Recruit the Restless

As Seth Godin points out in the blog post link below – change is never going to come from those who signed up for the status quo, for certainty, for an environment within which getting everything right is the expected norm.

Seth Godin Blog Post – In Search of Familiarity

In fact, worse, it’s not enough to just recruit good people who believe that they are ‘safe hands’ to educate children. Not only will these people not initiate change, they will resist it by every means at their disposal. They’ll demand data and evidence in bucketloads. And, even when you produce evidence they’ll have to refute it, doubt it and ultimately fall back on, “my way has served well in the past.”

This is almost certainly the reason why we’ve gone so many years since Dr Ken Robinson spoke up in the first TED conference about what needed to change in education if we were to avoid short changing a generation of youngsters in their preparation for a vastly different world, yet we have really seen so very little change. In fact, when we see the obsessive zeal applied to the gathering and endless tweaking of data, we have to suspect that people have inadvertently set about entrenching and solidifying the existing ways of doing things. Too many have convinced themselves that the old way is perfect, provided we can just measure more, gather more data and carry out more assessment.

Instead of humanising an education of curiosity, creativity and engagement with thew world around, we’ve sought incremental improvements in the existing systems by focusing on turning children in to so many data points to be graphed and mapped through to academic success.

The curious, the challengers, the restless – they do show their faces in the education world, but too often in programmes like Teach for America, Teach for India, Teach for Malaysia. They stay for a couple of years, but too often see that they’re never really going to change the system, so treat it as an interesting experience before they head off to other fields where change is more accepted.

We have to figure out how to get more restless people in to our profession, and then keep them here long enough to make a difference.

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How To Change The World

The revolution in technology didn’t just bring a new generation of business people who approach business in new and innovative ways, but also a new and very different generation of philanthropists. These people’s business success has enabled them to make vast sums of money for themselves. However, many of them are very clear about the sense of importance regarding giving back to society and using their wealth to bring real change, to give back to society and even to endeavour to find solutions to long term issues that have caused disadvantage, inequality and hardship.

Historically, it could easily seem, at times, that however much money was put in to philanthropic activities it was never enough and it only seemed to scratch the surface of the world’s (and humanity’s) biggest challenges. Today’s donors are generous with their wealth and creative in their mindset and the approaches they bring to giving and ensuring that they achieve effective outcomes that bring real change in the world. There’s a strong focus on equity and opportunity.

I was very enthused to see the following video from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, that discusses in some detail their philosophy and approach to giving and making a difference in the world

The Dell Perspective – The Future of Philanthropy

The release of this video coincided with the couple’s decision to increase their endowment by $1 billion with particular focus on supporting social entrepreneurs:

Forbes – Dell Announces $1 billion commitment
Fast Company – Why the Dell Foundation is Betting Big on Social Entrepreneurs

There are those who are sometimes inclined to denigrate social entrepreneurship as somehow less meaningful or ‘serious’ than hard-core business. However, as we see from the Dell Foundation’s core principles, there is nothing lightweight or flimsy about their approach;

Dell – 8 Principles for Changing the World

Economics Explains Why School Fees Rise

Sad to see the passing of an eminent economist, William Baumol, but fascinating to get insights from his work that explains many of the most prominent issues in the news these days, as well as a very clear explanation for parents whose children attend private schools to understand why their fees go up.

‘Baumol’s Cost Disease’ explains why countries like UK and USA are struggling and battling to meet the medical health care needs of their aging populations in the face of the double impact of increased demand and rising costs. You can’t really automate the work of doctors and nurses. It’s highly labour intensive. There are finite limits to how many patients a doctor can see in a day (and still ensure that they give a safe, effective service).

Vox – Baumol Cost Disease Explained

manufacturing gains in productivity, with the result that salaries are pushed up, whilst prices of finished goods can still come down. However, in any field that is labour intensive, those higher wages have to lead to higher prices and service delivery costs.

In education, we see that in the private and international schools, teacher – student ratios of between 6 and 12 are the norm and this represents a very labour intensive model. Salaries form a very significant part of the running costs and thus fee levels are very sensitive to salary levels.

There is an important factor that those of us in education leadership need to take in to account.Being aware of these pressures for ‘price’/ fees to rise over time we must ensure that we are not wasteful or extravagant in the way that we run schools and manage their finances. Prudent cost consciousness is critical to ensure that there’s money available to spend on the right things, that teacher numbers and standards are not compromised, but that costs are kept sensibly under control. When we let costs get out of control or inflate fees for ‘profit’ excessively we do untold harm to the schools. Not least, as the fees rise too rapidly, the education available from the school gets priced out of reach for too many in the community. A school then finishes up with a very homogenized parent and student body. Without diversity, students miss out on a great opportunity in their education.

In addition, however long we may be in charge of a school, we are mere custodians for a limited time in a much longer history, with duties to all pupils past and future, as well as to those studying in the school presently. Over the very long term, schools need to replace all their infrastructure – even buildings and so some funds must be built up slowly over the longer term to meet such needs effectively.

I do believe, like Clayton Christensen (Disrupting Class), that there is the potential for IT enabled disruption to change some of the paradigms in education that rely on the principle of ‘learning is being taught’. When greater power, control and responsibility for learning passes in to the hands of learners, so this changes the dynamics of teacher requirements, concepts of class cohorts and the ability of one teacher to support a limited number of pupils’ learning at a time. However, there’s a long road ahead for those kinds of changes.

Sure, we’d all (especially parents) wish that Baumol’s Cost Disease wasn’t at work in education. Failing that, it gets tempting for people to believe that ‘someone’ – government, philanthropists or just anyone should be subsidising all this extra cost so as to limit the rise in education costs. When this doesn’t happen, especially when parents don’t know about economics – we the educators will be to blame!

