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

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The Harm Done By Tuitions

ivod-tuitions-article

Here’s an article I wrote that has been published in this month’s edition of Ipoh Valley of Dreams magazine.

With apologies to Jane Kuok – I’ve got no idea why i look so white in the photo, or where the full stop went at the end of the article – but well spotted!

Learning to Learn

Becoming a lifelong learner works best when educators ensure that every pupil acquires the skills and competencies of learning – the ‘how’, as well as teaching them stuff. In fact, i could even suggest that a lot of the stuff has little use or purpose other than as a vehicle for the acquisition of learning skills, practice and honing those skills.

With this in mind, I wanted to share this really useful link for educators, parents and students;

Learning Scientists – Downloadable Materials

The page provides six very good, downloadable posters specifically related to building and strengthening study (learning) skills. There are also some links to stickers.

It’s important to remember something critical with this kind of material, especially when sharing the concepts and ideas with a class of students. The experience was really brought home for me in relation to mind mapping. This is a wonderful set of techniques that I personally use very frequently and value a lot. In one school group, I remember a very enthusiastic teacher telling me that she was introducing mind mapping to her class six classes. She took a couple of special sessions with them and came back to tell me that they loved it, were very excited and confirmed they could really see the learning and creativity benefits.

So, she taught them the techniques and had a few projects and exercises where the outputs for all pupils were to be as mind maps. A few months later I met this teacher and asked her, “how are your classes progressing with their mindmapping?” After a moment’s hesitation she looked shocked. “Oh, I’ll need to check, but i haven’t seen any of them doing it for a few weeks.” She came back the next day, having checked and confirmed that she could only find one child in three classes who said they were still using mindmapping at all.

I asked if i could sit in on the next session with the pupils. She and i spoke with students in small groups, reminding them how enthusiastic they had been with the techniques when they were first introduced. Time after time the responses were similar and boiled down to a hesitant admission that it was good, that they had been excited, but that as others (especially key opinion shapers among the children – the cool kids?) stopped doing it, they had an increasing feeling that it wasn’t for them, even that it was a bit wierd. It boiled down to, “people like me don’t do stuff like this.” And we wonder why we’re so slow to bring about real lasting change in education?

The tough hard truth is that self identity, and especially identifying with others can override the very best of learning and opportunities for growth if not tackled adequately and in a sustained manner. This raises many more issues about how, as educators, we work to limit ‘group think’ and support/ encourage/ entice creativity, individuality and the confidence in our students to plough their own furrow, to believe that they are not obliged to meekly conform to fit in.

Student Engagement

Student engagement can be considered the opposite of ‘bored students’, though I believe our aims should go higher than simply trying to prevent children from being bored. As educators, we should aspire that every student in our care develops the habits and inclinations of a lifelong learner.

This is a phrase so glibly batted around in the education environment today with little regard to what it truly means or why it matters. To me, to be a lifelong learner means;

a) A person has the inclination to continually learn throughout life, in both formal and informal ways. Too many adults let themselves off the hook by saying – ” I learn from the people around me and my experiences. That’s lifelong learning.” In the meantime, those people never pick up a book or a journal related to their professional field while slowly they and their peers slide slowly in to irrelevance. That’s no different to what all but the worst have done in workplaces since the industrial revolution (and even before that). This is something way more than that – it’s about being what I call a ‘learnivore’, hungry to acquire new knowledge directly and indirectly related to one’s professional field.
b) The person’s open and flexible to ‘unlearn’ and doesn’t cling on to old dogmas,
c) The person sees learning as a ‘pull process. They’re not waiting for someone to ‘do learning to them.’ There are telling examples here when you see the reactions of some teachers to new information technology. When you put new hardware or software in to the hands of a youngster, they experiment in order to figure out how they can use it and what it can do for them. When you put it in the hands of a teacher, all too often you hear, “when am I going to get a training programme on this?” Of course, part of the reason for this is an unconscious need to be the ‘sage on the stage’ and to always know more than the students.
d) Related to that, lifelong learners are prepared to be vulnerable, to admit what they don’t know enough about and to seek out new knowledge from wherever they can find it. They don’t just try to bluff their way out or avoid.
e) Lifelong learners leave clues – they read, they consume high quality media (e.g. TED lectures, online educator debate forums etc.)
f) Lifelong learners actually relish and enjoy the learning process, in fact, so much so that sometimes they may need to place restrictions and some restraint on themselves regarding how much time they devote to furthering their learning.
g) They have developed the skills and the wherewithal to learn, to reflect on their own learning and to plan a course of learning for themselves that never ends, but always moves them forward.

