Welcome Tenby Parents

From today onwards, as well as the existing audience of regular readers of this blog all over the world (but especially in India, UAE, UK and USA) I welcome the large numbers of new readers from The Tenby Schools across Malaysia who’ve just discovered that this is my online presence.

Whilst I’ll continue to write and share articles on general articles about education, children, child psychology, leadership, parenting and anything else that interests me strongly, from time to time i’ll also share some Tenby-centric articles in the coming months.

My experiences over the last couple of months have been that Tenby parents are enthusiastic, passionate about their children’s education and also very warm and friendly people! So, I’m really happy to welcome you and to offer this route by which you can be in touch with me, as well as by email.

I’m really excited about working with you to take our schools forward to greater heights.

The Narcissism of Selfies

I think most of us intuitively know that the near obsessive selfie-taking habits of many youngsters today is far from healthy. However, here’s a writer who sums up the problems with it very neatly;

New York Times Blogs – Well – Is Selfie Culture Making Our Kids Selfish?

Dr Michele Borba has just published her 23rd book, this one particularly exploring the unintended aspects of the selfie culture and what it’s doing to children. In this interview promoting the book she makes some excellent points about the impairment of emotional signal reading when children are having an increasing proportion of their human interaction online where they don’t get to see, read and interpret body language and other non-verbal cues.

She highlights the loss of empathy and caring for others when things become ‘all about me’, when narcissism and the desire to be centre of attention is at the forefront of a child’s actions and their thinking.

Finally, she makes a very strong case for emphasizing kindness and, maybe more important – building the child’s belief that – “I’m a kind person.”

Earning The Right To Coach

A nice short video, highlighting that when it is said that a person is uncoachable, far more likely is that they're simply not ready to be coached by YOU.

The Merits of Boredom

“World, entertain me, stimulate me, make my life stimulating and fun,” sounds like the lament of Veruca Salt, the greedy, self-centred and demanding child in Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

However, sadly, it could be heard from way too many children in today’s world who have become used to spending so much of their time hyper-stimulated by media, films, computer games and the ‘always on’ internet. So, against this typical backdrop I was fascinated to come across this article that shares scientific perspectives on the value of letting children experience some boredom;

Quartz – Psychologists Recommend Children Be Bored In The Summer

The arguments made, especially about the building of self-reliance, are strong and convincing. As we head rapidly towards the vacation breaks for schools (in some countries they’ve already started) this is timely input. So, let’s not overplan on behalf of our children this vacation.

Not Thinking Straight

Less than 2% of humanitarian aid apportioned to education? Are we crazy? Surely, the responses of the world to humanitarian disasters (man made or natural) have to pay heed to both the short term and long term?

Reuters – Disaster Hit Children Struggle Without School Buildings

Money spent on education, school infrastructure and related aspects plays a part in the short term as well as the long term. For example, in Bangladesh many old ramshackle school buildings were replaced with far more stable, solid concrete structures. These have become local and regional shelters when cyclones hit the country and have already saved vast numbers of lives. Schools have the potential to provide focal community rallying points in the critical days after a disaster or emergency.

In the longer term, it’s bad enough for an economy of a country or area when humanitarian disasters hit. The negative impacts are even greater in the longer term when children go without schooling for months or even years. Large numbers of these children may never return to formal education and this can have a debilitating impact on the local economy, reducing the competitive potential and ability to fully engage in economic activity in the modern age.

Finally, after a traumatic disaster there are many psychological problems in the society, fear psychosis, loss and bereavement. Schools and places of learning offer the best opportunities to address these needs in children and to help them to get some routine and habits of positive daily life established.

With all these considerations in mind, it seems there’s a need for a fundamental rethink of how humanitarian aid is allocated, in order to see a significant increase in the amount finding its way to education related expenditure.

Student Engagement

Student engagement can be considered the opposite of ‘bored students’, though I believe our aims should go higher than simply trying to prevent children from being bored. As educators, we should aspire that every student in our care develops the habits and inclinations of a lifelong learner.

