Great At The Game. The Right Game?

Within the education field, there are some who believe that the only things worth measuring or caring about are those that can be measured. To them, data is everything. Their logic suggests that if you can’t reduce something to hard data, then it probably doesn’t really matter in education.

The result of this mindset is articles like this:

The Washington Post: This Company Says It Can Predict Whether A Teacher Will Be Any Good – Before Entering A Classroom

Quite simply – what they’re saying is that they can isolate the features of those teachers who are capable of getting children to score higher on standardised tests, identify those attributes in prospective teachers and thereby short-circuit the recruitment process.

Of course, their whole premise is based upon the idea that ability to get children to get high scores in standardised tests is the most (only?) important attribute of a teacher. To my mind, this is so dangerous as to be daunting. Worse, it can look to the public like it makes sense – who won’t be tempted by those who promise that their children will get better exam results and as a result have better higher education prospects, better work and professional potential and even a better life.

Who cares for the skills and competencies of the twenty first century? Just because you can simplify our profession down to one or two simple measures, doesn’t mean that’s wise or moral.

Learning to Learn

The Delors Committee under UNESCO, when looking at the requirements for high quality education, identified four pillars of learning; learning to do, learning to know, learning to be and learning to live together. later there was expansion on this thinking to add a critical fifth element – learning to learn – the so-called process of becoming a lifelong learner.

(For those who want to access the report: Learning: The Treasure Within , you can click on this link)

I’ve written in the past about the plague of education systems that spend inordinate amounts of time and energy focusing on ‘learning to know’, until children believe that education merely consists of the meomorisation and accumulation of vast bodies of facts, separated from their context in the world in which we live.

On the issue of learning to learn, I recently came across this excellent article from Education Week about teaching and developing the habits of self-assessment. it argues that the earlier children start to see these metacognitive skills modeled and learn them for themselves, the better.

Education Week – Student Self-Assessment Practices That Work

In short – reflective teachers develop reflective students who are capable, and have the right attitude to take full ownership of their own learning. Then, learners aren’t waiting to ‘have learning done to them,’ or seeking ways to get out of learning – as if it is something inherently abhorrent and to be avoided!

The ideas and suggestions in the article are good and i particularly liked the focus on the students themselves setting goals at the beginning of modules/ units/ pieces of work and then using that as the basis for their later reflection. I agree that the reflection shouldn’t wait until the end of the work, but should be a regular, ongoing part of the process so that it feels natural and draws on experiences and memories which are fresh in the mind.

We should not underestimate the value of this self-assessment and reflection for student motivation. The student who reflects will have a better grasp of what they’re doing, why they’re being asked to do it and the criteria for success. Also, when they struggle or hit obstacles they will be better able to figure out what they need to do to overcome them.

Finally, i also believe that students who see their own learning as a personal journey of do-reflect-do, are likely to have a healthier and more positive approach towards the learning journeys of their peers – with less negative comparisons and unhealthy competition.

Read For Free

Most of the world’s most successful people read. Developing a strong reading habit early in life can increase a person’s chances of achieving their goals and aspirations in life. However, whilst all reading is beneficial, it can be a bit like eating food. A diet consisting of only one food type doesn’t lead to healthy nourishment. Therefore, it’s best to develop a rich and broad taste – to read the fun, the entertaining, the enriching and the stretching. I would always advocate that the variety should include material from different times, genres, styles. As well as being stretching, it also gives us insights in to the past (those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it).

However, one of the things that still seems to put a lot of people off reading today (it shouldn’t, but ….) is cost. Of course, what people really mean is that they would have to trade off the cost of books against other spending choices.

However, excuses be gone – I like to help people to bust through whenever possible. So, my share today is a link to 25 sources of free public domain books. This is not book piracy or anything illegal. Every year, vast volumes of books come in to the public domain depending on the laws in the country of the author. Usually, it’s a certain number of years after the author’s death. The net result is that vast volumes of material are no longer ‘owned’ by anyone and there are no royalties due on them. Over time there have been initiatives to digitise these works, so as to make them available to the widest possible audience. This all started with the Project Gutenburg initiative. That’s still probably my favourite as it’s very searchable and offers one click downloading of all works from a particular author.

Here’s the link:

Ebookfriendly – 25 Sources of Free Public Domain Books

It’s Sunday – what better time to enrich yourself feasting on a free classic or a hidden gem that you probably couldn’t even find in the book shop. Enjoy.

