Free Online Meditation Resources

Awake Network Covid

As we all deal with the issues of the covid-19 pandemic, especially with the need for social distancing and the loss of human to human interaction, the effect for many is one of considerable anxiety and disturbance. there is an awkward irony that high levels of stress and anxiety cause increased cortisol levels – reducing one’s immunity levels.

In these circumstances, attention to mindfulness and the use of meditation is enormously valuable. Whether you’re an experienced meditator or someone who has been curious to try, this resource will be useful to you. The ‘Awake Network’ has collated an extensive list of free online resources;

The Awake Network – Free Online Meditation Resources

Rethinking Enrolment Due to Covid-19

Enrolment

The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) has upended all sorts of assumptions in personal and professional life. Every industry and field is now grappling with the issues of how to redefine, how to serve customers and clients, meet needs and be viable to work towards the future.

Private/ International schools and colleges are in the same boat. There are all sorts of issues to be addressed and figured out in a very uncertain situation where not everything can be predicted. Among these issues are thoughts about how to handle enrollment of new students for the new academic year, in this new ‘virtual school’ arena. At least for the foreseeable future, all the old methods for reaching new students and their families, promoting the school and persuading them to choose your school are up in the air.

To help people work their way towards some clarity in their thinking and approaches, ‘The Enrollment Management Association’  is offering a page of links to ‘covid-19 resources’. These include a link to a free online course about rethinking enrollments in the current extraordinary scenario.

The Enrollment Management Association
(click on the link above to open the resources page on a new tab or page)

I stress, I have no association with this organisation, but do believe this could be a considerable help for schools and colleges trying to figure out their way forward.

Updates on Some Recent Posts

I wanted to share some further materials and tyhoughts regarding a couple of earlier posts I had written this year.

Sleep

sleep tablet

The first concerns the issue of children’s sleep, particularly in relation to the reduced amounts, their relationships with media etc. The two earlier articles garnered quite a bit of feedback and discussion including some exchange of mails with readers and discussions on social media. So, the following article from The Guardian hit me very starkly. It highlights the massive increases in the numbers of children in the UK for whom medical interventions are being sought to address issues of sleep deprivation and resultant issues that are impacting the children:

The Guardian – Sharp Rise in Hospital Admissions for Children with Sleep Disorders
(Click on the link above to open the article in a new window or tab)

Whilst the article flags up issues of sleep apnea (which are frequently linked to issues of being overweight or obese) as the cause of some of this increase, a lot of the blame is also focused on media, smart phone and tablet use by children. As well as the article itself, there’s also a link on the page (just above the picture) to a case study of a seventeen year old boy, whose mother actually works in a sleep clinic.

Here are the links for the two original articles related to this issue:

Sleep and School Start times
Going to Bed

Climate Change  – Responses to Environmental Issues

Climate Solutions

Another article i wrote earlier this year looked at the issues of how we address manmade climate changes that are leading to global warming. To date, so many of the responses, especially taught in schools have been about what people should stop doing, do less of or change in their personal lives and habits in order to bring about change. In my article I acknowledged my own gradual realisation that these ‘killjoy’ approaches will never be the solutions – telling people to stop doing things, to go without things they enjoy or to refrain from aspiring to the things they see others enjoying are just not going to be realistic. Rather, we have to look at the positive steps that can be taken. These are based in science and focusing on them changes the debate. Now, our focus needs to be on ensuring that governments are creating the right environments, incentives and investment climates to support ventures in these areas. Also, there’s a need to ensure that up to date information is shared and readily available to innovators and business people so that their interest in these activities result in real change and tangible actions.

So, I was delighted to see that there have been initiatives in this direction to bring to the fore in the public domain the information about what those scientific advances are and how they can be harnessed to address the issues and reverse atmospheric warming to prevent the worst of man-made global warming. That research comes in a report from Project Drawdown.