This is a phrase so glibly batted around in the education environment today with little regard to what it truly means or why it matters. To me, to be a lifelong learner means;

a) A person has the inclination to continually learn throughout life, in both formal and informal ways. Too many adults let themselves off the hook by saying – ” I learn from the people around me and my experiences. That’s lifelong learning.” In the meantime, those people never pick up a book or a journal related to their professional field while slowly they and their peers slide slowly in to irrelevance. That’s no different to what all but the worst have done in workplaces since the industrial revolution (and even before that). This is something way more than that – it’s about being what I call a ‘learnivore’, hungry to acquire new knowledge directly and indirectly related to one’s professional field.
b) The person’s open and flexible to ‘unlearn’ and doesn’t cling on to old dogmas,
c) The person sees learning as a ‘pull process. They’re not waiting for someone to ‘do learning to them.’ There are telling examples here when you see the reactions of some teachers to new information technology. When you put new hardware or software in to the hands of a youngster, they experiment in order to figure out how they can use it and what it can do for them. When you put it in the hands of a teacher, all too often you hear, “when am I going to get a training programme on this?” Of course, part of the reason for this is an unconscious need to be the ‘sage on the stage’ and to always know more than the students.
d) Related to that, lifelong learners are prepared to be vulnerable, to admit what they don’t know enough about and to seek out new knowledge from wherever they can find it. They don’t just try to bluff their way out or avoid.
e) Lifelong learners leave clues – they read, they consume high quality media (e.g. TED lectures, online educator debate forums etc.)
f) Lifelong learners actually relish and enjoy the learning process, in fact, so much so that sometimes they may need to place restrictions and some restraint on themselves regarding how much time they devote to furthering their learning.
g) They have developed the skills and the wherewithal to learn, to reflect on their own learning and to plan a course of learning for themselves that never ends, but always moves them forward.

Returning to the issues of children in school – if that’s the ideal of the adult lifelong learner, then what do we need to be doing in school to provide the right climate and environment to create lifelong learners. This is not just a side issue. Vast numbers of schools today proudly declare lifelong learning as a core value and principle of their school.

First – we must start off remembering that every child starts out innately in love with learning, fascinated in the world around them, ever curious and inquisitive. Too often, the poorest educators destroy that love so totally that the student will never get it back. Moving beyond ‘do no harm,’ educators need to work to keep each child connected with that part of themselves and to give them all the reasons to apply that love to the syllabus learning and beyond.

Secondly, I believe, in age appropriate ways they invest significant time in helping children to develop the habits and skills of learning, to understand their own learning, to reflect on it and to plan for future learning towards desired knowledge goals. In other words, there’s attention to the process of learning as well as the content and the end goals.

Thirdly, the educators exhibit being lifelong learners themselves, including showing vulnerability when things come up where the students may know more than them.

Next, teachers are courageous and bold in planning lessons. This does mean that some of them won’t come off – and that’s OK. They will also build genuine differentiation in to their lesson planning, supporting each student in the appropriate way. This means avoiding the traps of simplistic categorisation and pigeon-holing of their pupils. They will also invest considerable effort in knowing the pupils (not just those who actively speak up and volunteer information during classroom discussions. Perhaps more teachers would be sitting down to lunch more often with their pupils.

Student motivation is a critical factor. Attention to it should be built in to the agenda of the whole school and every member of staff from the Principal down. This also touches upon issues of student voice, agency and continually monitoring real engagement. On the latter topic, I recently came across an interesting article that highlighted the need to go below the surface to explore genuine engagement – not to get lulled or fooled by pseudo-engagement;

KQED – Mindshift – Are Your Students Engaged? Don’t Be So Sure

The article makes very clear why, and the extent to which, engagement matters. Engagement levels carry direct clues to future potential and achievements. It goes on to dissect some of the dangerous myths regarding engagement and especially the false evidence that can lead a teacher to believe a student is engaged. Pupils know their teacher wants to see engagement. As a result, many have learned strategies to ‘fake it’ within wider school cultures that motivate them to give as little as they can get away with – the path of least effort.

