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

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Science and the Public

I’m not a scientist by learning, or particularly by disposition. However, I believe in evolution, that smoking cigarettes is harmful to health and that global warming is caused by man and is a real and genuine danger to human life in the future if not adequately addressed. The reason I believe those things is because I’ve had access to the work of scientists freely available in the public domain in a free society, read or watched a reasonable amount and then made up my own mind.

There’s a fascinating question that is a very live issue right now. That is the extent to which scientists should become public advocates for a particular perspective. This has become a hot topic as the new American government seeks to gag and sideline scientists who speak out about global warming and climate change.

The viewpoints of the opposing sides, and probably the most appropriate way forward are set out very articulately in this podcast:

ABC Radio – The Science Show – Can a Scientist be a Sentinel?

This is valuable material to share with science students who may never have really have reflected very deeply on the ambiguity, at times, of scientific facts, dogma and the ways in which science gets co-opted to put forward particular views and perspectives by those with an agenda.

World Business and Executive Coach Summit (WBECS)

The world of coaching is, some would say quite appropriately, an environment of high innovation that leads the way in many ideas. After all – shouldn’t those who seek to guide, influence and propel forward today’s leaders be in the vanguard of initiative, drive and innovation?

One thing that has been a leading trend with the coaching field for some years now is the inclination to willingly and consciously share free information/ material. I remember some years ago when researching early interest in coaching models and frameworks coming across a website created by the late Thomas J Leonard that had a large section of free downloadable resources; forms, learning materials and other stuff.

So, it wasn’t such a surprise to me recently when the WBECS promotional material included the link to a page of videos that were part of the pre-summit. The pre-summit consisted of a large number of webinars, most featuring speakers who will be part of the ongoing summit. Most of these were live at times that fit with the US time, so it was a bit tough to follow them. So, I was especially pleased to see a page that took five of the most popular webinars and shares the recordings of them.

They’re each about an hour and I took something of value away from each. If you don’t have that much time to spare, my recommendations would be the second on ‘the paradox of leadership’ and the third on ‘mutlipliers’.

WBECS – 2017 – Cinema

I hope these stay available for a while. If the link stops working, give me a shout in the comments and I’ll take this post down. In the meantime, I’m sure WBECS would be delighted if you were inspired to sign up for the summit.

Foundations for Life

A hard hitting and powerful advert from Save the Children makes a powerful point. To have the best chance of living a successful life in the long term children’s start in life and their childhood needs to be protected and they need the best possible foundations. This is, perhaps, one of the most powerful influences on any society for the longer term.

Poverty, poor health and other life challenges in childhood blight future generations to more of the same problems. When investment in childhood pays such great long term dividends for a country or society, we do have to marvel at those so called advanced or economically well-off countries that skimp in this area.

Fast Company – These are the Best (and Worst) Places Around the World for Kids to Grow Up

Equality in the world may be an unrealistic concept. However, striving for equity of opportunity means ensuring that all that can possibly be done is done to ensure that the most helpless members of our society are given a fair chance and start in life. Supporting mothers of early years children, minimising the impact of conflict on children, ensuring early years education provision and effective public education on diet and health should be some of the minimum expectations.

More can and should be done.

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.

Being Strong is not Narcissism

As an educator, I’ve long held certain beliefs that underpin my approach and decision making – particularly the direction that i seek to bring to the schools under my care. One of the strongest of those beliefs is that it was always a mistake for people to suggest that somehow there was a polar choice between an academically oriented education for children or a ‘holistic development’ approach. Rather, i believe that when children are given the appropriate support and guidance they develop the ability to take their strength in one aspect of their life (maybe sport) and turn it in to strength in other areas – e.g. academics, personal relations etc.