Returning to the issues of children in school – if that’s the ideal of the adult lifelong learner, then what do we need to be doing in school to provide the right climate and environment to create lifelong learners. This is not just a side issue. Vast numbers of schools today proudly declare lifelong learning as a core value and principle of their school.

First – we must start off remembering that every child starts out innately in love with learning, fascinated in the world around them, ever curious and inquisitive. Too often, the poorest educators destroy that love so totally that the student will never get it back. Moving beyond ‘do no harm,’ educators need to work to keep each child connected with that part of themselves and to give them all the reasons to apply that love to the syllabus learning and beyond.

Secondly, I believe, in age appropriate ways they invest significant time in helping children to develop the habits and skills of learning, to understand their own learning, to reflect on it and to plan for future learning towards desired knowledge goals. In other words, there’s attention to the process of learning as well as the content and the end goals.

Thirdly, the educators exhibit being lifelong learners themselves, including showing vulnerability when things come up where the students may know more than them.

Next, teachers are courageous and bold in planning lessons. This does mean that some of them won’t come off – and that’s OK. They will also build genuine differentiation in to their lesson planning, supporting each student in the appropriate way. This means avoiding the traps of simplistic categorisation and pigeon-holing of their pupils. They will also invest considerable effort in knowing the pupils (not just those who actively speak up and volunteer information during classroom discussions. Perhaps more teachers would be sitting down to lunch more often with their pupils.

Student motivation is a critical factor. Attention to it should be built in to the agenda of the whole school and every member of staff from the Principal down. This also touches upon issues of student voice, agency and continually monitoring real engagement. On the latter topic, I recently came across an interesting article that highlighted the need to go below the surface to explore genuine engagement – not to get lulled or fooled by pseudo-engagement;

KQED – Mindshift – Are Your Students Engaged? Don’t Be So Sure

The article makes very clear why, and the extent to which, engagement matters. Engagement levels carry direct clues to future potential and achievements. It goes on to dissect some of the dangerous myths regarding engagement and especially the false evidence that can lead a teacher to believe a student is engaged. Pupils know their teacher wants to see engagement. As a result, many have learned strategies to ‘fake it’ within wider school cultures that motivate them to give as little as they can get away with – the path of least effort.

Quite rightly, it also points out that a classroom where everyone’s having carefree fun and a good laugh isn’t a substitute for engaged learning. As it says – there’s real effort involved – rigor, relevance and stretch – what Angela Duckworth termed called ‘grit’. Children aren’t afraid to sweat in athletics or other sports training – if they’re not ready to ‘sweat’ a bit in their classroom learning, we’re still doing things wrong.

Teacher Professionalism

Too often in education there’s an inconsistency that’s a little hard to explain. On the one hand, most are quick to state as a truism that the key to better quality of education for every child is the teacher. However, these words don’t tend to be backed with adequate and effective action to raise the professionalism of teachers.

That the professionalism needs to be higher is the case, backed by recent research by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – the same body that runs the PISA tests), and not limited to teachers in any one country or part of the world.

I believe we can put some of the blame on the fixed industrial model that plagues education. When the teachers are seen as interchangeable widgets in an industrial process or production line, this is not a conducive mindset to think positively about how to enhance the skills levels, attitude, motivation and purpose of the individual teacher.

