Online Inspiration

I’ve been a regular follower of the K-12 Online Conferences over the last few years.

There’s an energy that flows through so much of the material, visible when you dip in to the (now extensive) archives. This is a pure ‘teachers sharing with teachers’ platform, with some fascinating examples of teacher creativity, courage and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, especially when harnessing the power and potential of ICT.

The conferences have been able to harness the ideas and inputs of some incredible educators spread across the world. It’s incredibly refreshing to find these being shared openly without any financial cost. This aspect of educators freely and openly sharing their ideas, experiments, innovations and trials has a long history and is vitally important to preserve. through the power of the internet and online collaboration it is given new energy and momentum with the potential to reach far bigger audiences. each incident of sharing is worth so much more when so many more can be inspired and helped on their journey as innovative, creative educators.

The 2016-17 Online Conference had a different format. Instead of happening in one short burst of time, it was spread out over some months, with three major themes. These were;
(i) Learning Spaces
(ii) Design Thinking
(iii) Creativity

K-12 Online Conferences Website

I would also thoroughly recommend checking out material from the earlier conferences, all archived on the website.

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What Differentiation Isn’t

Today, some of the most important skills to be accumulated and honed for a teacher. It is all learnable, but sadly at times, too many have tried to oversimplify it or turn it in to something it was never meant to be.

For example, when based in the UAE I was shocked and saddened by the number of teachers who had been trained to believe that differentiation consisted of categorising all the children in a class in to one of – high, middle and low – and then giving each group a different worksheet! Worst of all, if there was any differentiation in this practice – it was differentiation of end outcomes. In other words, by labeling the children at the start, by varying the work they were given, we were setting them up for different end goals from their learning. The children placed in the lowest category had the lowest expectations of what they could eventually achieve. They were being set up to under-achieve.

An enormous travesty and a distortion of everything that was ever intended in differentiation.

Here’s a very useful recent article from ASCD that spells out in simple terms what differentiation isn’t. This is a useful starting point for all educators to then determine what it is:

In Service – ASCD – 5 fallacies That Are Not Differentiated Instruction

Appreciating Teachers

A client walks in to a lawyer’s office, approaching the receptionist’s desk, “I’ve come to bring a gift for Ms X, my lawyer.”

It doesn’t happen. So, why do teachers think that they’re a different profession worthy of receiving gifts in gratitude? In my view there’s only one real significant benefit in giving a gift to a teacher – and that is as part of a family educating their children about giving, gifting and appreciation as part of development of values.

In other words, it’s really about the benefit to the giver rather than the recipient.

many years ago i worked in private banking. over a couple of years, we placed a big emphasis on raising our levels of customer service, sensitivity to the needs of our customers and empathy skills. The training included, among other things, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). There were many bi-products. Attrition/ turnover of clients dropped significantly. Clients spent more money with us, placing a bigger proportion of their investable assets in our care. As a result, our profits went up appreciably and we were well rewarded in salary increases and bonuses. But, we started to run up against an interesting problem. More and more elderly clients were leaving legacies to their account officers in their wills. Mostly, they were token amounts, but i had one client who was adamant that she was going to leave me over 10,000 pounds (a lot of money back then!). maybe it was for the best that she passed away the day before she was due to meet the lawyer to revise her will. Because, the truth was I was uncomfortable with her leaving me money for what I had done. My belief was I’d done my job and been a decent human being in my relationships with her and other clients.

In all my years as an educator I also feel I would have felt genuinely uncomfortable if a parent had ever given me a gift of any value. I also often felt uncomfortable when students gave all the praise for their examination achievements to the teachers, parents and tutors – as though they had simply made themselves passive recipients of knowledge and allowed the gurus to put the learning in to them. To be a true lifelong learner, the individual must see their educators as mere facilitators who assist them to acquire the skills to learn, lead them to the sources of knowledge and support them on the initial stages of the journey.

I loved receiving cards, drawings or letters from students and have often kept these as special memories. They frequently represented very spontaneous and open heartfelt messages from children. If parents were appreciative or thankful for how the school ran, face to face or through emails and cards – that was more than enough thanks. In the same way that one doesn’t give to receive, I believe true educators don’t give of themselves, their professional skills and efforts in the expectation of receiving something back other than the knowledge and evidence that children have been given the opportunities to begin their journey enthusiastically and with solid foundations as lifelong learners.

The Guardian – Secret Teacher – We Don’t Need Gifts – A Thank You Will do

More on Fake News & Digital Literacy

Following the blog post I wrote earlier, I came across this article just today from the US National Public Radio (NPR).

It introduces a game that’s been designed to help students and others discern the difference between real and fake news.

NPR Ed – To Test Your Fake News Judgement, Play This Game

An excellent idea – and not just for children!

Digital Literacy

Digital and media literacy are not just ‘nice to have’ add-ons in today’s education. They are real essentials as part of a balanced education that focuses on the development of the skills of a lifelong learner.

It has a number of different aspects to it, but at the deepest, most philosophical level, it begins with developing an understanding of what knowledge is, what learning is, truth, facts, reality and the due respect for one’s own and others’ knowledge, opinions and expertise.

When the internet spews out copious quantities of material it’s potentially all too easy to be slack, lazy and passive towards knowledge and facts. This leads to a lack of discernment and becoming easy to manipulate with false, misleading information that pursues a particular agenda. It can also lead students (and others) to fall easily in to the temptation to simply take the work of others and pass it off as their own.

The international Baccalaureate organisation sees plagiarism and ‘passing off’ as such a serious issue that it insists on the use of software like ‘Turn it in’ to check and verify that students’ written work is their own and genuine. They advocate that every school should have an academic honesty policy. In my experience, this is as important for educators as it is for students – we must lead by example. That means, we need to look at children of different ages, figure out what they need and what can be expected of them and then set out very clear expectations. So, at class 3-4 level, we might accept students copying and pasting lines from websites – preferring to focus on their skills of finding that information. as they get to class 6-7 we are likely to expect them to have mastered the skills of precising and taking that original material and putting it in to their own words. By the higher classes we should expect that they not only write in their own voice, but attribute the sources from which they have drawn in their research.

‘Fake news’ – the spreading and sharing of questionable factual information to pursue particular political agendas is worrying many, but especially educators, as evidenced by this recent article about the debates and discussions at the leading US IT in education conference. The article carries details of some new resources that are beginning to be developed to help teachers address these issues with students:

The Journal – ISTE Participants Respond to Spike in Fake News Websites

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.

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