To Help Children Develop, Help The Adults Around Them

Positive, sensible people acknowledge that when you do a job, you can never get too good at it. At the same time, employers commit to put at least as much energy as the individual in to helping them to get better at doing it. Further, the inputs aren’t just about the job, the tasks and practices, but are usually at least as much focused on the personal development of the ‘whole employee’. The sense in this is that the employee who is living a positive, healthy balanced life, capable of striving to be the best in all their personal roles will be a better employee able to make a greater contribution and work to a higher standard.

Parenting, bringing up children, enabling children’s learning – these are all jobs too, but somehow I feel much less focus is given to either the training/ learning of the skills or the overall wellbeing of those charged with this massive responsibility on behalf of society. And, it’s not an easy responsibility. Sometimes, it can be one of the most stressful ‘jobs’ in existence. Sometimes, practitioners can find themselves hampered by self-doubt, questions about whether what they’re doing is really working and stress as the ‘job’ can come to take over their lives to the exclusion of all else. There are times for both parents and educators when the phrase “work-life balance” just seems like a very bad joke.

When being a parent is combined with poverty then it might be a surprise that it’s taken so long for serious work to be done about the impact on children. This week saw a very interesting article that highlighted the benefits experienced by children when interventions focused on coaching and helping parents or foster parents to bond and handle their relationships with the children:

New York Times – Sunday review – To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents

The article highlights a number of research projects that have demonstrated the benefits in the development of children’s noncognitive skills – the skills that enable children to navigate life in school so much more effectively.The article highlights the considerable potential values that can flow out of home visits. I have, at times, been saddened when discussing with teachers when my suggestions to incorporate home visits in to building home-school teamwork, I have been told that such a move would be culturally insensitive and unwelcome in an Asian education climate.

In the latter part of the article, it takes a shift to look at aspects about how teachers are supported and enabled to be at their best, whether helping pre-kindergarten teachers with their skills and competence to prepare children effectively for the learning experience when they join a school classroom or appointing mental health professionals to work with teachers and help them to be in a ‘healthy place’ so that they can be at their best with the children. In short, reducing the stress levels of teachers reduces the stress levels of students and creates a virtuous circle that supports effective learning.

On this latter point, I also share an excellent article from Carol Ann Tomlinson in ASCD’s ‘Educational leadership’ publication about ‘Caring For Teachers’;

ASCD Educational Leadership – The Working Lives of Educators – Caring For Teachers

In the article she talks about the importance of having educational leaders who are continually engaging with the ‘why of teaching’ in their internal dialogue and who see caring for their teachers as a highly important part of maintaining a positive, nurturing learning environment. The leader is there to support teacher success. It’s through that success that children will learn most effectively. As I read the piece I found myself thinking about education leaders who put a strong emphasis on developing their own skills as coaches, listeners, in aspects of interpersonal skills and communication so that they can figure out the best way to support each of the teachers in their team.

When I was based in Delhi, around 2010/11 we introduced an annual physical health checkup for every employee. Sadly, there were a few who never took it up (including one who sadly passed away last year). However, in the first year it was somewhat startling to see how many of the check ups led to identifying potentially very dangerous health problems, or chronic ongoing issues that were preventing teachers from being or delivering their very best. Further, the message received by the teachers that we cared for their wellbeing encouraged many to change lifestyle habits that were hampering their health and their work.

Teachers do have a duty to care for themselves and each other, but as leaders we must not get so blinded by the minutiae of day to day school management, targets, KPIs etc. that we lose sight of the needs of the people through whom we seek to influence the learning experience of the children (We lead people, we manage things and processes – in that order!)

Passion to Change Lives Through Education

Donovan Livingstone - remember that name because I think we're going to hear a lot more from him. And, on behalf of every educator thank you to this inspiring young man for his eloquent, passionate sharing of what matters in our work.

This Harvard Graduate School of Education Student Speech is well worth 6 minutes of anyone's day. He begins by quoting Horace Mann in 1848 talking of education's power to equalise opportunity, but goes on to highlight at the time if he had learned to read or write, as a black man, that would have been deemed a crime. He goes on to talk of today, when blacks and other minorities are treated as a kind of 'quota' in education. However, as he goes on to talk about the role of education and what it means to educate his message applies to every single student regardless of colour, religion or background.

Eloquently presented through spoken word poetry Donovan's words reach out to every educator to remain connected to the importance of the work we do, the opportunity it presents us to impact the life of a child and to contribute to the possibility for them to fulfil their infinite potential.

The sky is not the limit, it is only the beginning. Lift off.

Open Educational Resources

It’s possible that this might be the very best time, ever, to be a teacher, to be an educator who wants to facilitate learning, to prepare students for their best possible life and to develop in the habits of lifelong learners.

