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.

Learning From The Olympics

Ryan Lochte

It saddens me when educators believe they are so hidebound by the syllabus that they don’t have the time or momentum to open up the enormous learning that can come out of real life events and the things which are capturing the imagination of children in the world around them.

Most decent schools today espouse desire to educate the whole child, to provide holistic education and to inculcate the habits and mindset of lifelong learners. However, sometimes we need to hold up a harsh mirror to ourselves and ask if our actions match the words – are we walking the talk?

The Olympics come around only every four years. However, for two weeks i find that they provide one of the most mesmerising and powerful sets of stories that are laden with massive learning opportunities (way more powerful and valuable than vast amounts of the standard schools’ syllabus!) This time, even in the run up to the games there were fascinating issues around drug use, performance enhancement and questions of whether those who receive bans should be allowed back in to competition. This time around there was even the possibility that an entire nation would be banned from the Games. Ultimately, Russia were allowed to compete in most sports, but almost all their athletics participants were barred from competition and they have been banned from the Paralympics due to start in a couple of weeks time.

This raises fascinating moral issues, but also the grey areas about what is or isn’t a legitimate action to seek to enhance performance to out-compete others. When is ‘win at all cost’ legitimate?

There are also fascinating issues for discussion with even quite young children about sponsorship and the involvement in a festival of physical prowess such as the Olympics from companies who sell junk food and carbonated drinks. Children can engage in thoughtful debate about how they respond and react to the messages they are receiving through the media.

Then, in the Olympics that just got over there were the issues of sport and politics that came to the fore when one country’s athlete in Judo refused to shake hands with his competitor at the end of a bout, reflecting long term animosity between their countries.

And then, the most challenging of the negative stories coming out of this Olympics – the Ryan Lochte and the US swimming team story about ‘what happened at the petrol station, the effects of lying and all sorts of other questions. There have been fascinating conflicting views and stories like this give children wonderful opportunities to debate and explore issues that are far from black and white, but contain subtle nuances where they may need to see multiple sides to an issue to arrive at a viewpoint. They may even wonder about whether the case is seen differently because he was a high profile multiple medal winning athlete as opposed to a lower acxhiever.

For those not so familiar, here’s the story from the BBC about the aftermath of the whole saga:

BBC – Ryan Lochte Sponsors Withdraw Support

How many children will really get the guided, structured opportunities to explore these kinds of issues flowing out of a major news story related to this massive sporting event? I fear, not enough.

Something For Nothing – From Microsoft?

Microsoft have a history of working very hard to get themselves firmly embedded in schools and the day to day lives of children. I have often wondered why educators didn’t raise a hue and cry about the only company on earth capable of making their products (microsoft office etc.) made part of the school syllabus and the wider curriculum for millions of children all over the world.

Their latest Trojan horse appears to be the Minecraft Education Edition. When i first saw that Microsoft had purchased Mojang (the company that owned Minecraft) for $2.5bn I suspected exactly this. And, now here they are enticing in teachers and students with lesson plans (teacher’s job done for them if they’re inclined to be lazy?) collaboration features and all the addictive qualities of computer games, with no proof that it contributes to learning that i can see.

EdTech Magazine – Microsoft Releases Free, Early-Access Version of Minecraft: Education Edition

In the wider sense, it’s been disappointing over the last few years that we’ve not seen a more concerted effort to make open source operating systems and programmes like Open Office made more accessible and easier to install and use in the education domain. Because, the fact is, they’re completely free. And maybe that’s the key as to why any potential support for them got stifled?

Schools spend a lot of money on licences for Microsoft products (even at the reduced rates for education) and these recurring licence fees are passed on directly to parents in the private sector (taxpayers in the public sector). However, one of the biggest hurdles was that use of the Microsoft pay model software even got built in to government policy, national syllabus and curricula in country after country. Really, when you think about it, a quite amazing and monopolistic state of affairs that ties in children’s learning to the products of this single company.

This then can make you wonder just how philanthropic really are the efforts and contributions of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (I guess they won’t be offering me a job any time soon!) when they choose to direct the lion’s share of their dollars at education. Will a government reliant upon their spending in education say no to inclusion of their software in the computing syllabus of the schools?

Really? Is this healthy? Has anyone noticed?

Is It Time To Ditch Textbooks?

Teachers who’ve worked with me know that I’ve never been a big lover of textbooks. Over-priced, often shoddy and poor in their conception, design, layout and printing and quite frankly only good for an add-on resource in the hands of effective teachers. One of the questions I’ve often posed is, “Who knows your students, in your class, better – you or a textbook writer? So, who knows what they need?”

Too many have fallen back on the textbook as an excuse not to do full and complete planning for what’s going to go on in a classroom – “Do Pages 41-43” is not a lesson plan!

When you talk to children, they will frequently tell you that they find the textbooks boring and repetitive in their style (each chapter invariably follows an identical pattern – the stuff, a couple of activities (maybe) and then a standard test to see if they’ve ‘got’ the stuff). When they first get them they may enjoy 10 minutes checking out all the pictures, but after that ….. Then, of course, there’s the weight. Add to that the frequency that parents want the textbooks taken home, or even request a second set so that they can keep them at home and the quest for memorizing the ‘stuff’ is complete. The textbook nows becomes the weapon of torture for all but the handful of children who happen (by luck, not skill) to have memories that absorb the material quickly and easily making them the winners in the standardized tests I wrote about yesterday. Children certainly don’t like the weight of the books!

Parents also don’t like them very much. They already figure that private education is costing them quite a lot and they have to fork out for the books at the start of the academic year at the same time as the fees, food bill, uniform etc. In most schools the timing is just after summer holidays when their bank account may already feel a bit vulnerable!

As time goes on, my distaste for these anachronistic hangovers from the past only increases, inversely to my sympathy for the parents and students. The plain fact is that the curriculum for our children shouldn’t be set by faceless writers churning out enormous profits for the publishing houses (who are quite often owned by the same companies that also make vast sums fro the standardized testing). Even where there is a pre-ordained syllabus arising from the particular examination board the school has affiliated with, there’s still ample scope for the school and its teachers to decide upon their own broader curriculum – what children in that school will learn, in what order and maybe most important – in what way.

Perhaps the biggest reason why progressive educators need to now question whether the textbook has a role to play any more is because of the sheer volume of alternative resources that are available – and that free, or within the costs of having an internet connection and a device with which to connect. As we know, in India and other developing countries there are millions of people with an internet connected device before they have access to a toilet!

In the past I’ve shared some lists of free online resources that teachers can utilise. However, I was very keen to share this article I recently came across from the US, that includes a list of pretty substantial free resources that can be used to replace textbooks in support of student learning. The article is a little US-centric, coming from a website set up to support American District Education Administrators. Nevertheless, it provides some great starting points in terms of resources and a good discussion about the process when schools decide to go down this route.

District Administrator – Schools Maximize Free Content

The other useful thing included in the article is some links and pointers for training and preparing teachers to do this work. We do have to acknowledge that for some it will start out being an uncomfortable step out in to the unknown and away from their comfort zones. However, as the article mentions it carries significant professionl development benefits as teachers engaging wit the curriculum requirements in this way and selecting the best resources to support that will gain valuable insights in to the curriculum and what the students need to be ble to engage with it effectively.

The days of the textbook are truly passing and this is potentially great news.

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