Here are two articles that share information on the key findings from Project Drawdown:

Science Alert – 76 Solutions Available Right Now to Slow Down Climate Change
Fast Company – Project Drawdown – 76 Solutions

This was the original article I wrote, right at the tail end of last year on which I’ve received a fair bit of feedback;

Global Warming: The Way Forward

This reinforces my belief that the answers lie at least as much in the focus in science (and STEM generally) teaching, as well as building public awareness and political lobbying to ensure that these kinds of initiatives get the right support to ensure that the world’s problems get addressed effectively.

 

Sleep and School Start times

School Bus

In a small village somewhere on a great plain, the village elders sit in a circle around a smokey fire. They slowly pass a large pipe around the circle and sip from small cups of a rough liquor made from some local roots. This is a tribe of hunter gatherers whose lives have changed little over many generations.

After a period of silence one of the younger members of the circle clears his throat and explains, “The young adolescent members of the tribe have a request and have asked me to bring it to this forum.@

“Speak,” said the village chief.

“Well, it’s like this. They’re not feeling very comfortable about getting up as early as they are currently made to. They feel sleepy and groggy and a bit weak – especially with all the running and spear throwing they’re expected to do. So, they request that the hunt start an hour later to give them the chance to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning that their adolescent brains require.”

The elders around the circle shook their heads slowly, before falling in to fits of laughter.

“Please go back and tell our young men to go to bed earlier, to stop staying up late doing whatever it is they do. Then, maybe they’ll be ready to play their role properly in the village society. If we delay the hunt start time, we will catch no animals and the tribe will be doomed”

Over the last few years, with increasing volume, ‘experts’ have been regaling us with the information that adolescents are sleep deprived and that, as a result, secondary schools should start later in the day, to accommodate their needs – so that they will be able to fulfill their academic potential. There have been many schools that have done it. Now, for the first time an entire State in America has mandated that all Secondary schools are to shift their morning start times later. One of the arguments that has been used to sway the debate is that evidence has been found that adolescent brains show evidence of a later ‘natural clock’.

NBC News – California Pushing Back School Start Times

What I don’t think I’ve ever seen in all the evidence of neurological difference in teenage brains is which came first – the chicken or the egg. Which came first – adolescents’ deferred sleep clocks or the various media temptations that cause them to resist going to sleep at night because of FOMO or other addictive tendencies cleverly and consciously built in to those media.

When I was a child I was the oldest of three. We had staggered set bed times (a bit later at weekends) and as is the tendency of eldest children I lauded it over my sisters when this meant I got to stay up to watch something on the TV that they also wanted to see. However, even my later bed time couldn’t insulate me from the sickening dread of having to walk away from something on the TV that was holding my attention. In fact, at times I’d go to almost any lengths to distract my mother from the time, to beg or cajole extra time to ‘just see to the end’ of some programme. Issues of whether I was tired or not didn’t come in to the picture. Worse, both at home and when away at boarding school it wasn’t unheard of for me to put an earpiece in and tune a radio to spend some illicit time listening to Radio Caroline (an illegal station that used to broadcast from a ship).

Today’s children are growing up in a world where the media temptations are on a completely different scale to those that used to snag me, tempt me to deprive myself of sleep and do myself harm.  This is made far worse, in my view, by the fact that we don’t teach children about how their brains work, how their brains are being hijacked by media or strategies and tools to keep control over these things, so that they can keep themselves healthy.

Years ago, parents were advised to keep digital tools out of children’s bedrooms and have them only using or accessing them in ‘public’ parts of the home. I knew some parents who policed this with laptops, yet still put TVs in the children’s bedrooms (usually to stop arguments preventing them from watching what they intended to watch). So, as children got used to consuming TV in their own rooms, as more and more of them got smart phones, those lived in the bedroom and parents had little to no control over what was happening on the phone, or the hours it was being used. At this point, most parents had relinquished their control over the timing o when their children went to bed (or at least when they go to sleep). Even those who are not actively using social networking etc. in the night hours, are still having their sleep disturbed by pings and notifications.

