Tear here to open…

ChocolateThere is something wrong when you find yourself twirling a block of chocolate in your hand and you notice a printed message and a perforated line indicating “Tear here to open.” I mean, when faced with a block of chocolate (72% cacao no less!), who is ever going to put the block down lamenting they don’t know how to open it? IT’S A BLOCK OF CHOCOLATE!!!

It made me think of how we sometimes teach our students.

We plan our lessons so that every step along the way is described, modelled, scaffolded and templated so that they encounter success and feel confident as they go about their learning. WRONG! We are writing “tear here to open” on the block of chocolate.

Learning is meant to be messy. Learning is meant to be a struggle. It requires failure, mistakes, errors and wrong turns. It should pose a challenge, demand problems to be solved, stretch young minds to consider new ways of doing things and it should be engaging.

Nobody needs to be told or shown how to open a block of chocolate – the motivation is there, the reward is obvious, a labour with immediate fruits!

As teachers, we should make sure our chocolate is the best chocolate in the world, wrap it up so that getting into it is a challenge and not even bother with instructions. That’s what I want my classroom to look like!


Routines and Inspiration

With the start of a new calendar year, I have successfully avoided the regular “new years resolution” in as much as I have refused to declare a New Year’s Resolution as having been made. It is just too easy to let it slip. Now that’s not to say I haven’t made some changes.

Routine and my search for inspiration is where I have decided things need a shake up. And rather than pinning them on a resolution arbitrarily tagged to a random day of the year, I have thought it a better strategy to pin it on the goal. Get fit and develop a routine that gives me time to think and get inspired at the start of the day.

So I have started walking each morning and using the fantastic exercise machines along the walking path whilst listening to podcasts from other folks in education.

And what a difference it is making. Exercise, fresh air (this morning it was a very fresh -2˚C!) and pondering the conversations of other educational professionals.

When I first began, the 5am “get up and get dressed” was exceedingly difficult. Now, only two weeks in, I can’t wait to get out!


Doctors and Teachers and Old Tools

I spent a good three to four hours yesterday scouring the Seoul Folk Flea Market (an absolute must see – Sinseol-dong Metro, Exit 6) for that elusive treasure. That piece of yesteryear that someone had grown tired of, attached a price tag to and set out on a table for me to find. That thing that I didn’t know I needed until right then, as I stood looking down at it on the table.
As I searched the tables for that elusive treasure I was constantly amazed at what was out on show and up for sale. Musical instruments, old tools, gramophones, film projectors, fishing rods, shoe cleaners, sleds, bikes, spectacles, etc, etc, etc. If the Seoul Flea Market doesn’t have it, then it hasn’t been invented, used and forgotten!
rcspg_17thsep_2013_022Of all the tables of goodness, the one table I simply stood and gaped at was a table with baskets full of old surgical instruments. Being an appreciator of all things tool-like, this was a most interesting basket of interstingness. There were some things in that basket that I had no idea how they were once used. Some things that I could imagine what they might have been used for, and some things that would cause me to either faint or run a mile if I saw a doctor coming at me with them. And it got me thinking… Do they still use these surgical instruments? If they don’t, what do the new instruments look like? How did the doctor find out about the new instruments and what prompted them to drop the old ones and begin using the new ones? Did they receive training in how to use the new surgical instruments from someone, or was it trial and error (during a surgery!!!)? Was there a book? Was there a YouTube video (Heart Surgery Fails March 2014)? Or was it by word of mouth (doctors discussing their new equipment over beer and chicken!)?
Whatever way it happened, the tools changed, practices improved and now on a table at the Seoul Folk Flea Market there sits a basket full of old surgical instruments available for sale, ready for some D.I.Y. home surgery (who needs ten fingers anyway!)
Then reality returned with a bang and I found myself sitting in my office at school, planning and preparing for the upcoming professional development day. I was reading through article after article on best teaching practices. I was watching video after video of teachers in classrooms discussing best practices for student learning and I began to wonder… Do we, as teachers, have a basket of old instruments and tools sitting on a table, for sale in the flea market of old teaching tools? If we do, what do the contents of that basket look like? Or more pertinently, what do the new tools look like and where did we find out about them? Who showed us? Who convinced us they were “better”? Are some of us still using leeches? And if we are, then why?
If I go to the doctor today, I EXPECT the doctor to have all the latest tools, know all the latest techniques and use all the best surgical instruments – I mean, what is more important than my health!? I trust the doctor is taking time to keep abreast of the latest findings in the field of medicine and is applying that knowledge, understanding and skill when I am the patient. If she is going to pull out one of those surgical instruments and cut something off then I hope she is doing it using the latest and best techniques.
And it is the same when I send my daughter to school today! Shouldn’t I EXPECT teachers to be using the latest techniques and best practices – I mean, what is more important than my daughter’s education? I trust the teacher is taking time to keep abreast of the latest findings in the field of education and is applying that knowledge, understanding and skill when my daughter is the student. If the teacher is going to pull out one of those teaching techniques and teach my daughter something then I hope the teacher is doing it using the latest and best techniques.
We expect doctors to be up to date with the latest and best in their field, but not teachers. Why not? With all the social media, online training, videos and research databases available it is now easier than ever to keep up to date.
So I encourage you all spend a part of your day reading/watching/listening to someone who is presenting ideas on best practice/latest techniques/research based findings about learning/education/teaching. You can only get better!
Note: If you need ideas on where to start, feel free to drop me a line. Twitter is my single most valuable professional learning tool, second are podcasts, third are online journals and beyond that the world wide web is a revelation!



