• Are we teaching the “love of” the the, or just the “the”?

    In my office, on a small desk covered with Star Wars minifigures, a rubics cube and some Hot Wheels cars you will also find my 4th grade class photo. I’m the smallish blonde boy in the middle row, fourth from the left. At the other end of the row is Mrs Paterson. She is the […]

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  • Change the practice by changing the words!

    George Couros is a thought provoking educator whose blog is a daily read for me. His post of today titled, “5 Terms We Need To Rethink In Education” has inspired me to write (which is one of the main reasons I read blogs!). In his post, George asks us to rethink the terms we use […]

    Read more

  • Where have the brave educators gone?

    I have spent the last few days at the annual EARCOS Leadership conference. It has been an opportunity to sit and think, prompted by the thoughts of others. Listening to the various keynote presentations, small sessions and lunch table banter has given me much to consider. And yet now, as I sit awaiting a plane […]

    Read more

  • How would you change?

    I am reading an interesting book right now – Ron Ritchhart’s “Creating a Culture of Thinking: The 8 Forces we must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools” and a paragraph or two have really stimulated my thinking. This one has got the wheels turning with some gusto: “does the space facilitate learners’ needs to communicate, […]

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  • How are you asking for student voice?

    When we are asked about “student voice”, and if it is able to be heard in our classrooms, it is easy to answer yes. “Students in my class talk.” “Students in my class respond to questions.”   But this is not what the question is really asking about!   Student voice is less about students making a […]

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Are we teaching the “love of” the the, or just the “the”?

In my office, on a small desk covered with Star Wars minifigures, a rubics cube and some Hot Wheels cars you will also find my 4th grade class photo. I’m the smallish blonde boy in the middle row, fourth from the left. At the other end of the row is Mrs Paterson. She is the reason the photo sits on my desk thirty-six years later.

I don’t really remember much about what I learned in fourth grade. As an elementary teacher of many years myself I can guess what was covered, and while it might be interesting, it’s not important. What I can remember is the way Mrs Paterson made me feel about being in her class.

She had high standards. She challenged me. She believed that I could do it.

At a recent conference I sat and listened to Sir John Jones talk about the way schools should be. Amongst his humour were some truisms that all educators need to be thinking deeply about. One was, “Google can teach you history. Only teachers can teach you the LOVE of history!”

Like most other schools around the world, I urge my teachers to “address the standards” when they teach. “Follow UbD when you plan,” I say. “Start with the standards. Design the assessment. Build the plan.”

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But in my fifteen years of co-planning with teachers, I have never come across a standard addressing teaching the “love” of something. I’ve never asked a teacher to add a row in a rubric to read,”demonstrates a love of calculus”, or writing, or painting or long division. And as I ponder this, I am wondering how to address this absence.

If the role of a teacher is to teach a “love of” something, be it physics or reading or history or simply (but not so simply) learning, where do we start? Where do we put all the effort in and how to we know if we’ve accomplished it? Can we use the final grade as a measure? Or is it less quantitative and more qualitative? Is it the number of students who choose to follow that subject as a career path? Is it the number of smiles on faces I see in classrooms as I walk through the building? Or is it the waiting list of students eager to get into a particular class with a particular teacher?

Mrs Paterson was my fourth-grade teacher and she is the one who taught me a “love of” something. She did it by challenging me, expecting I was able and caring for me as I made my attempts and failed.

Maybe it is that simple. Maybe it is that and a bit more. Maybe what was right for Mrs Paterson is different for you and I. Who knows?

As a school administrator, I don’t have the answer. I know when a teacher has it and I can see when a teacher doesn’t. I can give examples of it. I can attest to the importance of it. I can urge those without it to develop it.

If you are a teacher, how are you developing in students the “Love Of” your subject?

 

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Change the practice by changing the words!

George Couros is a thought provoking educator whose blog is a daily read for me. His post of today titled, “5 Terms We Need To Rethink In Education” has inspired me to write (which is one of the main reasons I read blogs!).

In his post, George asks us to rethink the terms we use in education, to unpack the perception of their meaning and the possibility of what they SHOULD mean. I agree completely, and write to extend the thinking.

My proposition is that our educational reality is strongly shaped by the words we choose to use. Let me illustrate.

A few years ago I was tasked with leading a K-12 school, which had not previously considered itself a “K-12” school. It had always had a Kindergarten program, elementary grade levels, middle school classes and a high school. It was lead by a Director, an Elementary Principal and a Secondary Principal. But they had been “Divisional” principals. The culture had never been K-12.

