Discarding the Dysfunctional From Education

Here’s a nice article that has caused many different feelings in me when I read it.

Mindshift: 21 Things Obsolete by 2020
(Click on the link above to read the article)

The first was – if so many of us already believe and acknowledge these things are obsolete, why will we have to wait until 2020 (another 5 years) before we see them gone? Then I became even more troubled. Can we really hope that these things will be gone in five years when there are so many actions being taken now that will cause so many educators to cling to these things for a lot longer? Schools are still being built all over the world as great monolithic monuments to yesterday’s education dogmas. Millions of teachers are still being trained and required to pass qualifications (Yes, I’m thinking especially of the Indian B.Ed) that are based on the moribund and failed ideas of yesterday’s teaching methodologies.

The truth is that those of us who believe in the need for change must redouble our efforts to make sure that as many as possible of these things are on their way out of the door, at least by 2020.

Trisha Prabhu – Taking on Cyber Bullying

For around 3 years I’ve closely followed the superb work done by the ‘We Are Family’ Foundation, especially the TedxTeens conferences and the amazing young people they have found and brought together. More than anything, I love the fact that these youngsters aren’t waiting until they are ‘all grown up’ before they set out to make a mark on the world.

In Trisha’s case, she saw a problem, applied her young and creative mind to a very real issue plaguing her generation and came up with a solution that’s showing great results. More power to teens like her:

TED Talks Education

A great video with a whole group of passionate and thoughtful educators talking about where education needs to go, hosted by John Legend:

Parents – Vital Education Partners

When I first moved in to school leadership it was before I experienced dealing with schools as a parent. I was shocked, at least in India, to see the frequency with which schools treated parents with little more than disdain. Parents joked about it, but the jokes were barbed with truth that hurt. Once the school had got the child admitted, parents were treated so often as though they were a hindrance and a nuisance. They were also often treated as if they knew nothing, understood nothing and should just accept as gospel whatever the school did or said.

I was looking at these things from the perspective of a former Private Banker. What’s more, our bank had been phenomenally successful by putting the client at the centre of all we did. A large part of meetings were spent talking about clients, much training was around clients and all staff were aware that communication and engagement with clients was always the most important priority. Being passionate about service to clients was job number one.

Once I got over my initial shock I came to see more and more WHY so many schools wanted to shut the parents out. So many educators sought to dress up what they did in their schools with a degree of mystique, whilst the reality was there was little magical or even very modern about what went on. In other cases it was simply that schools wanted to adopt the path of least effort, a form of laziness that wanted to simply deliver lessons, prepare children for exams by traditional and conventional methods (but take much higher fees than in the past on the basis of fancier premises and facilities!)

The result of all this has been that in any school I’ve lead I’ve always wanted to put strong emphasis on parent engagement. As time’s gone on, technology has enabled us to really enhance this. So, whether it’s stressing on really good quality written textual reports on children’s assessment and performance, this blog, parent workshops, parent orientations, the way school phones get answered or a multitude of other things, it’s always been my mission to bring the partner on board as a partner.

There’s another analogy from my banking days. Often clients were elderly and widows. I always made a particular point of giving them extra time in the early stages to help them to understand, in simple layman terms, what we did and how we did it. Some told me that they found this refreshing and respectful as peopl;e were often inclined to pass them off as silly old ladies who understood nothing. However, it also paid off as a couple told me that they rebuffed attempts to lure them away on the basis that nobody else would help them to understand in the same way. Again, I’ve taken a similar approach in education. As educators we don’t have the right to treat parents as outsiders, to wrap what we do in a cloak of jargon and mystery language so as to shut them out. I believe it’s vitally important that we open up the learning process in a transparent manner for the parent so that they can really understand what we’re doing, how and why.

In my experience, one of the times when all of this communication pays off is when/ if something goes wrong with the child – whether it be an issue of academic struggle, interpersonal or disciplinary issues. The time invested means that school and parents can meet from a position of high trust.

Keeping all this in mind, I was interested to read this article on the subject of parent engagement and communication from Education Week. It is the first of five pieces, so I’ll be interested to see the follow-ups;

Education Week – Keep Students Close, Parents Closer

New Year’s Resolutions Update

OK, so I’m fully aware that some might wish I wasn’t bringing this subject up again – especially those who’ve already ditched the good intentions and consigned the list of ‘things to do better this year’ to the rubbish bin.

Well, first of all, anyone who had a slip up – SO WHAT? Don’t we all know that failures are an inevitable part of the journey to success? So, that’s no excuse to quit with the good intentions. Yes, we might have felt the need to beat up on ourselves a bit. Why am I so pathetic? I decide to do something that’s good and positive for me, and I can’t even keep it up for more than a couple of weeks? How embarrassing!!

Well, as this great New York Times article points out, maybe our real issue is that we don’t have the right understanding about ‘habits’. What are they, how do we get one, and in this context most important – how do we deliberately establish a new one.


Hopefully, this will inspire some to dust off the resolutions and get back to them. Happy Habit building!

Growth Mindset: Research Update

Here, I’m sharing an interesting article that follows on from some I’ve written earlier about the work of Professor Carol Dweck and colleagues at Stanford University on Mindset. Dweck’s book of the same name was a great read that really fired my imagination, so it’s really exciting to find out from this piece how recent research is validating the ideas and proving that they have real potential to improve students’ learning.

Mindshift Article: New Research on Mindset

I agree with the comments in the article that the greatest benefits are likely to come from figuring out how to embed ‘growth mindset’ approaches in school culture, rather than the super-imposed ideas of using things like the Mindset Works training programmes for teachers or children’s programmes. I believe if these ideas are built in to school philosophy they have far greater potential. I think we’re still at a relatively early stage in figuring out how to do that.

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

I might be accused of being a few days late with this post, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in America passed some days ago. However, I don’t think we need a special day to think about how man treats his fellow man or, for that matter, to read and savour one of the most profound and powerful pieces of prose written in the last 100 years.

MLK’s writings are also made far more thought-provoking in the shadow of all that has happened in Ferguson in USA and in other cities. Of course, the key argument made today is that the battles for which MLK and others went to jail were only partially won and that victimisation, segregation and a discriminatory society still exists with all its double standards. However, I find myself really wondering what MLK would have made of today’s all too often un-ideologically motivated protestors who resort to destruction, looting and theft in the so-called pursuit of justice.

It’s a beautifully written and constructed piece that touches on foundational aspects of our lives still today. The discussion on whether it is our duty to refuse to comply with immoral or unjust laws is as relevant as it ever was.

Letter From a Birmingham Jail – In Full

This is a classic text that can serve many powerful and valuable purposes when used as a vehicle for classroom study, discussion and debate with students.