Quite rightly, it also points out that a classroom where everyone’s having carefree fun and a good laugh isn’t a substitute for engaged learning. As it says – there’s real effort involved – rigor, relevance and stretch – what Angela Duckworth termed called ‘grit’. Children aren’t afraid to sweat in athletics or other sports training – if they’re not ready to ‘sweat’ a bit in their classroom learning, we’re still doing things wrong.

Permission To Be Human

Teachers are humans too!

As professionals an awful lot of teachers want to believe that they are objective, detached and that their thinking about every child in their care is shaped by professional considerations based upon pedagogy, all their training and learning and the desire to support every child to fulfil their potential.

Ahem! Reality check!

Let’s get real teachers. We’re no more or less subjective in the way that our minds work than other mature adults.

Here’s one way that we’ve all either done or certainly heard teachers doing in staff rooms (or might I say even Principals and leadership team members in management meetings! (Shock, horror!)

The Danger of Teacher Nostalgia – Cult of Pedagogy

Another example comes from my reading a few years ago. I wish I could remember or find the source for this. Apparently, there was a training programme going on for a group of around 30 teachers in a Scandinavian country. The teachers were asked to come up with a collective definition of ‘naughtiness’ in a classroom – what constituted bad behaviour? After arriving at a shared definition they were asked to think about who was the naughtiest child in their current class, to write the child’s name on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope.

Then, over the course of a couple of months their classes were monitored and analysed with video and other tools in great detail and all acts by children that fell within the shared definition of naughtiness were noted and recorded. In this way, they were able to rank the children in all the classes for the extent of their naughty behaviour.

So, the the million dollar question – how many of the teachers had the same name in their envelope as appeared at the top of the observed naughtiness lists?

10%, 25%, 50%?

Exactly none of them, 0% had a match in the children’s names.

The researchers concluded that innate subjectivity of teachers and their own personalities mean that some children’s ways of misbehaving were more noticeable and memorable than others. In short, the teachers were nothing like as objective as they thought they were (or wanted to believe they were).

This leads to two critical questions;

a) Does this level of subjectivity matter?
b) If so, what can teachers do about it?

In my view, absolutely this matters and has potential risks that some children are going to get their education potential hampered by the subjective clashes with individual teachers. As to the solution, I believe one of the most valuable tools for a teacher to get more objective is daily journaling – a regular habit in which the teacher records simply the facts of what happened in their classroom, wherever possible avoiding applying their emotions and feelings to it. Regular review of these journal records can enable the teacher to get a more holistic and objective perception of what’s really happening, class dynamics and how their own personality and those of the children are interacting.

For some teachers this may sound like a big investment of time and effort. However, I believe if the habit is built solidly it’s a task that can be carried out quite quickly. The biggest payoff comes at report writing time and the time of parent teacher meetings. All that objectively gathered data enables far better reports to be written in far less time.

Incidentally, i believe this also applies to leaders and the people they work with in terms of being objective about performance and development. Again, the payoff comes at the time of appraisals and performance management feedback sessions. For that, another day, another blog post.

Intrinsic Motivation

Autonomy, mastery and purpose – three keys to motivation.

It’s now seven years since Dan Pink’s powerful TED talk which took forward some of the principles discussed in his book “Drive”.

FedEx days, 20% time – these ideas have been around for a long time, including lots of interest in the practices at companies like Google.

So, what impact has all this had in education? Oh, ah, ummm. We’re still thinking about it. We’re still locked in to the mindset that says as much as we’d love engaged students pursuing what they’re passionate about, we’re not going to relinquish control over their time – all of it. because, ultimately, we don’t really trust them! We’ve created climates and environments in schools based on carrots and sticks, rewards and punishments (see Alfie Kohn’s book, “Punished By Rewards”) and ultimately – CONTROL. We must remain in control because in the climate of our schools too often if we let go of the control students who don’t find much purpose in what they’re doing will abuse that loss of control, waste their time and not produce what we insist they produce.