Thought for the week – Teach like a pirate

I have enjoyed the opportunity over the recent school winter holiday to dive into the pages of a number of different books and challenge myself with some new ideas, some creative thinking and some good old reminders about what is important.

teachlikeapirateOne book that I absolutely swallowed is “Teach Like A Pirate” by Dave Burgess. Not only was it a relatively short read (done in a day or so), but it is so full of practical suggestions for teachers that I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are so many thoughts and ideas in the book worth following up that I could write a thought for the DAY for the rest of this year from it! So the challenge today, is to choose where to start. Of all the paragraphs I highlighted in the book, one about great teaching sprang to mind. It reads like this…

“Great teaching gets messy sometimes and we have to constantly be aware of the changing landscape in our rooms and make “moves” based on what works, not on what is necessarily theoretically ideal, or God forbid, scripted. Great teaching, like a fight, can’t be scripted.”

As you continue to grapple with how best to guide your students through their learning, be happy that sometimes it feels like a mess – it should! When we let our students’ questions create the path of their own learning there are certainly going to be moments where u-turns are required and times when we feel like we are flying down the autobahn. There are even times when we skid right off the road and into the ditch. Famous American basketball player and coach, John Wooden said it best when he said,

“The team that makes the most mistakes usually wins.”

What he was meaning was that the team making the most mistakes is the team really going for it. The team taking risks. Not being cautious and going through the motions, but playing in a manner that suggests they are willing to fall on their face, try something risky, do something new. In our sphere of teaching, Dave Burgess suggests,

“to win in the classroom, you must develop the ability to take leaps of faith. The cost of having a lesson plan fail is low. Nobody is going to die if we experiment in the classroom and it doesn’t work out.” “Teaching is like being on a steep, smooth sided mountain. If you stand still, not only will you fail to reach the summit, you will actually lose ground. Unless you are constantly climbing and striving to move forward, you are sliding backwards.”

Piratey,_vector_version.svgSo, as you begin the new year in whatever it is you do, don’t be afraid to try new approaches. Be encouraged to attempt something you haven’t tried before. Don’t give up if it doesn’t go completely as planned. Reflect on what went askew, adjust, and try again. Embrace the messiness. Teach (or whatever you do) like a pirate!


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