So upon my arrival, with the leadership structure changing to include a K-12 Principal, I changed the words.

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We began to use the word “sub-school” instead of “division”. There was no longer an elementary division, or a middle school division or a high school division. We deliberately chose words to reinforce the thinking required to build a K-12 culture. We referred to the elementary sub-school, the middle school subschool, and the high school sub-school. A little bit wordy, but important. Now in year three of making that seemingly simple change, we are almost at the point where the word “division” is no longer used. Almost!

We also discussed the idea of banning the word “homework”! Not banning the activity of homework, but banning the word “homework” to describe the activity of doing school work at home. Instead, I was suggesting the terms “preview” and “review” be used. The ensuing discussion was one of the most animated, charged, emotional, informative, full-participation discussions I have ever experienced in a faculty meeting! Just to change a word!!!

A school-wide blanket ban of the word “homework” was a bridge too far for the present faculty, but a number of faculty members DID rename their school-work-at-home and reflected that it did result in some changes in their practice.

As George prompts us to reimagine or rethink what the words we use in education mean, I am prompting you to be very critical when choosing which ones you will use. Words are very powerful influencers of practice.

What practices in your school or classroom can you change by changing the words you use to describe them?

 

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Where have the brave educators gone?

I have spent the last few days at the annual EARCOS Leadership conference. It has been an opportunity to sit and think, prompted by the thoughts of others. Listening to the various keynote presentations, small sessions and lunch table banter has given me much to consider. And yet now, as I sit awaiting a plane to fly me back to the educational reality of my international school in South Korea, I am despondent.

Very little of what I have been hearing has sat me up in my seat, opened my eyes wider or raised my eyebrows. The feeling of frustration has been slowly growing.

We are in the sixteenth year of the 21st century. As we talk about the need to be teaching 21st-century skills there are heads nodding, as if to say, “Hmm, good idea. I hadn’t thought of that!” Others take notes (twe-nty-fir-st-cen-tury-ski-lls…). Most silently wonder, “What ARE the 21st-century skills???”

The opening keynote of the conference was met with resounding approval over the break-time coffee and cupcakes. “Great stuff!” “A good thought provoking message!” “Makes you think, doesn’t it!”

And it was that last comment that did make me think. It made me think that I’ve been hearing the same or similar stuff for quite a few years and it seems that all we are doing is thinking about it. No one seems to be DOING anything about it! In three years my daughter will enter middle school. She will endure three years of that before she gets to high school, where she currently runs the risk of a high school curriculum of “stuff” designed by a group of people somewhere, taught by someone different to then sit a test designed by yet another group of someone-elses. A “just-in-case-you-need-it” bag of calculus, physics, literature, history of somewhere-considered-important and a language or two. She is going to hear people say, “you’ll need this for college” and I am going to SCREAM!

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find college particularly difficult. Sitting in lectures and classes and submitting assignments was fairly routine. The challenges began as I stepped out of the lecture hall. Part-time jobs to earn enough money to put gas in the car and pay the bills. Looking for a place, solving the problem of not having enough hours in the day to work and study and live, relationships. Wondering if there was a job for me once I had finished with college. And maybe wondering if this whole college thing was really what I wanted to do with my life!

If you have experienced college or university (and even if you didn’t!) you can probably relate to the above description. You are probably sitting reading this smiling and nodding your head, remembering some or all of your experience of similar situations. High school didn’t teach me any of that! I had to learn most of that myself.

Why aren’t schools preparing students for that reality? Surely if we, as educators, spent our time helping our students learn how to budget, plan, identify and solve problems, communicate, empathize, manage time, critically assess, etc, etc, etc the “college” thing would be so much easier! Preparing students for the easy thing and leaving them to learn the hard stuff themselves sounds to me like we’ve got things the wrong way around.

So back to the conference…

There is agreement. Heads nodded and the room erupted with laughter as the keynote speaker suggested what teachers do is ABSURD! “Teaching”, he said. “The only time we ask someone a question to which we already know the answer!” He illustrated the absurdity with an example and there is more laughter. Tomorrow, those thousand laughing school administrators and teachers will return to schools where tens of thousands of teachers will be replicating the absurdity they just scoffed at – and doing NOTHING!!!!!!!. My daughter will be one of those sitting through the absurd!!!

And I’ll sadly admit it, as a school administrator myself, I’ll be doing nothing.

