Tenby Educators – Academic Year End

Dear Tenby Educators
Following on from my end of term letter to you all, I promised you some more information here!
As educators who espouse the virtues of ‘lifelong learning’, it is vitally important that we too make lifelong learning a natural part of our day to day life. As educators, we are in a unique position to model the values of the school for our children.
I also happen to believe that this value of ‘lifelong learning’ is a win-win for all of us – growing feels positive, learning is enriching. I also believe that educators share knowledge, so for me that’s the biggest reason why this blog exists.
Vacation time is important for us to recharge our batteries, to reflect on our professional practice and to set goals for ourselves that motivate, inspire and excite. I believe humans are a bit like bicycles – we’re at our best when moving forward and standing still really does us no good at all.
I take this opportunity to share with you my personal selection of great reading, perfect for vacation.

1. Mindset, Carol Dweck
This is a book I’ve been very fond of recommending to both colleagues and parents, ever since I read it for the first time. I believe it deserves to be right up at the top of the reading list. Carol Dweck is a professor at Stanford University. Her book explores, through research findings the impact of the Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset. The starting premise is a simple one, but as the book highlights the implications are massive. Educators and parents who are not aware of the findings in this book can be inadvertently reinforcing fixed mindset that can blight the lives of children as it infects their beliefs about academic abilities, propensity and skill in learning, creativity, sports and physical skills and abilities.
If you choose to read only one of the books on this list, this is the one I recommend.

2. Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar
A small slim book, but one of of my favourite books. The book is a bi-product of Tal’s course that he used to teach at Harvard – the most popular and most attended course there. Yes, indeed, the young under and post-grads of Harvard are smart enough to realise that they can have all the skills, intelligence and ability to get in to one of the world’s great academic institutes, they might be destined for great professional success – but, none of that guarantees them happiness in life. Tal is a part of the ‘Positive Psychology’ movement that is applying the rigour of academic research and thinking to what might previously have been strictly the domain of the self-help movement.
Very thought provoking and well worth exploring.

3. Flow or Finding Flow, both by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I’ve read both of these books twice, and took something new away each time. Both are fascinating and well written books about how to ‘get in the groove’ so that tasks don’t feel like tasks and we get more done of what we need to do to achieve our goals and aspirations.
These have occasionally provoked some really interesting conversations with students about how to create meaning and purpose in mundane tasks. I talked about how when I had menial manual jobs as a youngster I would set myself targets related to how quickly I might complete a task, how accurately, estimating various aspects and then seeing how close I could get to those estimates. As I did this I found time on task flew by, I avoided boredom, got the job done and felt satisfaction afterwards.

4. Linchpin by Seth Godin
In a changing world, everyone needs to pay careful attention to how they ‘make meaning’ in the world, carve out a niche for themselves and do work that is engaging to them.
On my first reading of this book I found so much that was significant both for us as adults and for children in school, being prepared for life.
In short – it’s about how people make themselves indispensable (and that includes reading and learning!)

5. Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen
A Harvard Business School professor who has built his reputation on work about how technology does so much more than just lead to incremental changes in any industry, turned his attention to how technology can radically disrupt the field of education.

6. Schools That Learn by Peter Senge
This certainly wins the prize on this list for the biggest and heaviest of the books – maybe a bit too heavy for your hand luggage if travelling. Peter Senge is one of the world’s leading authorities on Systems Thinking. In this book he turned his attention to schools, education and parents. There is an accompanying website that provides more information:
http://www.schoolsthatlearn.com

7. Good to Great by Jim Collins
One of a series of books that looks at companies and organisations from various fields, exploring how they get beyond just merely being good companies or organisations, but become outstanding – and, maybe more important, sustain it.

8. The Leader Within by Stephen Covey
Most people know Covey for the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (and subsequently, the Eighth Habit). In this book he translates the habits in to a set of principles that can be used to create a school culture, following through in some detail some of the first schools in the USA that did so.

9. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Sir Ken Robinson
The man best known for his groundbreaking TED talk that challenged some of what he perceived as wrong in education today. It’s the most watched TED talk ever and has been the inspiration for many educators to bring meaningful change to schools and their teaching.

10. Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, or
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
A somewhat controversial and provocative, New York based educator who has published many books setting out well-reasoned arguments that challenge some fashionable and accepted orthodoxies when it comes to teaching, schools and parenting. Reading Alfie Kohn’s work leads us to start to question things we may have taken for granted in many ways about children.

Bonuses:

11. Drive, Daniel Pink
As a long time reader of Pink’s books and his blog this book had been on my ‘to be read’ list for quite some time. It’s a fascinating exploration of human motivation. It’s relevant for us to understand our motivation as adults, but also to understand children’s motivation to learn.

12. Giving Voice to Values, Mary C Gentile
I originally received this book as a gift from a professional colleague. Ms Gentile is a professor of Babson College, USA and the book explores the issues of finding courage to lead through values and inspire others. It explores how values can be the driving force for an organisation and for leadership.

Advertisements

Thinking Systemically

I’ve become a big fan of these little, short videos from 12 Manage that deal with various issues of leadership and management. This one is particularly good:

12 Manage – Video – Systems Thinking

It provides an excellent, intelligent explanation of what systems thinking is and why it matters. I first came across systems thinking in the writings of Peter Senge of the MIT Sloan School of Management, especially his books: The Fifth Discipline, The dance of Change and Schools That Learn (compulsory reading for all educators in my view).

Watching the video I was provoked to think about the question – “why don’t more people think systemically, naturally?” My conclusion was that, as in too many other things, those of us in education have to take a big chunk of the blame. And, the clue lies in that word “chunk”. Schools deliver knowledge in sealed boxes called ‘subjects’. They test, assess and evaluate each one separately, as if there is no inter-relationship of knowledge across the boundaries of the subjects. In such circumstances and after so many years, should we really be that surprised if people grow in to adults who find massive discomfort if asked to deal with facts, issues, problems or challenges without defining a neat box that it belongs in, then simply applying formulaic solutions in accordance with the standard thinking practiced within that box.

We saw a classic and extreme example some years ago in the Indian education system. The Supreme Court in that country passed a ruling that every citizen growing up should be taught about the environment. Not a bad idea to believe that reduced ignorance of the citizens would lead to more responsible approaches to preserving the environment.

So, the Indian examination Boards rolled out curriculum for Environmental Studies and it was made a compulsory subject. However, the catch was that over the next few years students found high marks very easy to come by in this subject. As a result, universities and colleges refused to take account of results from this subject when considering children for admissions. So, masses of students, parents and teachers labelled the subject a ‘waste of time’. Then, one of the exam Boards proudly announced that they were terribly clever people because they’d discovered a loophole in the Supreme Court judgement that meant that it didn’t need to be taught as a separate subject. it was enough if environmental matters were dealt with, within subjects such as Biology.

So, this new subject was scrapped – and everyone rejoiced.

Now, should we wonder why we read headlines about 80 deaths a day in Delhi due to pollution? Should we wonder why everyone’s scratching their heads and saying the issues of environment are too complex to solve? Here was a classic lack of systems thinking and here is the price to be paid.

Incidentally, it was the most systemically oriented subject possible. It had the scope to blend science, humanities, the arts, sociology, psychology and many other areas in order to understand the interrelationship between aspects that contribute to environmental degradation.

When I wrote to the Board in question and pleaded with them to rethink their decision they told me I was the only person to have raised an issue, everyone else was happy – now students could focus on the subjects that would get the scores to get university places.

Because, after all – that’s what education’s for – isn’t it?

Nobody needs systems thinking more than educators!

A School that Keeps Learning

I loved this series of videos, so thought it worth sharing all three in the set. They look at a school in the US. As is made clear this school operates in tough and challenging circumstances, with students from low economic backgrounds. However, i loved the positivity that permeates through the films.

I also loved the way teachers were using goal setting for themselves and the students and the application of the ‘growth mindset’. The school exhibits very mature, open and transparent processes about feedback and use of real data. The focus on being a ‘learning school’ reminded me a lot of Peter Senge’s work on the learning organisation and a culture that is always geared to what people can learn and change from what’s happening. There’s no evidence of defensiveness or holding on to the status quo.

Enjoy!


A School that Keeps Learning – Part 1


A School that Keeps learning – Part 2


A School that Keeps Learning – Part 3

%d bloggers like this: