have been schooled and coached for this video to make a bigger impact. However, as it’s shared around the world we must hope that it has the desired effect. Her fears and hurt certainly appear real enough. I also hope that now she has dared to speak publicly she will be properly protected against any attempts at retribution. Like Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan who dared to stand up for the right of girls to go to school and get an education we must not see them as ‘someone’s daughter’, but as ‘Our Daughter’.

Richie Parker – Inspiration

You get up in the morning, maybe feeling a bit under the weather, not 100% well – then you see something like this and you know, Bob Marley was right:-

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!”

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou:”)

Singin’: “Don’t worry ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”
Singin’: “Don’t worry (don’t worry) ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!”

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, “This is my message to you-ou-ou:”

Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing, worry about a thing, oh!
Every little thing gonna be all right. Don’t worry!”
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing” – I won’t worry!
“‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right” – I won’t worry!
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing, oh no!
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right! /fadeout/

Now. all sing along – and have a great day. Me, I still don’t feel 100%, but I know to not give in to it!

Hearts & Minds, Not Widgets

Note: Thanks to the kind reader who sent me the correct link regarding the citation for this excellent infographic;

Pepperdine University – MBA Online – Successful Manager

This graphic I came across recently reminded me of a blog post by Seth Godin in which he talked about the different attributes required of a leader in any field where creativity is required. He talked of how you have to be willing and able to deal with people at an emotional level.

Amongst the things that sadden and frustrate me around schools in Asia is the frequency with which you come across the ‘victims’ and by-products of bad management. These people have too much fear to bring real, genuine creativity to their work. Often they are reluctant to even express an opinion or a point of view until they have been able to fathom exactly the ‘boss’s’ point of view – which of course now becomes there’s! These people, when promoted through years of service in to supervisory roles have mastered the fine arts of kissing up and kicking down. Result – they foster more compliant, outwardly obedient teachers who park their creativity, initiative, openness to new learning or belief in their ability to make a contribution outside the gate.

One simple question – in any school where the teachers and educators think like this are lead like this, expect to be lead like this, with this kind of school culture – how will the experience be for the children and parents? Do they stand a chance of getting an education that fosters their creativity, that inspires them to take initiative, to explore potential and indulge their curiosity?

I believe way too little attention is being paid to the way teachers are lead, the attributes and skills needed and professional development routes for those who choose to step up to roles in education leadership. It cannot be simply down to who wants to earn some more money and is prepared to be in school more hours a week. Education in which educators simply sell their time will always be incredibly poor education.

It’s time to get far more serious about how leadership is approached in education. Across schools I want to see less mindless rule setting, petty conservatism and far more passion, creativity, accountability through shared trust (instead of the blunt weapon of student assessment), open communication, continuous rigorous professional development and an inspiring ‘why’ that makes teachers wan to bring their hearts and minds to campus every day.


700th Post

In March 2009 I had little inkling of the full implications of the words “I’m going to try writing a blog”. To be honest, I had only a somewhat hazy idea of even what a blog was or the purpose it would serve.

I clearly remember that one element in my motivation at the time was to ‘walk my talk’ to fellow educators about the fact that we don’t need to be taught something to learn it – that the way of IT tends to be that young people roll their sleeves up and ‘give it a go’, experimenting, getting some things wrong and some right, but ultimately learning in a way that enables them to explore the limits and the potential of that learning.

It was a somewhat tentative toe in the water back at that time. I found the WordPress website quite intuitive and easy to work with, though played around with a few different templates before I found one that I liked. I spent a fair bit of time trying out different widgets on the page, though it turns out as time has gone on I’ve not tended to change those very much.

So, I was off and running and things started to build from there. I’m not quite sure how many words the 700 articles represent, but it probably wouldn’t be far short of the equivalent of a book. I just hope that all those years spent saying “I’m going to write a book one day,” haven’t been undone by time spent on the blog. The book ambition remains alive, but still unfulfilled!

As time went on I loved the effects and outcomes from my blogging. I’ve had fascinating exchanges of communication with some great educators from around the world; USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland and Nigeria spring to mind. I also discovered that teachers found it gave them a level of ability to have a direct dialogue with me on education matters that just wasn’t possible during the busy school day – especially when there were 4 campuses and nearly 400 teachers. The same went for parents – well over 4,000 sets of them.

So, as time has gone on, the blog has become a personal, but also professional, extension of myself. The objectives have not necessarily ever been about just increasing readership for the sake of it. of more importance to me was the level of engagement I could achieve with those who found value in what i wrote. Nevertheless, there has been growth – close to 66,000 views means that each article has had an average readership close to 100 (actually much higher because if some people just log on to the archive page they can view any number of articles on a single page). 1,108 comments posted by users might indicate that level of engagement wasn’t so high, but then I’m also aware that for many their perception of the status that went with my role as Institution Head made them a little uneasy about commenting. Also, those who engage actively within any social media is always a relatively small proportion.

So, all in all, writing this blog continues to be very satisfying. Here’s to the next 700 articles and the next 66,000 views.

Childism: The Little Boy

How much clarity do we really have in schools about what we are trying to achieve in early years education – its key purpose? How big a price do we pay (do our children pay) when the training of early years educators is given inadequate attention or fails to explore the very nature of childhood and how adults and children interact in the world?

I want to share a delightful and very thought-provoking piece of writing from my very good friend, Dr Sue Lyle – a teacher educator from Swansea, UK who has also worked with teachers in India. Some of my old colleagues from Shri Ram Schools remember very fondly when she and her partner and colleague, Dave Hendley came to spend a week with us in early 2012 conducting programmes on Philosophy for Children (P4C), Action Research, CASE & CAME.