The big question is, “What will it take?” In what year of the 21st century will we finally stop talking about needing to teach 21st-century skills because everyone is teaching them already? In what year of the 21st century will we stop saying we are “preparing them for college” because we understand the more critical need to prepare them for the life they experience as they step out of our classroom today (which will do a better job of preparing them for college anyway!)?

I don’t know the answers to some of the questions I have raised above, but I do know it will take some bravery. Some stepping out. Some willingness to stand up and say no. Some willingness to disagree. Some willingness to challenge and be challenged.

Where have all the brave educators gone?

 

 

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How would you change?

I am reading an interesting book right now – Ron Ritchhart’s “Creating a Culture of Thinking: The 8 Forces we must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools” and a paragraph or two have really stimulated my thinking.

Image Credit: http://static.messynessychic.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/outdoor-school-2013-11-05-Buitenschool-1930-04.jpg

This one has got the wheels turning with some gusto: “does the space facilitate learners’ needs to communicate, discuss, share, debate, and engage with other learners—or is it meeting only the students’ need to see the board?” It is referring to the physical layout of a classroom, and as I did a mental walk through of the school I work in I am concluding that the vast majority of the rooms are set up for the students to see the board, not talk to one another.

Which led me to wonder what would happen if teachers came to school one day to find the board had been removed, the projector taken down and student desks facing each other.

What would happen?

How many would rearrange the desks, tape some chart paper up onto the wall and continue on as normal? How many would turn up in my office, unable to teach? How many would think for a minute and change what they had planned and begin a different approach?

Image Credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-4bR9llHHJ0k/T3S4w3oVyqI/AAAAAAAACSE/Duk6yhDAZ_c/w1200-h630-p-nu/classroom+without+walls.jpg-large

It was a stark reminder of the very strong connection between our physical space and the way we teach. It was a stark reminder that often times, if we are to change the way we teach, sometimes changing the space we teach in is the first step.

So if you came to school tomorrow and discovered that your whiteboard/blackboard/projector had been removed, how would you change?

 

 

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How are you asking for student voice?

When we are asked about “student voice”, and if it is able to be heard in our classrooms, it is easy to answer yes. “Students in my class talk.” “Students in my class respond to questions.”
 
But this is not what the question is really asking about!
 
Student voice is less about students making a noise and more about WHAT they are saying.
  • Do you know if your students find your classes challenging and engaging?
  • Do your students have a say in determining what they are learning?
  • Do your students have a choice in HOW they demonstrate their understandings to you and others?
  • Do you make all the decisions for your students?
These are the questions you should be asking in relation to student voice. 
 
Best practice tells us learning is improved when students have a “voice” determining the what, understanding the why, negotiating the when and deciding the how.
 
How are you asking for student voice? To read more and for some fantastic ideas, click on the image below!
 
http://www.edutopia.org/topic/student-voice

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Perception

A couple of months ago I had a rough couple of weeks. A flight home to deal with some heavy emotional family matters that left me questioning a lot of things I thought were previously unquestionable, feedback letting me know of areas where I have not been performing as well as expected, meetings where the shortcomings of this that and the other have been highlighted, being questioned on decisions I have made and processes I have chosen to implement and follow. And I also realised (after watching one of their pre-season games) my favourite Aussie Rules football team is again hopeless this year! It has been one after the other after the other after the other.

Right now, as I read through this litany of self-pity, it strikes me that you too could read this as a litany of self-pity. One important conversation ago, it was. One important conversation ago, I was struggling to find the positive spin on all the negative. I was humming my favourite Monty Python song but couldn’t for the life of me find the bright side. And then I had the conversation.

Image Credit: http://theologygaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/454897499.jpg

It was one I was not looking forward to. It had a good chance of being a difficult one. It was about how I had communicated with someone and how they had perceived the message – what they had read “between the lines” through my choice of vocabulary, FULL CAPS, turn of phrase and overall content.

They were quite blunt. They were honest. I listened. I disagreed. I agreed. I questioned. They answered. I listened. I learned.
The learning, through the conversation, was that the perception of what I had written had become the message, and not the message itself. My message and the reader’s perception of the message were quite different – almost opposite, and the perception won!
This was the conversation that changed my litany of self-pity into something else. It’s not the first time I have learned this truth, but this time I think it will stick.

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Lego, IKEA and problem finding!

Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/Einstein-formal_portrait-35.jpg

“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
― Albert Einstein

It would be fair to suggest that we have all heard of problem solving! It is lauded as an essential 21st century skill. We ask each other if we are asking our students to “problem solve”. While this is not unimportant, Einstein’s 20th century quote above might be putting a new spin on this 21st century skill that we have not considered – that finding the problem might be more important that solving it!