I’ve lost count of the numbers of conversations I’ve had with parents who are aware that their teenager is chatting online at times in the night when they should be sleeping. Further, if they attempt to curtail these habits, their child’s reaction can be almost as extreme as a drug addict deprived of their regular fix.

Against this backdrop I ask one key question – when scientists have tested the brains of adolescents and declared them to have different ‘ time clocks’/ circadian rhythms to adults – do they KNOW whether they are looking at cause or effect. In other words,  could the teenagers’ brains have changed because of them succumbing to the temptations and lack of self control at nights caused by excessive smart phone use?

There have been some schools that have made their start times later and have shown data that suggests academic performances of their students improved. However, as far as I can see, none of those experiments have gone on long enough to show that the academic gains are sustained. If the sleep deprivation was caused by smart phone use, then I fear that teens will adjust to a new norm, continue to use their phones later in to the night and the benefits will disappear (or there will be calls for even later start times!)

The ubiquitous smart phone has come crashing in to all of our lives at a pace that has been impossible to adapt to immediately. As a result, we all know adults who have uneasy relationships bordering on addiction (or even over the line) making them distracted through the day and unable to disconnect at night. This is affecting people’s work quality, their interpersonal relationships, as well as their productivity and focus at critical times. The teens, naively, often believe that, because they’ve grown up with these tools as an extension on one hand, they are more than able to cope, are not controlled or manipulated, are fully able to multitask effectively and are fine as they are.

The answer with our young people is that we need to share more of the science with them. There was a time when youngsters would say to themselves – “I can smoke without getting addicted. It’s no big deal.” however, as awareness has developed, more of them know and understand how addiction works and the implications. However, even there, more can be done. We’re not doing nearly enough to teach young people how their brains work. This is for another day and another post, but here I do believe that it could play a significant part in beginning to develop their skills to deal with the potentially disruptive impact of smart phones and other devices (on this, believe we should be making a lot more use of work by people like Nir Eyal, Stamford University Psychology professor – I’ll be sharing more about him in a later post).

I fear that these young people who have sought and gained later start times will struggle to adapt as they get older, move on to colleges and in to the world of work where they will frequently have expectations on them that make it essential to be available early in the day

Even if all this wasn’t enough reason to question these decisions to move school start times later, I believe there are some very practical reasons why it doesn’t work’

a) In major cities there has been a tendency for the schools related traffic to be on the roads before the heaviest of the work related traffic. Moving the school start times later is likely to exacerbate congestion issues at the peak traffic times in the morning (and possibly in the afternoons as well)
Not only is this bad news for all, bad news for pollution in cities, but also probably means that much of the sleep benefit will be lost. Most of us living in cities have had the experience that leaving home ten minutes later can add five minutes to total journey time. If the children’s journey time to school gets longer, then a start 40 minutes later might only lead to them leaving their home 20 minutes later. So, only 20 minutes extra in bed is available.

b) Many family routines dictate that the family would all still be rising at around the same time, even if the Secondary student member of the family had a later start.

c) A later departure from home can be highly disruptive for parents’ departure time from the home for their work. If the child takes a school bus, the parent will generally want to see the child on to the bus before they prepare for their own departure. Thus, parents may be forced to delay their departure. Leaving for work later is likely to lead to them returning home later.

d) The later start time leads to a later finish time. This can erode the time available for after school activities – especially physical activities that require daylight. Thus, later school start times could lead to further loss on top of losses that are already worrying in children’s levels of physical activity. There is ample evidence that this can be detrimental to their mental wellbeing and learning, as well as their physical wellbeing and issues such as obesity.

e) Different start (and finish) times for Secondary students can lead to a mismatch between their timings and those of siblings in elementary education. This can create family burdens on child care and, in the worst scenarios could limit the engagement of mothers in the work environment.

