Practical Steps on Sleep Issues

I’ve written extensively about the hidden menace for children and young learners (and adults) regarding inadequate sleep, poor quality sleep and the perils of failing to have appropriate disciplines and strategies regarding sleep.

The evidence available today is so great that ignorance cannot be an excuse for creating situations where some children are significantly impaired in their learning abilities and scope to benefit fully from school.

It’s been interesting in recent months to see so many commentators, first in the US and then in UK, responding to the data that suggests that young people (particularly teenagers) are sleep deprived and suffering. Their response has been somewhat shocking to me – start the school day later! Quite frankly, this seems to be the wrong solution to the issue. I fear that all that will happen is – the start of the day shifts, so they’ll simply go to bed later still, spending more night time on social networking and other unproductive (but somewhat compulsive and dependency forming) habits.

This article from The Guardian offers, I believe, a far more reasonable response – educate children early about the role and importance of sleep, get them to introspect on the effects for them personally and then support and help them to form the right, positive habits to ensure healthy sleep patterns. This is a significant area where home and school can really leverage strong partnership for the good of the pupils:

The Guardian – Wake Up Call

Feedback in the Professional Learning Environment

The best schools are communities of learners, with the school Head fulfilling the role of ‘Head Learner’. The learning done by educators needs to be on a number of levels and benefits from being visible and transparent (students who see their teacher as a learner develop healthier, more positive attitudes to their own learning).

Whilst some of the learning comes from books, academic resources, training courses, conferences etc. there’s also a vital component that comes from growing self-awareness combined with tapping in to the knowledge and insights of colleagues. This requires a healthy climate for giving and receiving feedback and ‘open’ classrooms.

Traditionally, there was too often a culture of closed classrooms based on the idea that the classroom was the domain of the teacher, private and that school, leaders and peers had no right to intrude or interfere. However, one inevitable consequence of such attitudes was a lack of congruence or consistency of teaching in the school as a whole – each teacher ploughing their own furrow in their own chosen direction. It also meant that teachers weren’t learning from teachers – and that was a shame.

I have seen some awful situations where classroom observation was only carried out by members of the leadership team – and that too by accessing CCTV cameras in the classroom (so the teacher didn’t even know when they were being observed). This has nothing to do with growth, learning or leadership and everything to do with management, control and deep mistrust.

As trust builds between teachers and they get more used to being exposed to the observation of their peers in the classroom, the next significant step if the process is to offer real value is that the observer and the observed have to be both willing and able to engage in an effective process of feedback. Just sitting through 40 minutes of somebody’s class to tell them after, “Everything was nice,” is to do the courageous teacher who wants to learn a great disservice. However, equally, the delivery of feedback in ineffective ways can also leave teachers feeling hurt and disinclined to engage fully in such a process in future.

Therefore, i thought this little short video of ideas from 12 Manage offers a good starting list of perils to avoid in the giving of feedback;

12 Manage – 10 Common Mistakes in Giving Feedback:

The potential benefits are considerable. It's an area where we can all learn and grow, to reach mastery levels. In this way, trust in the process grows, teachers become more ready to open up and engage in two way processes. They also grow in confidence when it comes to revealing that they are learners and can benefit from the process. Win-win all around.

Are Work Habits Ruining Your Productivity?

In busy schools as much as any other kind of organisation,  if we want to raise standards and achieve at higher levels of excellence we have to be willing to challenge some of the ways we work. This very short video from Fast Company highlights some of the things regularly done that severely undermine productivity.  Reduced productivity means less scope to raise the bar in what we do.

The two that stood out for me the most were;  batching email and clearly understood open door times.  Unfortunately,  too many are guilty of treating email as a form of instant messaging that demands and expects instant responses.  This is enormously damaging to effective use of time,  especially on major projects. 

Years ago,  when I worked for a bank in an open plan office we were very concerned at the impact of interruptions on work.  Not only did it cause slower work,  it often caused mistakes.  So,  we implemented a system of flags on desks.  There was a clear understanding that if someone had their flag visible,  they were working on something and should not be interrupted for anything other than an emergency.  There were a few trust issues with individuals perceived to take advantage of the system to cut themselves off,  but once those were addressed all believed they got more work done,  to a higher standard (and could finish and go home earlier! ).

If we’re serious about raising standards we have to address productivity issues.  Just asking people to work harder harder harder cannot be the answer.  We have to all work smarter.

