International Mindedness

There has probably rarely been a time when the emphasis given to ‘International Mindedness’ in International Schools has come in to focus as more necessary or more pressing as a concept to be imbibed and understood.

To start – we need to be really clear what international mindedness and its promotion in schools is not – and that is frocks, food and festivals. You cannot say because you celebrate different religious and ethnic festivals, give children the opportunity to dress up and to try different foods then you have done what is needed to promulgate international mindedness.

It’s also not about some ambiguous claims about everyone being the same. Rather, the person who has international mindedness doesn’t stereotype people and is mindful and reflective of the prejudices they might have at an unconscious level. That can be an uncomfortable reflection at times. it’s not even about just simply being aware of diversity, but actually welcoming it, relishing it and seeing it as a positive.

International mindedness comes from a position of empathy, compassion and curiosity before doubt and cynicism. People who think this way acknowledge that whilst different people have different life experiences, perceptions and experiences, we are all connected. Some make the mistake of fearing that being internationally minded somehow means giving up something of who and what one is. In fact, there is no lessening of pride or connection with one’s own culture and origins. Retaining rootedness is an important aspect of identity and nobody is really advocating that everyone should consider themselves absorbed in to a single mass or entity that is humanity, devoid of customs, tradition, history or heritage.

The internationally minded person, because they feel connected, cares and considers that what happens to all people, anywhere in the world, matters to them. When thinking about politics, major world events, the inter-relationship between countries, climate issues etc. there is a need to think in inter-connected terms. It is no longer effective in an internationally shrunken world (through travel and the internet) to confine one’s caring and attention to what happens in your own backyard.

The greater the spread of international mindedness, the greater the benefits for all humans everywhere. International Schools can play a significant part in this, but leadership and teachers have to acknowledge that it’s a long road that requires unwavering commitment and the willingness to be a learning organisation, to introspect and reflect and to be self-critical when necessary.

In schools it starts with the vision, mission and values – the guiding statements and the extent to which they are lived, embodied in the day to day life of the school and especially in managerial practices, leadership and governance. There’s a continual need to assess the curriculum (both overt and covert) and syllabus delivery to determine the extent to which it embodies and furthers the core messages of inter-dependence and international mindedness. As much as possible, children should have the opportunity to learn languages other than there own as this is a significant bridge to international communication and understanding.

The importance of the element of caring is best served by promoting service learning as a key part of school life. This goes well beyond simply raising funds, but leads to full engagement with peoples whose life experiences are vastly different to those of the students.

I’m thoroughly convinced by the merits and value of promoting international mindedness through international schools. However, it’s vital that, in age appropriate ways it goes well beyond the superficial, the shallow and tokenism to enable box ticking. It must be a lived, fundamental part of the ethos of a school that can be sensed through all aspects of the life of the school and its pupils.

Is Talent A Thing?

As something a bit different, today i want to share a really thoughtful and interesting radio broadcast from the UK BBC Radio 4, on the subject of talent.

It comes from the perspective of how people get employed for jobs and how the typical recruitment interviewing process does a rather poor job of matching the right people to the right role opportunities. The presenter, having done a pretty good job of debunking talent as a reason for recruiting people, goes on to explore what would be effective and sensible criteria for recruiting.

Along the way, she takes inputs from Google HR, Carol Dweck (on Mindset) and Angela Duckworth (on Grit). She also explores the concept of ‘cultural fit’, growth in intelligence (at the individual and society level) and some techniques for better interviewing that gets us beyond simply employing the people we like.

BBC Radio 4 – Is Talent A Thing?

These are issues that go to the very root of how we ensure that, as often as possible, we get “the right people on the bus.” Maybe there are no organisations where this is more important that schools. I believe it’s so critical that we be given the support of our school communities to recruit for character and attitudes, rather than paper qualifications etc. However, when companies employ for attitude they do so in the knowledge that they then give themselves the time to train for the skills specifically required on the job. However, in schools, parents have a direct interest in the skills levels and their expectations are immediate. Therefore, often, a parent will want that the person with the better immediately applicable skills (subject knowledge, classroom management techniques etc.) is employed as that immediately impacts their child’s education, even though that person may not have the best attitude or be the best person to have in the school for the longer term.

