What Are You Passionate About?

Last week I shared an article that highlighted recent research findings that suggested that having a goal, a calling, but doing nothing about it. However, it’s also true that far too many people never get the chance or opportunity to explore themselves to find their passion, the calling that would motivate them to fulfill their potential.

That’s what ‘Genius Hour’ is all about. First associated with companies like Google who saw the benefits of giving their staff and employees the space, time and freedom to pursue something they’re curiously, passionately interested in. Incidentally, some of Google’s most innovative spin-off projects away from their mainstream have arisen from these employee activities.

Time is a very precious commodity in schools. We frequently hear teachers talk of the lack of time due to over-bloated syllabus. At the same time we hear the advocates for home schooling talking of how they are able to achieve at least the same as schools in a fraction of the time because children don’t waste large amounts of time in meaningless activities. There has to be a middle line – where schools can take the benefits achieved by home schoolers from more efficient and effective use of time, and turn over the extra time to worthwhile activities.

It’s pleasing to see the way some schools and teachers have been experimenting with ‘Genius Hour’ as a time for children to pursue something that really interests them, to explore a passion and to have a chance to discover their calling.

Here’s a nice post from an educator, in which she sets out simply the processes she follows to make the genius hour something that is highly motivating for the children and effective;

E-School News – The 4 Essentials of a Successful Genius Hour
(Click on the link above to read the article)

Leadership For Teacher Learning

The ‘growth mindset’ of Stanford professor Carol Dweck is as important for teachers as it is for pupils, if we are to have schools that achieve effective learning for all students.

Dr Dylan Wiliams is a British educator who has become a renowned authority on strategic formative assessment. I was very glad to come across this webinar he did this week for Learning Sciences International. It's based on a new book he's just published.

He shares some fascinating research. What i particularly liked was that he challenges and questions some of the assumptions that have been drawn from past research and offers some alternative explanations. As he highlights, this is particularly important in terms of how leaders in education interpret research, draw conclusions and decide what to do in their schools as a result.

Unfortunately, I found that there were too many occasions when the visuals of the webinar weren't matching with what was being said. Fortunately, I was separately able to find a copy of the presentation slides, so that it's possible to see them independently from the audio. They can be found here:

Dylan Williams Center - leadership For Teacher Learning Slides

There are many points he raises. One I found interesting was the suggestion that, so far, there really are no effective ways to be able to tell who are the great teachers and who are not. This is a big issue when we know that the quality of teachers has a big impact for children. I liked his idea that if a teacher doesn't talk in terms of believing that they can gt better then this should be seen as a warning sign. Teachers who are committed to their own continuous improvement offer the best chance for raising educational standards. Teachers who believe they are as good as they can get (fixed mindset) are a risk in the classroom.

I was especially interested in his findings about formative assessment and also the research on comparing the costs of particular initiatives, the quality of evidence in favour of the intervention and the size of benefit it achieved.

The five processes of formative assessment was really valuable;

a) Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions,
b) Eliciting evidence of prior learning,
c) Providing (motivating) feedback that moves learners forward,
d) Activating students as learning resources for each other (peer learning),
e) Activating students as owners of their own learning

I think that Wiliam's conclusions are spot on when he suggests that if teachers are to be growing and improving practice continually, there is an onus on both the teachers themselves and their leaders to create the climate and environment for this to happen. He also suggests some useful signs that progress is being made.

I would urge all teachers and education leaders who are regular readers of this blog to invest the time to watch the webinar. I think you'll find it time well spent.

Testing – For What?

“If we are insistent on having exams for these Primary School children, then what are we testing for?”

“Well, of course, we want to know what they have learned and what they can do.”

“In that case, is there any legitimate good reason why there should be time limits on the exam? Doesn’t that test something else?”

The room full of teachers looked at me with such horror that I felt I might need to do a quick check to see that I hadn’t just grown a second head.