Finally, I return to my earlier point. Rather than changing the school day to respond to children’s changed habits around sleep, motivated by the addictive and habit forming temptations of media I believe we need to be preparing these young people for adulthood by addressing the issues of their relationships with the media. Too often in the past this has been driven by parental dictat, sticks and carrots and control-driven methods. Instead, we need to do a much better job of teaching children how their minds work, the inter-relationship between body and mind and how to manage their habits. In this way, we can prepare them to be adults with healthy relationships with IT and media.

In time, i believe we’re going to see that changing school start times wasn’t the right way forward. In the meantime, we need to do more work on those ways to teach children, in age appropriate ways to understand their minds and become commanders over their habits.

 

All Learning is Social and Emotional

SEL

A lot of people have enjoyed the ASCD webinar I shared a couple of weeks ago. So, here’s another one.

This comes from Nancy Frey, a Professor of Education Leadership at San Diego University. She’s written many books on education and in this webinar drew on material from her latest.

Quite rightly, many educators have been recognising the importance of children developing their social and emotional skills – not only so that they can function effectively in the classroom and school, but also because these are vital skills for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, in some places the temptation for teachers has been to believe that the solution is an SEL syllabus or curriculum – that SEL is somehow something to be treated separately. I believe quite rightly Frey emphasises the desirability of integrating the concepts of SEL in to everyday life in the school, the classroom and lessons generally.

The webinar does a very good job of summarising where SEL concepts have developed from and how far they have reached. This idea of weaving the SEL learning in to the general day to day learning can be daunting for some teachers. The website does a good job of giving pointers for how to embark on such a journey as a teacher. The content is delivered at a very accessible level.

ASCD Webinar Log In – Nancy Frey – All Learning is Social and Emotional

Some may find the content of this webinar excellent for running teacher training and CPD sessions, discussions and dialogues, or even within professional learning community small groups where teachers see SEL as an important area on which to focus.

 

Teaching For Deeper Learning

Deeper learning

ASCD is the largest organisation in the US for teacher and educator professional development (formerly known as the Association of Superintendents and Curriculum Developers). They are a great source for new books and an extensive back catalogue on all aspects of teaching. There’s a very good newsletter geared for school leaders. There are regular webinars (some public, some for members only) There are a variety of email newsletters – one US oriented and one Worldwide that provide links to the significant stories of what’s happening that’s education related.

Some of these things are available to all free of charge, others are subject to membership fees. An electronic (online) membership fee isn’t so expensive, especially as it includes a few new ebooks each year from those newly published by ASCD.

Today, I watched the recording (about 1 hour) of a very interesting webinar that was first broadcast a few days ago. The two presenters discuss material from their new book. Jay McTighe has been writer of many books, including the highly influential “Instruction by Design”. his co-writer, Harvey Silver is also a highly reputed educator responsible for writing a number of books focusing on teaching methodologies that support effective learning.

ASCD – Link for Webinar – Teaching for Deeper learning

They start with dealing with the issue that lately it seems like every education expert is talking about deep learning, but the reality is there are many different definitions. They get clear about their own definition that makes sense. They move on to the issues of why children aren’t learning deeply often enough and what can be done about it. Their focus is on knowledge acquired that is transferable, building on learning for understanding – that can be applied in other contexts from those in which it’s initially introduced.

I had one issue. They emphasise the issues about the speed and rate at which knowledge in the world is increasing and the temptation of curriculum developers to attempt to pack in more and more content – leading to syllabus that is a mile wide, but only an inch deep, with which i fully concur. However, driven by the overriding drive of standardised testing, their solutions are all still predicated on ideas of all the students learning all the same content. As a result, they don’t touch on the critical issues of student motivation.

I agree that there are some aspects of curriculum that are critical for all to learn, because they are applicable and relevant across many areas of learning and are foundational. However, beyond that, I believe that there are some areas of learning where some students will only be interested to dip in superficially, whilst their motivation is high to take their new-found skills and apply them to going very deep in other areas where they have high levels of interest. In my view, this tapping in to motivation is key to high quality deep learning, but it requires an acceptance in education that we don’t need to have every child learning all of the same ‘stuff’ to the same depth – just so that we can measure them against each other with standardised testing later.