In International schools where the Principals and other campus leadership are on relatively short fixed term contracts, these short term vs long term issues are even more critical. The teacher who can deliver something today will too often be preferred over the one with much to offer in the longer term. When compared with other types of organisations, i fear this puts schools at too big a disadvantage. can you recruit for immediate skills and teach/ train/ mentor for attitude? I rather fear that is a long and bumpy road. I’m really not sure that schools are ready or able to train teachers for those things.

For us as educators, there’s another dimension that is critical. This is that we must also be helping our children to acquire these attitudes and attributes to enable them to have the best possible choices available to them and the best chances for success in their future lives. Grit, Mindset, resilience, EQ and other factors have to figure prominently in our thinking for the pupils – and they won’t come from drilling syllabus in to them! Further, teachers with Grit, growth mindset and positive social and emotional skills are most likely to be equipped to help pupils acquire those skills and attributes.

Maths Fear and Anxiety

Teachers and parents need to be aware of their role in the creation of maths anxiety. At times, I have seen students suffer massive debilitation because of it. One young lad, who had strong academic credentials and was expected to do well, go to a good university and have a strong academic future became so anxious that he required me to meet him outside the examination room before the exams, to talk him down to stay calm and to walk him in to the exam room. He then wanted me to be there to meet him when he came out, after the exam was over.

If we care about students fulfilling their potential, we have to acknowledge the existence of maths anxiety and do all in our power to help children to address it and to empower themselves with the tools and the confidence to be in control of their feelings about the subject.

The Harm We Can Do in Early Years Education

A few years ago, I read a pretty alarming study that had come from Germany. A situation arose there, in a particularl area, where early years approaches to education were being changed from quite an academic’ approach to a much more play-based approach. However, as this process was going along there were political changes and the process stopped. it stayed stopped for some time whilst people figured out where to go next.

This created a unique situation – otherwise consistent for demographics and other background, about half the local children were experiencing a play approach in early years, the other half a much more academically oriented approach. Researchers latched on to the opportunity this represented and started a longitudinal study that tracked these children right through in to their adult years. Incidentally, after those differing early years experiences they were randomly educated through the same experiences in later years.

So, what did they find out?

a) Firstly, the children experiencing the more academic early years approach experiences academic benefits over their peers UNTIL CLASS 4. After that, the positions were reversed and there was an ever-widening gap with the children who had the play-based experiences outperforming their peers.

b) Maybe most alarming, in adult life, the children with the more academically oriented early years showed higher levels of alcohol and substance abuse, trouble with criminality, involvement in domestic abuse, psychological illness, obesity and poor health.

These are really quite alarming outcomes, especially as the research really didn’t flag up any long term positive benefits from the more academic approach to early years learning. Even more alarming when we see the pressures that come to bear throughout the world to make early years education more content driven, more teaching-centric and more focused on ‘getting an early start’ on the ‘stuff’ of school learning.

If all that wasn’t enough, here’s some further, new research from Stanford University, working with colleagues in Denmark about the difference between early and late starts for kindergarten. It showed those starting earlier had much higher levels of inattention and hyperactivity much later in their schooling. These are known factors that can be major negatives for academic outcome achievements

Quartz – Stanford Researchers Show We’re Sending Many Children To School Way Too Early

I don’t believe for a minute that we’re going to be changing the ages at which children start school. Therefore, it becomes critically important that we work to ensure that the experience they have is a low pressure, high-play one. We also need to invest considerable energy to educate parents, to share knowledge and expertise with them, so that they understand why the lay logic of a hasty start and early academic pressure are dangerous and counter-productive for their children.

False Myths Don’t Give Up Without a Fight

Every professional field has its myths that don’t stand up to scrutiny. It would be perfectly understandable in education if we were confronted with the challenges of myths held by parents and other lay people. After all, we continually are reminded that everyone went to school and therefore has their own perceptions about how school should be.

However, what worries me far more than our need as educators to educate the parents about what they should want and need for their children is when there are educators who continue to advocate for old orthodoxies even though they are thoroughly discredited as myths without substance.