I’ve long believed that there are times when, as leaders, one of our most valuable responsibilities is to ask naive and simple questions that challenge and question those things that are taken for granted within a profession. The reality is education and teaching have many of these things – practices and processes that are applied without question or application of curiosity to see whether they really make sense. This is a particular issue in schools that espouse a desire to move to more child-centric and learner oriented education methods (especially personalisation) but still do a multitude of things that aren’t really compatible with those goals – simply because they haven’t been questioned.

The conversation at the top of this post really happened. It was about 11 years ago, but I’ve also had similar conversations with teachers in other places much more recently. So, I was interested when i saw this article from New York Times and wanted to share it;

New York Times – State Will Shed Clock For Some Statewide Tests

Seeing the headline and the initial part of the article one might have reason to believe that this was all positive and a recognition and response to do something that makes sense for positive progress in education. However, reflection on the final part of the article suggests that the intent is more manipulative and potentially a devious move by those hell-bent on pushing forward the agenda of the standards movement in US public education. Could it be that this is a sop to appease increasingly frustrated and angry teachers and parents? These are people (politicians particularly) who are convinced that the way to raise standards in education and have a higher level of quality is to change the nature of teachers’ jobs by linking their remuneration and even job security to performance in standardised tests.

We only need to stop for a second to see that what they’re doing doesn’t make sense. If the question in their minds was about how to have a system of assessing children’s learning that was beneficial, meaningful and led to genuine progress n leaning for every child, then why continue with the standardised formal exams? Why not advocate for a form of more formative assessments and application of a fuller range of assessment tools and strategies? Secondly, if the time limit on the exams is removed, how does this create a level playing field for all teachers such that the data nerated can be trusted as a basis for judging their performance, determining salary increases and even issues of job security and tenure?

I continue to believe that if we are truly putting the children/ learners first – then there’s no place for examinations in the earlier years of their education at all. There are so many more effective ways of assessing progress that provide meaningful ways to plan their way forward for continuous learning progress. Exams are not some holy sanctified process for which years of learning and practice are necessary – we want to create great citizens and young people who can make a meaningful contribution to the world, not exam ninjas!

In the meantime, I will consider it my duty to continue to ask naive questions, challenge and probe so that together educators can bring positive reform in our profession.

The Link Between Worry and Creativity

This short article may be pointing out something that most people have long intuitively suspected – people who worry or ‘over think’ are often more developed, creative people;

Higher Perspective – New Research – Overthinking Worriers Are Probably Creative Geniuses

The article caused me to think particularly about two aspects that aren’t covered in the article.

Firstly, if these are the people with the scope to make greater creative contributions, are our modern organisations respecting them and meeting their needs adequately? Simply, I think such people are usually under-appreciated. All too often such individuals get lumped in with the negative irritants and are not appreciated by their colleagues or superiors. In today’s environment of tight deadlines and focus on doing more in less time, their inclination to get in to detailed discussion of their worries and issues they believe should be addressed are seen as getting n the way of progress. As a result, companies finish up with uncreative, unimaginative solutions to issues and a general anti-creativity. Too many issues get dealt with ‘the way we’ve always done it around here’. This isn’t productive and at worst cn even be dangerous in the longer term.

The second issue that went through my mind was how we fail to support children who show these traits at school. All too often, the worrier, the anxious child is treated as an irritant, a nuisance. The inclination in many environments for a factory-like set of routines and processes for the school day combined with a curriculum that is heavy on content finds it hard to support and facilitate these children.

If we really want to profess a commitment to holistic learning, personalised development, the whole child and the unique requirements of every child in the school then i believe teachers and educators need to develop approaches and strategies that support such students. The evidence suggests that if we can get it right, these students have a great deal to contribute.

Follow Your Heart

This feels 100% right to me:

  1. Have a calling,
  2. Don’t neglect it, push it to one side – follow it.

These are the conclusions from some new research recently published;

BPS Research Digest – Follow Your Heart

Whilst this article from the British Psychological Society blog is right to point out that the research doesn’t prove causality, my guess is it’s only a matter of time before someone does.