One of the things that has, in my view, changed the environment in the last five to ten years is the massive explosion in the volume of available resources that teachers can use to support the learning process – especially when those resources are high quality and free! This is exactly the kind of thing that Clayton Christensen was writing about in “Disrupting Class”. these are the kinds of changes that mean we’re not looking at incremental change, but rapid change on a massive scale that strips away old assumptions about what it means to be an educator anywhere in the world.

There are so many examples that I continually come across. A few weeks ago i shared the way in which Sal Khan’s new Silicon Valley school was openly sharing all curriculum material, lesson plans and processes with any other school that wanted it – as part of contributing to a culture of mutual openness, sharing and collaboration. Great educators have long known that shared resources become better resources as more people contribute to them, mould them to local circumstances and the unique needs of their learners. Or, they simply bring something of themselves to make the material better.

There are no end of potential sources online for freely usable resources – perhaps the most obvious being Pinterest and Youtube. However, I wanted to share a very valuable link here. It has links and a brief summary of eight of the best sources currently available for open education resources. Whilst it’s slightly US centric (linking a lot of the available resources to the US Common Core Standards) this doesn’t preclude the material from being tweaked to suit those educators working with students towards other curricula.

THE Journal – 8 High Quality OER Collections

Enjoy, and teachers please feel free to let us know if you use any of these, how effective you find them and any other sources you would like to recommend.

If Kids Grow Vegetables, They Eat Vegetables

A great TED presentation from the self declared ‘Guerrilla Gardener’.

An entertaining perspective on how we use urban spaces, who owns them and who has rights to use them. This guy’s certainly a rebel with a cause – and a good one. Urban living doesn’t mean that we should become disconnected from the land.

I loved his thoughts linking healthy diets for children with a sense of connection with the growing process. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that when children are engaged in the process of growing things they don’t lack for energy, enthusiasm or interest. Further, they start to see the issues of the environment and food differently.

Man Booker Prize 2016

An interesting and intriguing winner for this year’s prize:

Man Booker International Prize Serves Up Victory to The Vegetarian

Meditation For A Better World

“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist Leader

So, OK – hands up who believes he’s right? Hands up those who believe that he might be at least partially right. Or, hands up those who don’t believe it would make a blind bit of difference.

Shane – I can’t see hands, but I’m certainly happy if anyone wants to leave a comment.

Of course, if we stop and think about the Dalai Lama’s words, there are many many questions. Can 8 year old children meditate effectively? Do we even have a common understanding of what meditation is, how it’s practiced, frequency required/ desirable etc.? If children are to ‘learn’ meditation, what should be the process of learning? Who should teach it, and how?

Further, what do we mean by violence? Is harming the environment an act of violence? Or, do we only mean acts of physical force or aggression against other humans (individually or collectively)? Also, are there acts by nature that can essentially be seen as a form of violence? Predatory animals, storms, hurricanes, forest fires etc.? What does meditation have to do with these things, if anything?

There are no simple answers to any of those questions. However, I feel rather than allowing that to negate any potential value in what the Dalai Lama was saying would be a shame. Far better to acknowledge it as a hypothetical global spiritual wish. A desire that we – human society – takes on a responsibility to become more mindful through meditative practices, so as to live our lives with a greater sense of human inter-connectedness. Further, an acknowledgement that the earlier such reflective mindfulness starts in a person’s life, the more effective it’s going to be.

When I was based in Delhi, our schools introduced a practice that involved a ringing of a ‘buddhist prayer bowl’ over the tannoy system a couple of times a day. As soon as anyone heard it, they were to stop whatever they were doing and for those few moments focus inwards on their own breathing, centre themselves and then go on with their activities afterwards. We saw a marked improvement in focus, even with quite young children. Children were generally calmer and there were definite, sustained reductions in abrasiveness and aggression levels. This was enough to convince me that mindfulness associated practices enable children to focus, to relax and to learn in school. perhaps the biggest benefit was that some of the children whose behaviour changed most were ones who had most difficulties with maintaining appropriate classroom behaviour. This benefited them and the other children in their classroom.

I believe that there’s a positive chance that children who grow up with mindful, introspective and reflective practices live their lives with more agency, more self-control through better and more positive self-image. They are likely to reflect higher levels of empathy towards those around them and a greater sense of acceptance of differentness and diversity. These are all attributes that, in enough children and young people, can change the way humans interact.

To me, this is what the Dalai Lama was getting at. I don’t believe he was advocating some kind of unsubstantiated global impact of meditation as a sort of spiritual wave of peace that changes human and cultural behaviour throughout the planet.