What will it take for us to challenge the paradigm of schools, control, time and create environments for real autonomy, mastery and purpose?

Something For Nothing – From Microsoft?

Microsoft have a history of working very hard to get themselves firmly embedded in schools and the day to day lives of children. I have often wondered why educators didn’t raise a hue and cry about the only company on earth capable of making their products (microsoft office etc.) made part of the school syllabus and the wider curriculum for millions of children all over the world.

Their latest Trojan horse appears to be the Minecraft Education Edition. When i first saw that Microsoft had purchased Mojang (the company that owned Minecraft) for $2.5bn I suspected exactly this. And, now here they are enticing in teachers and students with lesson plans (teacher’s job done for them if they’re inclined to be lazy?) collaboration features and all the addictive qualities of computer games, with no proof that it contributes to learning that i can see.

EdTech Magazine – Microsoft Releases Free, Early-Access Version of Minecraft: Education Edition

In the wider sense, it’s been disappointing over the last few years that we’ve not seen a more concerted effort to make open source operating systems and programmes like Open Office made more accessible and easier to install and use in the education domain. Because, the fact is, they’re completely free. And maybe that’s the key as to why any potential support for them got stifled?

Schools spend a lot of money on licences for Microsoft products (even at the reduced rates for education) and these recurring licence fees are passed on directly to parents in the private sector (taxpayers in the public sector). However, one of the biggest hurdles was that use of the Microsoft pay model software even got built in to government policy, national syllabus and curricula in country after country. Really, when you think about it, a quite amazing and monopolistic state of affairs that ties in children’s learning to the products of this single company.

This then can make you wonder just how philanthropic really are the efforts and contributions of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (I guess they won’t be offering me a job any time soon!) when they choose to direct the lion’s share of their dollars at education. Will a government reliant upon their spending in education say no to inclusion of their software in the computing syllabus of the schools?

Really? Is this healthy? Has anyone noticed?

Hearing Loss

There are times in life when the situations where you’re saying, “I told you so,” give little cause for joy.

This is one of them. To me, it really wasn’t ever going to take a genius to figure out that the excessive and loud use of earbuds, headphones etc. was going to have very negative implications. Now, more and more, the evidence is coming out through research, and it’s really not good;

Half of all teenagers experiencing tinnitus and hearing damage, says new study

To me, this was really so obvious and predictable. I have also had concerns that excessive use of personal audio devices causes youngsters to cut themselves off from others and fail to engage and communicate with others, or really genuinely notice the world around them. Many mobile devices offer a warning about the risks of turning up the volume, but to many teenagers this is almost a fun challenge. When you’re a teenager (maybe especially a boy) we now know that the frontal lobes of the brain are not yet fully developed. They act as a counter-balance to the amygdala and regulate risk taking. When I was young the biggest risks came from occasional exposure attending concerts, clubs etc. where the music volume was very high. However, the difference here is that the music listening is for so many more hours a day and delivered directly in to the ears.

The challenge we face is talking to teenagers about the longer term risks of their actions all too often falls on deaf ears and fails to have the desired effect. Teenagers can rationalise to themselves that whatever they’re doing and whatever the risks, they’ll be lucky and unaffected. Sadly, the potential outcomes of such a game of Russian roulette are terribly risky.

I once knew someone who suffered quite extreme tinnitus. Its impact on her life was to interfere significantly with her sleep, her ability to concentrate on complex mental tasks and sometimes to be maddened by her inability to escape from the ringing tone in her ears. There is hope that some sufferers recover over time, but by no means all. Somehow, there’s an urgent need to find ways to reduce the risks. Maybe in this case the best route forward would be new rules that simply reduce the volume of personal listening devices.