This article shares the key findings from the recent OECD research. I think it’s appropriate that they haven’t tried to simplify or suggest that there is one simple solution that can be applied every where. Professionalism is a sophisticated set of standards, expectations and common norms that all members buy in to. This isn’t about lessening autonomy or scope for creativity. In fact, commitment to continuous improvement, innovation and contribution of new and innovative ideas to the profession are important components of what it should man to be a professional teacher.

The Journal – OECD – Teacher Professionalism Needs Improvement Worldwide

When looking at the findings, I can see them from the perspective of teachers in the Indian private school system. Teachers do get pre-service training whilst in-service development is often rather ad hoc. However, we know that the quality and standards of that pre-service development are woefully inadequate. Talk of major overhaul of the B.Ed syllabus has gone on for years with little meaningful change. Worse, vat numbers of the colleges given licence to run B.Ed courses are sub-standard money-making operations with lack of consistency, standards or awareness of international best practices. For this reason, I’ve often seen that better results can be achieved taking teachers without the B.Ed who have more worldly professional experience, training them on the job and merely requiring them to get the B.Ed within 3 years to satisfy the rules and requirements.

The fifth of the observations is an interesting one, that I’ve seen in practice. There tends to be more professional development available to teachers working with younger children than for those in secondary and higher secondary. This often comes because of perceptions from both sides (the teachers and management) that for those teachers, niceties like theory or science of learning are mere flim-flam and that their job is to know the syllabus material and to target all of their time and energies on putting as much of it as possible in to the pupils’ heads long enough for it to stick to produce the best possible results in competitive examinations. People who are merely dispensers of gobbits of knowledge don’t require much professional development! In fact, its sometimes seen as a distraction and a waste of their time.

The four recommendations make a lot of sense and are quite strongly in aligment with ideas that I’ve been developing lately in looking at the whole ‘end to end’ process of recruiting and developing professional educators who rise above the average.

Acknowledging that the pre-service training available to them isn’t all it might be, we have to go further to counteract this negative effect. High impact induction, proper mentoring and buddying systems and setting them on the right path as lifelong learners are critical factors, after recruiting for attitude, EQ, child-centricity and commitment to the role. Talent with the sciope to grow in to leadership roles should be identified early and nurtured. This isn’t always easy in single stand-alone schools. Groups can do it. otherwise, schools should learn to collaborate more in this area, perhaps where they are not in direct competition.

Then, the teacher professional networking can be taken to higher levels. Today, teachers have the scope to network with fellow professionals anywhere in the world. Within schools, we need a culture where teachers don’t feel threatened by each other’s presence in their classrooms and we need to be training teahers in action research – especially in countries where there is little or no education research coming out of universities.

In short, if we start to really act like we mean it when we say that teachers are the key to raising the bar, there is much we can do. That work needs to start now.

Long Life Changes Everything

For nearly 10 years now I’ve been telling parents something that I know many of them struggled to get their heads around. Mostly, I’ve saved this message for parents of children in Kindergarten and Primary classes. My argument is a simple one. If your child is going to live more than 100 years on this planet, what should be changing in our thinking about how we prepare children for such a life?

One of the reasons parenting is such a challenge for so many is that the temptation is to see our children’s lives as an extension and a progression on the experiences of our own lives. However, in a world that’s changing as fast as ours, that generally is a big mistake. So, I understand that the first reason so many glaze over when I talk about children living to 100 is that when adults look at their own lives and those of their parents, it doesn’t seem possible. However, this article from the Telegraph shows that, quite frankly, I might be being too conservative with an age expectation of 100 – maybe we already need to be getting our heads around the idea of 110 or even 120!

Telegraph – World’s First Anti-Ageing Drug Could See Humans Live to 120

Inevitably (just think who reads the Telegraph!), the article focuses on the more immediate life change implications of this drug for people who are already in their middle ages or older. However, as an educator, my mind immediately turns to the implications further out in time for the young people who are now undergoing education and how we need to change our perspectives and approaches to education.

Since the start of the Twentieth Century education has been almost entirely a process that stats around age 3-6 and ends in the early twenties or earlier for the vast majority of people. Most countries use the law to force parents and children to stay in the process until age 16 or in some cases age 18. What a strange state of affairs that is – legal coercion is necessary to make people do something that’s supposed to be essential to prepare the individual to lead a successful and productive life. All of this may well have (sort of) worked in the time of a life span of three score years and ten (70).