Such is life.

Character as a Differentiator

As a young person, you want to stand out from the crowd? Is an extra 0.1 on your grade point average going to achieve that? Will one additional extra curricular activity on your biodata make the difference? In this day, it’s all pretty unlikely that your academic and other activities are going to make you significantly discernible from the mass of students applying for University places, or later for internships or jobs?

No, but as this well-written New York Times article makes clear, what will always make a young person stand out from the crowd is character.

New York Times – Check This Box If You’re A Good Person

It’s vitally important that our response, or that of our children, shouldn’t be to carry out altruistic acts for show or to tick boxes/ have others perceive us as empathic, kind and sensitive. It has to come from a genuine desire to help others, to treat others with respect and equality.

One question that will inevitably come to mind – can we teach this? How can we increase the likelihood of empathy in our children? This is a highly relevant and important debate in our schools as “compassion” is one of the values highlighted within the mission of the Tenby Schools, along with integrity. High empathy, caring and kindness won’t happen just because we tell our children that it’s right or the appropriate way to think and be towards others.

Firstly, I believe the likelihood is increased significantly when we, the adults, model empathy – in other words we show ourselves to be warm, kind, caring and compassionate to others – especially where there is difference. We need to show our children the mental processes of being understanding, thoughtful of others/ other-centric.

Over the last 15-20 years we went through a situation where, in education and in parenting there was so much emphasis placed upon building self-esteem. This led to adults stressing specialness, uniqueness and feeling good about oneself. Regrettably, as the children impacted move in to adulthood we’re seeing massive shifts towards narcissism and away from empathy, caring and compassion. The child brought up in the high self esteem environment is more likely to be seeking verification of themselves, endorsement of their feelings of self-worth. However, the child brought up to see being empathic to others will, more likely, find their self actualisation in acts of kindness and positivity towards others.

In schools, I believe there’s been a lot of good and positive work in this direction that can help us to move further. One example is the scope for using tools like Jenny Moseley’s Quality Circle Time with children of all ages. These processes allow children to be more reflective of the effect of their actions and behaviours on others and how they feel according to how others act. In this way, the children learn for themselves and guide each other to be more understanding of what others need and expect from them.

It’s positive that we’re seeing more interest in schools putting a focus on social and emotional development. I’m particularly hopeful for programmes like the Ashoka Foundation’s “Start Empathy” Changemaker schools. It’s vitally important, though, to not treat empathy as just another subject area in school, to be packaged as a set of lessons or even just parceled as part of PSHE to be ‘delivered’ to children. Rather, it has to be built in to the ethos of the school, an integral part of everything from discipline policies to approaches to sports, learning and play time.

There is much work to be done. We have to do more for these children. Schools and education systems or societies that turn out predominantly narcissistic, self-absorbed children are going to find that they haven’t served them well to live their lives most effectively. They certainly won’t have prepared them well to be leaders of others in their lives. All this will, increasingly, make it likely that their university selection chances will be less.

Getting Good Habits Early

Teachers invest a great deal of time in enabling children to learn their seven times tables, until 6 X 7 = 42 becomes a very automatic and speedy output. But, as useful as this skill might be (perhaps?), how much time is invested in enabling young children to acquire habits that are proven to play a part in enabling a person to live a successful life?

Aristotle is quoted to have said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Evidence keeps mounting, in my view for the benefits of the right habits and the potentially horrendous limitations or impairments that happen for those who don’t acquire positive habits early. There’s also an awful lot of evidence that the development of positive habits is easier and more effective when two things happen. Firstly, getting the habits early. And secondly, being mindful and aware of the good habits, why they matter and the benefits of having them.

When we look at the acquisition of habits from the perspective of being a parent or an educator, one of my own strong beliefs is that a habit is only a habit if it’s owned by the individual and that only comes with self-discipline based development and understanding of the ‘why’. The key to this is we can’t put habits in to children through enforced discipline. So, making children act in particular ways “because I say so” or because we’re big, you’re small and we know best and you must be obedient is not the way to build positive, constructive habits. In fact, I see greater likelihood that when the pressure is taken off, there’s a strong chance that we’ll see the young person follow the very opposite habits and go down unproductive paths.

Obviously, when a child is really young, we have to take the lead on habit development. They have to come from us. But, as the child gets older, we need to hand over more of the responsibility to the child. I often compare this to flying a kite. When it gets up in the air we pay out more line – equivalent to handing over more of the power to the child. If there’s a lull in the air flow, the kite may dip and even start to fall towards the ground. At that point we draw some of the line in (not all of it!) until the kite height and the wind strength are compatible. Then, as the kite steadies, we start paying out more line again.

I believe that somehow, today, parents and educators have come to believe that the antidote to strict, controlling parenting is completely laiiez faire parenting where children are left free to make all their own choices and judgements. These appear to be very dangerous extremes. Instead, the right way is to aaply the kite analogy above. This does require investment of time and effort, flexibility and strong awareness of the adult to both their own emotions and how the child is responding to the opportunity to set their own routines and habits.

With regard to habits, we need children to know and understand the implications of good or bad habits, be given the help to acquire the good habits, reflection when they let the good habits slip and to get back in to believing they are capable of establishing clear, positive habits – growth mindset is also a vital ingredient.

here are two recent articles that show, if not definite cause, then certainly strong risks for children who don’t have positive, healthy habits in their lives early on. The first suggests a strong correlation between teenage obesity and failure to have positive, regular bedtime habits in the early years of life;

NPR – Eat, Sleep, Repeat – How Kid’s Daily Routines Can Help Prevent Obesity

The second again highlights correlation, but not yet conclusive evidence of cause, regarding very young infants and screen use causing delayed speech development;

CNN – Speech Delays in Kids Could be Linked to Mobile Devices

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