Quite simply, the suggestion is that the worst off people, both in terms of mental and physical well being are those who have a calling, but don’t do anything about it. Next come those who don’t rally feel any kind of calling. The best off are those who have a calling and follow it.

I’m not waiting for the third one, but putting myself firmly in that last group. All systems are go – full steam ahead!

Poverty and Succeeding in School

Neuroscience is providing us enormous insights in to many aspects of the working of the brain – not least how the learning process works, as evidenced by this article;

Smartblogs – How Poverty Affects School Success
(Click on the link above to read the article)

I have to confess that as I was reading the article, until about 2/3 of the way through there was this ever louder voice in my head shouting out, “Yes, but just because poverty CAN have negative affects on learning and success in school, that doesn’t mean that it MUST.” I don’t doubt for a moment that these findings from neuroscience do highlight statistically proven ways n which poverty has been undermining success in school for children brought up in situations of poverty.

In other words, I was thinking, surely we can put all this new-found knowledge and awareness to work to minimise the impact of poverty on children’s educational outcomes.

So, I was relieved by the final sections of the article that acknowledged this very point. My hope is that in the hands of highly skilled and caring educators this knowledge from the field of neuroscience will provide clues and ideas that can be utilised to reduce, minimise and even perhaps eliminate the built-in disadvantages of children brought up in poverty. That is the circumstance. Skilled educational and teaching strategies can enable children to overcome those circumstances, leading them out of victim-hood.

Social mobility was long held out as one of the potential benefits of mass education and a desirable aspiration for a modern democracy – a meritocracy in which nobody should believe that their potential in life is pre-ordained by their starting circumstances. However, data shows clearly that, so far, few developed economies have really achieved levels of social mobility to boast about. However, I believe knowledge like this brings such aspirations in reach like never before.

Leaders are Readers

I truly believe that in an ever faster changing world, the readers are destined to be the winners. Further, I think it’s vitally important to reinforce that the real knowledge we need to access doesn’t come through popular daily mass media; newspapers, magazines etc. or from TV.

So, as educators I believe we really need to be doing all in our power to ensure that children develop reading books as a natural pattern of their regular daily actions. For this, they need to develop great reading habits and the earlier they start these the better the chances that they will maintain those habits in their adult life. Sadly, a bit too often for comfort I hear parents who put the onus on schools to devel the reading habit in their children, or who bemoan the fact that the child isn’t a stronger reader, but who admit that they don’t read on a regular basis themselves. The excuse, nvariably, is @I don’t have the time.”

So, I was interested to come across this article looking at adult reading habits, triggered by recent pronouncements from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg (who’s certainly way busier than you or me!) It makes clear – this is a habit we can build in to our adult lives if we just acknowledge its importance and put in the effort. However, I don’t think we should underestimate how challenging it would be for anyone who doesn’t naturally have the habit.

Here’s the article:
Fast Company – Why You Should Read 50 Books This Year

Which is why I am really keen to see more students in schools developing the habit early. part of this, I believe, is to encourage them to read for pleasure as much as for learning. Fiction opens up the mind in different ways to non fiction that tends to expand one’s knowledge. Books in the home are a valuable investment. We now know, or at least suspect according to recent research I’ve highlighted in other articles, that sleep patterns get disturbed by watching screens in the last hour before bed. So, what better alternative than to get your child to switch off the TV/ iPad/ computer an hour before bed and pick up a book?

When your child has been reading, it’s great for their thinking and language development to ask questions about the reading, how it made them feel, the messages nderlying the story etc. It also brings a sense of togetherness and bonding.

I have long had a habit that at any particular time I have two books I’m reading simultaneously – one fiction and one non fiction. Right now I’m reading “A strangeness in my mind”, the latest novel from Nobel Literature Prize winner Orhan Pamuk – a deep and thoughtful read. The non fiction is “Creative Schools” by educator, Sir Ken Robinson – I’ll maybe write more on that when I finish it.

Happy Reading !!!!