John Hattie, Australian educator has made his career analyzing vast quantities of meta-analysis data to determine what does and doesn’t produce tangible results in education. Here’s a good article from NPR in which Hattie sets out three myths that need to be buried;

NPR Ed – 5 Big Ideas in Education That Don’t Work

Of the five points that are highlighted as largely ineffective (or at least on their own) is small class sizes. The reality is that masses of research has failed to show the benefits of small class sizes that so many expect.

Hattie terms his research and findings “Visible Learning”. If I have an issue it’s that he starts with the big assumption that they only real things that matter to us in schools are academic learning, as measured through standardised and summative tests and exams. Nevertheless, to the extent that those things do matter, his research provides very useful guides for educators about what produces better academic results and what has little or no impact.

If the article linked above highlights what Hattie’s research suggests doesn’t work, here are two videos that suggest the things that he sees as offering better enhancement to pupil learning:

Two Kinds of Love

A great TED video for the weekend for every teacher or anyone who cares about education, and children's learning.

The two loves a teacher can bring to the classroom every day; their own love for the subject they're teaching and their love for the children.

Joe Ruhl in this great TED talk shows that many of the greatest strengths and skills a teacher can have are really not so very new.

The Schools We Don’t Want

There are plenty of people ready to speak out about the type of schooling we no longer want, the industrial model education of yesterday that gets perpetuated in slightly altered forms despite the weight of voices to speak out against it. I’m as guilty as the next man for this. Prominent people who’ve stressed the need to get away from this model include Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson and now George Monbiot, British writer on politics and society;

The Guardian – George Monbiot – In the Age of Robots, Our Schools Are Teaching Our Children to be Redundant

George Monbiot is a respected writer on society, politics and a prominent columnist on important issues. In the article, with perfect justification, he attacks the industrial model of education, the gaps between what’s going on in too many schools today and the skills young people need to really flourish in the Twenty First Century and the relevance and applicability of much of the knowledge being crammed in to children. He also does a reasonable job of highlighting some of the reasons why, despite all the protests, little changes.

However, it’s when Monbiot, like many other commentators before him, comes to the alternatives that we see one of the reasons why change is so difficult. He gives a number of examples – giving students ipads, taking them out in to nature, imaginary project tasks, Reggio Emilia but for many educators, parents and even the politicians the sheer variety of these different options seems to be what daunts them and eventually causes them to settle for little tweaks around the edge of the existing industrial paradigm model.

For example – if we take the ‘getting back to nature’ idea, I know plenty of urban brought up children for whom this would be a minor form of hell. They would be uncomfortable with dirt, uncertainty, potential dangers and risks. Some might also be unsettled by the uncertainty of purpose, with the result that their learning in that environment is very limited and they just count off the time until they can get back inside a building.

Taking the artificially constructed projects idea, I was recently intrigued by the ideas developed by Marc Prensky (the man who came up with the terms – digital natives and digital immigrants) in his book – “Education to Better Their World.” He sees a future where a great deal of children’s school time is spent on real projects with real implications and real impacts. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how such an approach would work, yet. But, it’s going to be fascinating to follow through on those ideas.

At one point, Monbiot’s article becomes more about teachers than children. I’m afraid i don’t buy in to his ideas that if you just leave teachers to do whatever they wish and go individually in whatever direction they choose, this will deliver the answers. With justification, parents and society cannot accept that the educational outcomes for an individual child become a mere lottery and a game of chance determined by who happens to be their teacher. We also cannot be naive that teaching is ‘a calling’ and a passion for every teacher in every classroom. For an enormous number it’s a job choice out of a variety. In such circumstances, we need clarity in our expectations, we need accountability and a strong commitment to supporting the learning and continuous improvement of the educators.

I don’t claim that I’ve got all the answers any more than anyone else as to exactly how a the most ideal school education programme should look going forward. However, I believe for all of us collaboratively, the answers lie in developing our understanding of the world our children are growing up in, their needs for the future; emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually (in the broadest sense). The child and their interrelationship with their world now in the future should drive our decision making.