If you were going to live at least 50% longer, how much would that change? Where would be the tearing hurry to start hot-housing children so early? Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow them to play, to learn at their own pace and naturally develop the neural networks that will support their future learning? Shouldn’t we all be going the Scandinavian way and delaying the start of formal education until age 6 or even 7?

Even after that, when you have so much time available, learning deep rather than broad makes more sense. Also, greater emphasis on developing the skills of independent learning – being a lifelong learner become critical. There’s time for so much more focus on the development of ‘soft skills’ and skills for life that are of use across a whole variety of professions or life areas.

How soon does it make sense to start narrowing down and specialising? Right now, children as young as 14 are pressured to make decisions that will narrow their future choices by deciding what subjects they will study. Wouldn’t we better allowing personal motivation and interest to define what is learned and for how long?

When you consider how much has changed in the world in the last 110 years, how much change would a person see who is going to live through the next 110? How much flexibility would they require? How much resilience?

Most have seen education as a preparation for an economically productive life. How long will that economically productive period last? Plainly the idea of stopping working at 60 years will be a nonsense. Also, if the drugs available mean that people are that much healthier at older ages, then there would be no sense in withdrawing ones contribution from the world at such a young age. Quite frankly, I already believe that doesn’t make sense today.

In recent months I’ve seen a number of studies from different countries regarding people’s attitudes to work, professional life and the role of what they do to be economically productive in their lives. All indicate, give or take a few percentage points, levels of disengagement in the workplace exceeding 70%. I have a separate article that I’m in the process of putting together on the subject of work and how we perceive it, so won’t go in to a lot of detail here. Fr the purposes of this article though, I suggest that if our ‘productive’ stage of life is more likely to be 60 years than 35, shouldn’t we be bringing children up with healthier attitudes and feelings towards work, expending effort – in short a complete change of mindset towards the meaning of work? That starts with favouring the pursuit of goals and visions that are meaningful to the individual – that people do work that matters to them. It also requires a massive raising of the bar on the way people in workplaces are lead. Leadership skills need to go to a whole new level.

In short, if trained and permitted to follow their dreams, people can really learn to love work and find it an engaging and exciting part of their lives.

My final thought on this – longer life span becomes a strong case to stop the process of schooling being a massive filtering mechanism from which people are sifted in to future life streams according to arbitrary factors related to passing examinations. Instead, education has to focus on every pupil, as an individual, being set on a path to live and fulfill their potential and make their best contribution to the world around them in all respects.

In the face of such massive changes in human lives, the changes in education can’t just be about incremental tinkering around the edges. That’s just like rearranging the deckchairs as the Titanic sinks below the waves. We need to be fundamentally questioning, challenging and inventing anew if we are to meet the needs of people leading a new kind of life.

Learning to Learn Well

If, in education, what we really care about is learning – then why do we spend so little time training, refining, giving feedback on and advancing the skills and techniques of learning? My suspicion has long been that when the early models of education were set up, it was meant to be a filtering system – and a filtering system that has everyone succeeding isn’t at all effective. So, if some accidentally had effective study and learning techniques, they succeeded. And, bad luck for the rest.

Whatever the reasons, they need no longer apply. This was actually one of the issues that motivated me to move in to the education field, based upon my own experiences in school and college when i was trying to figure out how to be an effective learner, largely without assistance. I believe today, we have a duty to share best practices and knowledge about the learning process with every student – ariming them with the skills to make themselves the best learners they can be.

Here’s an interesting, short article from Inc.com, written for adults, but setting out five practical steps that can be applied by learners of any age;

Inc.com – 5 Super Efficient Ways to Learn More in Less Time

I firmly believe that as students master the skills of learning effectively, they’re more likely to maintain interest and motivation, more likely to want to learn more and more likely to develop the habits that will see them become lifelong learners.

Happy Learning !!!

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