Somewhere in my past I remember listening to a speaker (maybe it was a TED Talk) whose main idea was that we should be spending a LOT more time working with students on FINDING the problems, and then solving them. If I remember rightly, he was suggesting that handing a student a page full of “problems” and asking them to “solve” them was missing the point somewhat.

Maybe it is like an IKEA dining table you bring home.

Here are all the parts you need, and the tools you will need to use with the parts, and a book that gives you the step by step instructions for putting the table together, and a picture of what each step should look like, and a picture of the finished product, and a helpline number to call if you mess things up. Or, if that’s too hard, here is the number for a couple of guys who can come to your house and solve your building problem for you (for a small fee of course!).

Imagine what would happen if the IKEA table came with five extra pieces, no tools, no picture and no helpline! (Oops, someone just fainted!)

If you have ever watched a child receive a Lego set as a present, there is that short period of “building the IKEA table” where the booklet is opened, the steps are followed and the “thing” is built. It is played with for a short period. The car zooms. But then… the car crashes and the pieces come apart and the car merges with the house and the boat to become become a hovercraft with a time travelling switch and a laser cannon and next thing the room, and everyone in it, is being blasted by lasers and transported into the future.

I wonder what would happen if you started playing lego with all your different pieces of IKEA furniture???

I digress!

As you continually challenge your students to solve problems, how can you challenge them to FIND the problems and then solve them? How can you make those problems you are posing embedded in the REAL world, rather than the SCHOOL world?

How can the problems you challenge your students to find and solve REALLY help them with the problems they are going to encounter and attempt to solve this afternoon as they walk/cycle/bus/train home from school?

And apologies if you are still having shivers from the “five extra pieces” IKEA thought!

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Your lightbulb in your classroom?

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. – C. William Pollard

(Source: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/innovation.html)

There is a danger that when we think of innovation we imagine devices that can turn salt water into drinking water, or self-driving cars, or mouldy bread that can charge a phone battery (yes, it does exist!). While these do fit the definition of innovation, to most of us, these types of new ideas are well beyond our scope. Innovation, as portrayed by the media, is usually big and life changing and sensational.
But innovation can be something you do every day!
When you consider that innovation is defined as “a new method, idea, product, etc”, then your own scope for innovation suddenly widens. And innovation can be a personal thing! What is innovative for you doesn’t need to be innovative for someone else. If what you are doing is new for you – a new method, a new approach, a new idea – then you are being innovative.

So, as you consider your teaching today, what are you doing today that you have not done before? Where are those moments where you are challenging yourself with a new teaching idea, or a new assessment practice or a new approach to planning. If you have always taught a certain book or a certain unit a certain way, or have always taught from a content perspective, or have always set a final exam, how can you innovate? Can you take the big ideas of the book and allow students to choose their own books that address those ideas? Can you reconsider the content from a conceptual standpoint and teach from that new angle? Can you develop a rubric that covers all the elements of the final exam and give students the opportunity to choose how to demonstrate those understandings via a project?

Innovation carries with it a certain amount of risk. Will the conceptual unit be as good as the usual content approach? How will I assess students if they are all reading different books? Will a final project be as rigorous as a final exam?
Risk taking in teaching is critical. Not everything is going to be fantastic first time around. It won’t be the end of the world. You will be able to try again.
So today, how will you innovate in your classroom? How will you innovate in your teaching? How will you allow your students to innovate?

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Student Choice

As I work through the “8 things to look for in Today’s Classroom” from George Couros, “Choice” is one of those that we might immediately consider more difficult than some of the others – especially if we are teaching a prescribed curriculum, or an prescribed course, with a text book, a time schedule and an external exam on a given date in May! I’m not going to say it’s easy, or that I know how to suddenly infuse your course with CHOICEs – that’s for you to consider. What I do understand however is the fact that when students have choices they are more engaged, and when they are engaged, learning becomes more effective. I did originally write “learning becomes easier” here, but many times it doesn’t.

Engagement doesn’t make learning EASIER! From a personal perspective, when I am engaged I’m prepared to struggle with my learning for a lot longer than when I’m not. I tend to persevere more. Through this willingness to persevere I learn more. The learning isn’t any easier. In fact, because I am prepared to persevere more it would be fair to say that in some respects the learning is harder, or at least there’s more struggle.