It’s a good webinar, well worth watching, and thought-provoking. Finally, I am all in favour of their ideas about overtly setting out to develop children’s thinking skills. Not only do these support the children to understand their learning in school, but are the critical skills that will support them to go on as lifelong learners after school.

 

Politicians and Historians – Leave Those Kids Alone !!

As our children grow up in an ever-faster changing world, there are those who suggest that for employment reasons emphasis has to shift to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in terms of focus, attention and time allocation in school learning. There are even those who favour elimination, or at least considerable scaling back of humanities subjects such as history.

However, in any country where politicians or those politically connected advocate for reducing the significance of history in schools we need to be very suspicious of their motives. When politicians aren’t trying to reduce the amount of history being learned by their citizens (so that it’s easier to feed them a version of history that suits their future political agenda) we find them alarmingly ready to pressure academics, or reward biased academics, to ‘rewrite history, so that children and young people are taught history with distorted slants.

This is alarming as children and young people tend to blindly accept and believe whatever they are taught in schools, especially what is found in text books and other academic and education material. Sadly, there is ample evidence that academics can’t always be trusted to give our young a balanced, open and fair interpretation of the past, or to encourage them to explore different perspectives on that past to come to their own conclusions about what is most likely to be the reality.

Some might suspect that this is a ‘developing world’ issue and that it only goes on in those countries where their academic systems are less ’embedded’, less established in the longer term. It is true that it’s a bigger issue when combined with extensive banning of books in those countries, as this denies people the right to access alternative viewpoints from those being spoon-fed through the education system. This has, for example, been an issue in India where we have seen this combination of distortion of history with specific ideological and political slants combined with extensive banning of books that put forward alternative perspectives.

However, nobody should be complacent in any country.. The temptations to distort, blow up or play down the significance of particular past events or actions exist in every country. I would suggest in any place where the history suggests a past that was a continuous and virtuous stream of appropriate, wise and prescient decisions is a history that has been rewritten, glossed and beautified (and should be doubted for veracity).

Some of the reasons for distorting history are quite simple to understand. National pride and hindsight can leave many countries’ historians and politicians tempted to gloss over or reduce the significance of acts in the past that are embarrassing or humiliating in the national psyche. However, even here, there can be unhealthier motives than simple hubris or pride.

We can question the over importance of national pride as a form of xenophobia and a base for the kind of nationalism that manifests in negativity towatd outsiders and ‘the other’, rather than inclinations to acknowledge equality and the essential humanity of all. None of us should ever allow the artificial man-made construct of ‘a country’ to become so significant that it leads us to justify distorting the truth of history. Countries are strange, artificial artifacts of history themselves.  One only needs to look at continents like Africa, or the Arab nations. In the latter case the UAE provides an interesting example. Throughout its past it was an area of nomadic tribes for whom the Western construct of a nation was alien. In Africa, we see vast swathes of land bisected by razor sharp boundaries that were laid down by Western settlers to agree between themselves the carving up of different plots of land to satisfy their colonial and acquisitive nature of that time. Frequently, these artificial borders cut through the lands of existing local leaders, tribes and peoples without thought, without their involvement or agreement. To fail to understand this history is to fail to understand the struggles of most of those places today to take on the expected characteristics of statehood or nationhood when their country has peoples whose origins lie in tribes that may have had hundreds of years of animosity and rivalry, whilst their own populations have been split by these artificial borders. We see an example in the Middle East with the problems associated with the Kurdish people. They have no country of there own, but are spread across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

When I studied History in the UK, I think by and large, it was quite honest and open about aspects of the past in a lot of ways. There had been a movement in the 1960’s and 70’s to be more open, transparent and honest about things like the British role and complicity in the slave trade. However, it’s probably true that the history related to colonialisation tended to be heavily slanted towards the contribution of Britian to the countries colonised and how they benefited. There was, from my memory, for example, no mention of British mismanagement in Bengal causing famine that killed large numbers of people. In the teaching of the histories of USA and Australia there was little acknowledgement of the persecution and suffering of the indigenous populations. Some of the issues and heat generated by debate are highlighted in this recent article:

The Conversation – British history is Still Being Whitewashed By the School Curriculum

Here’s another article with further perspective on UK historical distortion:

The Telegraph – History Being Distorted by Politicians

When I moved to India, one of the first realisations I had on this subject was how certain aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s personal life were completely erased from the history being taught to students. I nearly found myself in an embarrassing situation when I naively started discussing aspects that i was aware of from international writers on Gandhi. Seeing the blank and shocked looks on their faces I backed away quickly and retreated to safer ground.

In subsequent years it’s been intriguing for me to see the ways in which significant aspects of the country’s history are particularly rewritten to suit am agenda preferred by those committed to the doctrine of Hindutva. They tend to play down or deride the impact of the moguls and adjust other aspects related to the past (even denying evidence from archeologists). Initially, this was done in certain states that were controlled by these parties, but as they have gained more power at the centre, so they seek to promulgate these versions of history across the whole country. Today, even the interpretations and conclusions drawn about the assassination of Gandhi are fiercely fought over.

The following article from 2018 highlights that when we look at how this process happens in different countries, one thing is clear – the greater the quality of the country’s education system, the greater the extent to which people are willing, able and ready to challenge and question what they’re being told. As a result, some of the rewriting in India is blatant, unsubtle and pays little heed to the howls of horror from the learned and intellectuals – in fact, it becomes a good opportunity to portray such people as being against the nation and to undermine the respect for learning and knowledge;

Outlook India – Rewriting India’s History, Hindutva Forces Meddling With India’s Present and Future

I was motivated to write this by an article this week highlighting that the increasingly polarised and belligerent politics in the US is now manifesting in the same kinds of historical distortions for political ends, even in what is being taught to children living in different states.

New York Times – Two States, Eight Textbooks, Two American Stories

Many questions arise? Does all this really matter so very much? After all, it’s only the past and history. I believe it matters a great deal. History, as a store of knowledge should be there to guide societies in to the future and hopefully even enable them to learn from their errors, make better, wiser decisions and progress better for the good of all. Regrettably, too often, when history is being distorted it’s being done to favour one group of people over another.

There are issues in education where it’s hard for politicians to interfere, because the combined voices of educators and parents limit their misbehaviour. Regrettably, this isn’t one of those issues. Too often, we find that there are large proportions of the parents whose own political ideas, beliefs that they’ve bought in to cause them to seek and encourage those things that endorse and justify their stance. Thus, they can be the politicians’ biggest allies. It would be nice to believe that educators would raise their voices for what’s right – fair and critical exploration of history (warts and all), that enable children and young people to develop their skills of reasoning, questioning, analytical and critical thinking. Sadly, whilst some educators stand firmly on the high moral ground, we see too many who are not able to see past the fact that they are citizens in a polarised society first, educators second!

It’s a sad fact that when most of the loudest and most strident voices are leading towards extremism, including reshaping of history to create justifications, anyone who dares to speak out for moderation or balance is liable to find themselves labeled extremist, reactionary and divisive. The lemming that refuses to go with the flow over the cliff doesn’t make itself popular with its fellow lemmings.

Ultimately, what’s right goes to the very heart of what school, learning and education are for. If we believe that they are not to pander to the agenda and manipulations of politicians, then instead we must de-empasise the importance of the curriculum content that may come and go, but rather focus on the skills and competencies to develop in our students. Those who develop their skills of critical and evaluative thinking will draw their own conclusions and practice healthy skepticism about history that doesn’t seem consistent, congruent or on which different commentators have put forward different perspectives. They will also have developed the character, personal strength and resolve to be questioning of all orthodoxies, even those to which they may personally be most drawn.

 

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