In my youth, my favoured sport was rugby. For many years i was tall and willowy and that wasn’t the best build for the game. However, with some good coaches I worked at it, bulked out and eventually reached a reasonable level of performance. Rugby culture has long held a strong orientation around selflessness and orientation around the team. It’s changed a bit these days, but in my day, when a player scored a try he (or she) got a brief pat on the back from the nearest colleagues and everyone got in place quickly to get on with the game. There were no fancy celebrations or glorification of the individual. Today, the media wants to make a big issue of the person who dots the ball down at the end, ignoring all that has gone before.

In Delhi, there are a couple of occasions that come to mind when I felt the need to intervene, believing it was important that children be learning the right lessons, not just for sport, but for life. On the first occasion one of our schools was hosting an inter-school cricket tournament. When the final came around, our home team hadn’t got through. As the two teams took to the field, I heard some bad-mannered booing from students beside the field. After a short while, I saw some of them walking around the perimeter of the field, behind the bowler’s arm. This is very off-putting for batsmen. I needed to take them to one side to inform them that they were being very selfish and not treating the finalists with the respect deserved (for beating them to get there!) After some time, I saw a bowler take the wicket of the opposing batsmen. What I then saw was shocking. He ran down the wicket and leered and celebrated right in the face of the disappointed batsman. The two umpires on the field did nothing to stop this disgusting and atrocious behaviour. This might be something these children had seen an idol do on TV, but had no place in school sport. I was probably more shocked by the failure to act on the part of the umpires (school PE teachers). At the change of overs when they came off the field I took them to task, having seen similar behaviour played out a few more times. The umpires seemed surprised at my concern.

To my mind, this is at the very root of the issue between self-belief and narcissism. To be proud that you’re a good cricket bowler is healthy. To be motivated to hone your skills, to work to be the best bowler you can be is all positive and bi-products of grit and a growth mindset. However, reveling in the downfall of the batsmen, belittling them and taunting them is to fall in to negative and unhealthy narcissism. The sad fact here was that the adults, educators couldn’t tell the difference and didn’t see the need to do anything about it.

On another occasion there was a basketball game. As the game got in to the last few minutes the teams were neck and neck. The lead kept changing hands. There was tension and supporters of both teams were shouting encouragement from the sidelines. In the last couple of minutes, one team opened out and maintained a small gap – enough to win. As the final whistle blew the team were ecstatic. They jumped, they whooped, they hugged each other. Except for one boy. I was standing close to the scorer’s table. Instead of joining the huddle with his team mates, he ran towards the table shouting, “How many points did I score?” Before he had the chance to receive an answer, I swiftly took him by the shoulders, turned him around one hundred and eighty degrees, pointed him towards the huddle – “Go and celebrate. The TEAM won!” He got it, smiled sheepishly and ran off excitedly.

When I went to Sharjah to take up a new job our first responsibilities were all about creating a brand new school. In the rushed first weeks i was asked to come up with a ‘strap line’. It was needed very quickly for a document that was going to the printers. We were at a very early stage in the project, so there wasn’t really a big team to consult. I sat down to play with ideas, trying to get to the core of what i saw as most important in terms of core messages I wanted the new school to convey. I slept on the ideas for one night, not convinced that I yet had what i was looking for. I was back on the case next morning. I came up with a lot of ideas, before the one I knew was right came in to my head – “I am me, I am unique.” To me, it was about emphasising personalisation in education and learning to respond to the individual needs of each student. I wanted each student to know their own strengths, leverage those strengths whilst acknowledging those things that were still to work on. When we launched brochures and other materials with this phrase on, it really resonated with parents and students. Teachers also saw what was expected of them in supporting the uniqueness. I clearly remember conversations about how this was not a matter of simply giving them platitudes, telling them they were wonderful etc.

Here is an article that relates to a book putting across the same point. Self awareness and self belief are important attributes for youngsters today. There is, indeed, a narcissism problem largely caused by polar and simplistic thinking. There is a world of difference between growing up understanding that I’m unique or believing that i’m special, entitled and expecting to have everything come my way.

The Guardian – Self-entitled, moi? Teens, narcissism and why ‘special’ and ‘unique’ are different things

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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