So coming back to Choice…

From an institutional perspective, some schools do a better job of allowing Student Choice to permeate their school culture than others. Some schools allow students to choose their high school courses, to fit into a set schedule. Others have flexibility in scheduling and can allow some degree of student choice in timing of when they take those classes throughout the day. Some schools opt for a “no uniform” policy and allow students to choose what they wear to school. Others don’t. Some larger schools allow students to choose which teacher they want when there are multiple sections of a course. And then there are graduation requirements that guide student choices for extra-curricular, sporting, cultural, service and other activities. While these institutional level choices are important, the more critical arena for student choice is the classroom.

If you work in a classroom (note I didn’t say “Are in charge of a classroom”), here are some questions to ponder:

  • If you drew up a pie chart titled “Teacher Choice – Student Choice”, how would the two sections of the pie compare in size? Have you thought about how you might be able to make the Student Choice slice bigger?
  • When you are designing an assessment task, how do students get to choose?
  • When you are planning a unit of instruction and are considering learning activities, how is student choice built into the planning?
  • When students take notes in your class, do they get to choose how they take their notes?
  • When an assessment task is finally assessed/marked/graded, do your students get to choose their result/grade/mark (self assess)?

Alfie Kohn, in his September 1993 article, “Choices for Children – Why and How to let Students Decide” put it pretty bluntly when he wrote,

“Much of what is disturbing about students’ attitudes and behaviour may be a function of the fact that they have little to say about what happens to them all day. They are compelled to follow someone else’s rules, study someone else’s curriculum, and submit continually to someone else’s evaluation. The mystery, really, is not that so many students are indifferent about what they have to do in school but that any of them are not.”

If you have some time to read through the whole Alfie Kohn article it is well worth the time! If not, at least begin to consider how you might be able to introduce more student choice into your classroom. Alfie Kohn suggests possible starting places when he writes, “The four key realms in which students can make academic decisions are what, how, how well, and why they learn” and goes on to expand upon these ideas.

The FacultyFocus.com article titled, “A Role for Student Choice in Assessment” takes the idea of “how” and “how well” and challenges the idea of prescribed assessment tasks, suggesting,

“rather than a teacher mandated sequence of assignments, students are presented with assignment options and they decide which ones they will complete. Or, students do all the teacher selected assignments but determined what percentage of the grade each assignment is worth. Lots of variations are possible. In my graduate course on college teaching, students completed all five assignments, with each being worth 10 percent of their grade. I gave students the other 50% of their grade and let them divvy up that amount between the assignments.”

While I am not advocating every teacher suddenly creates an assessment buffet for students to help themselves from, it does help us to rethink something that possibly has been considered un-rethink-able. Again, the whole article is well worth a read (and is a bit shorter than the Alfie Kohn article).

In summary, engagement is critical for deep learning, and giving students choices in the what, the how, the how well and the why of learning can only serve to increase engagement.

References:

George Couros. “8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom.The Principal of Change. 08 Jan. 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

Alfie Kohn. “Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide (*) – Alfie Kohn.Alfie Kohn. PHI DELTA KAPPAN, Sept. 1993. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

Maryellen Weimer, PhD. “A Role for Student Choice in Assessment? – Faculty Focus. Faculty Focus. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

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Want to improve your grades? Sleep more!

With Semester 1 just ended and students now focussing on working through a successful second semester, I (and many of you) have been talking to students and parents about changes they can make to see greater improvement in their learning. Usually that conversation starts with studying more, but recent research suggests that sleeping more is just as important.

The study titled “Sacrificing sleep to study can lead to academic problems”, showed that “across the years of high school, the trade-off between daily study time and sleep becomes increasingly associated with academic problems” (pp. 139). The study also found “that the reduced sleep that tends to occur on nights of extra studying is what accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs the next day.”

This is not to say that students should not study! The research also acknowledges that there is a link between high achievement and more study, but caution that the extra study should not be at the expense of sleep.

9 hours of sleep per night is the recommendation for adolescents. In an ongoing survey I have been conducting, after 75 responses, 5.7 hours per night is the average for high school students at the school I lead.

So, if students want to improve their learning, and then as a consequence, their grades, help them to consider the following… develop a routine that allows you to sleep 9 hours each night. Spread your study out across all nights of the week, and if you need to put in some extra hours of study, don’t sacrifice your sleep – instead, give up something else that is not as important.

As this study suggests (and other studies confirm), “sleep is a key restorative process during which consolidation of learning takes place.”

Reference:

Society for Research in Child Development. “Sacrificing sleep to study can lead to academic problems.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120821094350.htm>.

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