Sue writes a blog under the heading – Childism, which she defines as – “Childism is when the adults’ needs are prioritized over the child’s, when adults make assumptions they know how a child should feel at any time and take steps to manipulate children’s emotion to comply with adult expectations.”

To my mind, there is no question that especially in early years education environments there is a need for a great deal more reflection, openness and candour about the ‘adult agenda’ and the ways in which our needs get prioritized over those of children. Some of the more obvious issues are rigid timetables and schedules driven by bells and adult-centric agendas.

I once saw a KG teacher ushering a whole class of children in to the washroom, all at the same time. I approached and asked, “Wow, do they all need to go at the same time?” “No, i need to make them go now, as it disturbs my lessons too much when they keep coming and going whenever they want to.” The only thing i could reply was, “Shall I do the same with all the teachers when they’re attending a training programme next week?” I kept a smile on my face throughout, but it wasn’t reciprocated!

To me, part of the problem lies in the overriding paradigm that sees school as place where the primary aim is the dispensing of knowledge, facts etc. from teacher to child. All the time that drives matters in school, then aspects of personal and inter-personal relationships between teachers and children will be treated as peripheral, woolly things of secondary importance.

Here’s Sue’s blog post. I especially urge parents of younger children and those who teach in Elementary and Primary classes to read this, to reflect on it. We need to open honest, frank discussion on such issues if we are to really back claims that modern schools are interested in the holistic development of pupils:

Sue Lyle – Childism Blog Post: The Little Boy
(Click on the link above to read)

ICT and Motivation

I came across this great visual that really neatly sums up how we should be thinking as educators when we bring ICT in to the learning environment. We must remember that it’s not the technology itself that inspires and motivates children – but rather what it potentially enables them to do:


The Best of TED

I’ve spent many thought-provoking and pleasurable hours over the last few years watching TED talks online. There are those who turn their noses up at the whole concept as a dumbing down of intellect and the exploration of meaningful issues. However, i believe that is a very elitist and separatist perspective.

If what they do is open ideas up in meaningful and understandable ways to involve and draw in more people, then i believe that’s a worthy and worthwhile aim. Some, such as Sir Ken Robinson’s first TED talk on how education stifles creativity has drawn millions of educators in to debates about innovation in the field of education and where it needs to go, in ways that weren’t happening otherwise. It is wrong for a handful of academic education experts to believe that only they have the right to be part of such debates and this demeans the practitioners who must ultimately take full ownership of the innovative practices.

For those who are yet to taste the delights of TED lectures (where the process is very simple – some of the world’s greatest thinkers are asked to present on a single perspective or thought related to their work, usually for no more than 18 minutes) I was pleased to see Mashable recently put together a shortlist of 15 of the best and most powerful TED lectures:

Mashable – 15 TED Talks That Will Change Your Life

The 15 inevitably includes the one by Sir Ken already mentioned.

Enjoy! When you finish with those, there are 100’s more!

The Corrupt Generation

Sadly, this was another week of head scratching, doom and gloom as people were confronted with the unpalatable results of the latest survey on corruption worldwide – this time shared by the BBC:

BBC Chart on World Corruption

The reality is the data is very very bad …. and it’s getting worse. A generation worldwide that probably had more access to education than any generation before, where that education talked more than ever about values, ethics and morality are showing all the evidence of being the most corrupt, immoral generation of people that has ever lived.

There are many conclusions that people can draw, many ideas that can be expounded about what is needed to deal with this issue. Some advocate more controlling and dominating legal mechanisms, more ‘law and order’. However, as an educator, one conclusion I draw is that schools need to acknowledge that they may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Firstly, the vast majority of schools in the world are still run along lines driven by adult control of children, extraneous motivation and discipline – the carrot and the stick, and driven by interpersonal competition more than collaboration. Then, all of that gets capped off with beliefs that suggest that everything to be learned must be taught. Thus, when we thing there’s a values issue to address – someone draws up a ‘Values Syllabus’. If all that wasn’t bad enough children especially in private schools in South Asia and this part of the world grow up hearing and sensing enough to know that schools are environments of low trust, breaches of promise, immoral self-interest and even corruption.

We all hear the stories (and also know that invariably the culprits get away completely free) – under the table money at admissions time, exam cheating with teacher assistance, teachers who do tutoring who threaten children with failure if they don’t buy their tutoring services, embezzlement in schools procurement, victimisation by teachers, bullying by teachers, physical abuse …. the list can go on.

I would hazard that, instead we need strategies that seek to change these things, but more so we open up the internal workings of schools to make the good and the moral and the ethical transparent and understandable to the children as a part of their learning opportunity.

a) Less discipline, less control and less focus on extraneous motivation right from early years education (quit with the smileys, stars and sweeties as rewards for compliant behaviour!
b) Well enunciated vision, mission and core values of the Institute that are a continual part of student-educator discussion, debate and on which every stakeholder has the right to hold every other stakeholder accountable,
c) Zero tolerance for the presence of those in the profession who are not able to contribute to a high-trust, ethical community environment. Looking the other way or shrugging our shoulders no longer an acceptable response to the presence of the bad elements in education.
d) Focus on learning, assessment for learning, reducing the significance of standardised testing and summative assessment of learning.
e) True differentiation of learning through personalisation by harnessing the powers of IT, with educators as facilitators rather than deliverers of memorizable content. This would have the effect of activating children’s internal motivation, bringing them in touch with the relevance of their learning to their wider life.
f) Make our schools true learning communities where the common, shared goals are about every citizen learning, every citizen moving forward and the individual and collective needs in harmony.

I believe if we do these things there’s a greater chance that our children will grow up understanding the benefits they can carry forward in to a wider world of integrity, trust and shared interests. Perhaps they can then show the way as an integrity generation. It can’t be worse than what was created in our generation.

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