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Disconnecting – Not Just for Kids

Do people realise how much their smart phone and other technology has intruded into every part of how they live their lives? Are people acknowledging that for many this has become essentially an addiction, or at least a dependency. What’s more, there are very negative aspects to that dependence. For young people, especially teenagers, they can barely remember a time when technology didn’t have this intrusive, dominating role in their lives. Can they imagine how life would be without it?

This is a fascinating article about a group of students and teachers in a US school who deliberately chose to go ‘cold turkey’ for three days:

KQED Mindshift Article – Teens Disconnect for Three Days

The comments of the students (both those who stuck to the challenge for three days and those who didn’t) are very interesting. firstly, the challenge appeared far greater for some of them than they had anticipated. Some seemed almost surprised at the pleasures that came from engaging properly with the friends, relatives and the world around them instead of burying themselves in their self-absorbed online world.

Tal Ben Shahar (formerly of harvard University) in his books and courses on happiness reinforces repeatedly that the number one predictor of well-being is relationships. Regrettably, what is apparent is that youngsters are mistaking what’s going on online as a form of relationships. However, it’s built on artificiality and people presenting themselves in less than whole manner and engaging with each other in ways that are also not whole. These children who had disconnected found themselves giving more importance to their real, full blown relationships. To cultivate meaningful and successful relationships, we have to open up fully, to invest in them, to give time to them.

When we actually look at the amount of information we’re exposing ourselves to online, the data is shocking and phenomenal. Worse, if we’re really honest with ourselves how much of it was NEEDED? How much of it was really important or of value? How much does it really contribute to our quality of life? If we took that volume of data and put it in to the form of a book, wouldn’t most people immediately claim there’s no way they could find the time in a day to read it, absorb it, engage with it. Yet, millions do, every day.

Here’s another article that shares hard data and research. Firstly, it looks at quantifying those volumes of data. Then it moves on to fascinating studies of what all that exposure means to our brains and the effects of what we’re doing;

Attn – The Impact of Technology on Your Brain

When the article turns to the implications, the first thing made very clear is that there hasn’t yet been enough research – and that it’s needed urgently. However, what there has been is very worrying and we need to take note. Narcissism and reduced empathy have potentially devastating implications, both at the level of the individual but also for the wider society.

Reading the article, I was reminded of earlier things I’d read about Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley company heads and the restrictions they placed on their children’s use of technology. These people work closely enough with the technology to know and understand its potential for harm and the need for balance.

Ultimately, the part of the ‘always on’ life that worries me the most is the way in which it has overridden everything that people already knew about living a healthy and rewarding life. This includes the need to compartmentalise certain parts of the day, to have structure and focused periods of time when we engage in certain activities. If we keep online activity within certain times, it doesn’t need to be half as damaging. It becomes vitally important that we help children to learn and implement these habits and become good role models ourselves.

There’s enough to worry any tech dependant person in these two articles, or those who have such a person they care about. However, I believe the good news is it’s never too late to take control, to do something about it and to prioritise those activities that lead to a productive and meaningful life. Effective organisation of time, the development of self-discipline and continual questioning of our technology use are the best ways to ensure that it becomes our tool and we don’t become enslaved by it.

With that – I’m logging off now for some scheduled tech-free time. back later!

Dr Wayne Dyer, RIP

Recently, the world lost a man who has been recognised over many years as a progressive thinker and someone whose books, videos courses and programmes have helped thousands of people to shape their lives, to find more meaning and to improve the quality of their lives.

A meaningful life, the ‘life well lived’ has to be an aspiration for all and we must all believe we have the right to hold such aspirations.

Dyer’s approach was often rooted in his religious beliefs, but I believe is very valid and recognisable outside those beliefs and has a lot to offer to those of any faith.

Hay House were Dyer’s publishers. In memory of his recent passing, they’re offering free access to one of his films, The Shift. Not sure how long this will remain freely available, so make the most of it for now.

Dr Wayne Dyer – The Shift

Billionaire Gives 800 Math Teachers Pay Raises Out Of His Own Pocket

Are salaries the issue when it comes to taking standards?

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The Mind – The Final Frontier

Once upon a time, space was called the final frontier, a place full of mysteries, that sparked the curiosity of the greatest minds who sought to gather evidence to understand it better. Today, I believe that honour belongs to the human mind.

New scientific methods over the last 15 or so years have opened up fascinating opportunities to begin to learn more about how the mind works, to test (and sometimes refute) some of the tentative theories that had existed for a long time. This has vast implications for how we live, how we can aspire to be our most productive and effective. It has enormous implications for learning – and therefore for teaching and all aspects of education. But wait, are educators paying attention or do too many somehow see all that as something of merely passing interest? Not so long ago, the Dean of the Stanford School of Education admitted that it took a very long time before the School put in place a formal relationship with the Neurology Department of the School of Medicine.

So, educators, we need to be as aware and informed on the latest brain and mind research as we are on the latest ideas about pedagogy, classroom methodology or subject related knowledge. In fact, we cannot give proper thought to where we go in any of those areas if we don’t take account of brain science.

Here’s an example – a recent article about the brain and the ageing process:

Gulf News – Rewiring the Ageing Brain

As our knowledge in these areas grow it’s going to change many things about how we live our lives, not least (I sincerely hope), how we educate our children.

New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

Please form an orderly queue for hugs.

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When We Stop Rating People

I have often found something odd about the frequency of hearing teachers especially talk against performance management systems that lead to rating of their work. The arguments may vary somewhat, but usually consist of claims that ratings de-humanise them, that they attempt to objectify their work which is inherently subjective and that it goes against the wishes expressed by management to have people work collaboratively and as teams.

When educators spend so much of their time, traditionally, putting marks and/ or grades on students’ work – both the outcomes and the effort, I find the first tow arguments at times a bit hypocritical. However, I do see a fair amount of justification in the third argument. On the first two, I’m not necessarily saying i disagree with the teachers, but that if they want people to stop putting numbers/ grades and ratings on them I’d love to see the same enthusiasm for finding alternative ways to provide feedback on students’ work! What’s good for the teachers is also good for the students!

When i was in Delhi, we experimented with one term in the year when parents of pupils up to class 8 would receive a ‘Comments only’ report for their child, instead of the traditional ones where parents inevitably focus upon the grades and marks (and particularly those they want to see higher!). One father summed up the feedback of many parents when he told me that this report completely changed the nature of the dialogue he had with his child. He had initially been sceptical. However, what he found was that he and his daughter had a far more open discussion around the teacher feedback, uncluttered by the grades and marks. They talked about strengths as well as areas for development and much more about what help, if any, the child might need to make the targeted improvements.

I was reminded of that when I read this recent article from Harvard business Review about large companies in the US who are shifting away from forced ranking, grades etc. to measure performance of people in the workplace;

Harvard Business Review – Ditching Performance Ratings

The reality is whether we’re talking of students, teachers or employees in any kind of organisation any attempt to distil the essence of who they are and the contribution they make to numbers, grades or other quantifiables will feel like a blunt weapon and a poor way to motivate, inspire or guide to higher levels of achievement and performance. We can, even must, strive to more positive means of motivating and aiding people of all ages to fulfil their potential and to manifest their best self.

Privilege of Education

Here’s a nice, short little article about a lesson idea that a teacher used to get his students to think about the whole concept of privilege. Amongst other things, it’s clear that he wanted them to understand that even today getting an education, let alone a quality education is still a privilege when so many children are denied this fundamental human right for various reasons (one aspect of the current migrant crisis that isn’t really being talked about very much).

Buzzfeed – A Powerful Lesson About Privilege

Tongue in cheek, I hoped that the teacher had a plan afterwards for how to put all those screwed up pieces of paper to good use – privilege is a big factor in what mankind is doing to the planet and environment, as well!!

As well as an interesting idea for a physical activity to inspire thought, discussion and reflection the article is also interesting for the high amount of comment it’s attracted (scroll down on the page) and particularly for the heated nature of some of those comments. Whilst some have sought to turn it in to an idealistic debate about equality, politics and ideas that the world should be ‘a level playing field’ where everyone has equal assets.

I personally feel that much of that debate misses the key point. Good quality universal education, available to all, SHOULD be a leveller to the extent that it facilitates opportunity for mobility in society. This point was put very well by Nelson Mandela when he said;

“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become head of the mine, and that a child of farm workers can become president of a great nation.”

However, data from UK, USA and many other developed countries shows that in reality education is failing to act as the great driver of social mobility. Individual exceptions aside, too often lower expectations, less direct input in the learning process at home and other handicaps lead to perpetuation of class structures and low mobility.

I believe firmly that as educators it is right that we continue to work to reduce the impact of such factors. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds can be given access to the best of education at affordable costs with appropriate social and psychological support to overcome self-imposed limitations and expectations. When this happens, a society can become far more meritocratic and less likely to carry forward inefficiencies. it also represents a more humane and evolved society.