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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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Looking beyond your fence

It is interesting that I am finally getting back to the blog after more than a year, in that I am now enjoying my Summer holiday in Australia (where it is actually Winter), and I have a some time to sit and ponder. It seems I need to build some pondering time into my regular schedule when this break concludes.

But on to the ponder of the moment…

It is very easy to sit within the boundaries of the world that you inhabit and lament your lamentable bits and pieces, regret your regrettable bits and moan about all those things that need moaning about. It is only when you find yourself in the company of someone who lives in a different world and listen to their laments, moans and regrets that you can begin to get some perspective. But it is dangerous to visualise those significantly different worlds as Australia and Somalia, or Saudi Arabia and Canada, or Laos and Minnessota and presume that this is what I am referring to.

I am not referring to these dramatically different worlds when I talk about gaining important perspectives.

Think more about the world that you inhabit – your family, your job, your house, your community – and compare it to the world that your brother or sister inhabits, the world that your colleague inhabits, or the world of your next door neighbour. This is where the interesting perspective exists.

And the perspective is interesting because it enables you to compare your laments and moans with the laments and moans of someone else, who, from the casual observer, is to all intents and purposes, someone just like you.

But they are not. Or maybe they are. And maybe your laments and moans are the same. Or maybe they're not.

I'm not now going to say that your laments and moans are not important. I don't accept the point of view that goes something like, “Stop your whinging! You've got nothing to worry about compared to those starving children in Africa.” We all have something to worry about. Admittedly, nothing that I have to worry about compares to the worry that a father of a starving child would have, but mine are still worries none-the-less.

When I am invited in to the world of others, and get a hint of their perspective, that perspective helps me regulate how much I worry about things, how much I moan and groan to others about things and what I do to make things better.

And it was recently that I had that opportunity to see things from the perspective of someone else just like me. And then they were not just like me. And then they were.

And now, as I think about my laments and moans and regrets there is a new ingredient in the mix that is influencing my thoughts, what I might do, what decisions I might make. Some decisions I make may be different. Some may be the same.

Whatever happens, having spent some time looking beyond my back fence has reminded me that while the grass is green, how green it is is a matter of perspective.

 

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Marveling!

You have probably seen it.

I sat glued to the television for nearly 45 minutes along with another 8 million enthralled viewers and YouTube numbers are clicking over into the hundreds of thousands as I type. A man. Jumping out of a hot air balloon. From a long, long, long way up in the air, so far in fact, that he had left the air behind!

It has been a long time since I truly “marveled” at something. Various dictionaries refer to “wonder” and “astonishment” in their definitions and at once I completely agree. I was full of wonder. I was astonished. This was something I had never seen before – that no-one had ever seen before. I vividly remember the first time I watched the footage of the August 16, 1960 moment when Joe Kittinger climbed over the edge of his balloon gondola and dropped from 31 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and remember finding it equally as marvelous, wonderful and astonishing. I could talk about nothing else for days.

And this morning as I rode with my cycling buddies on our regular morning ride what were we all talking about? Yep, Mr Baumgartner!

What if he had drifted too far into the stratosphere and had simply floated, suspended in zero gravity after stepping from the safety of his capsule? What if he had run out of oxygen? What if he had passed out during the free fall? We were alive with 23.5km of comments and questions and what ifs and almost didn’t notice the 34˚C enveloping us as we pedaled.

And now as I sit, recovering from the 23.5km with a delightfully cool bottle of water in my hands, I am pondering why “marvelous” has only now decided to pay a visit. Why has “marvelous” been out on the road, visiting others and leaving the coat hook in my entrance hall empty. What is it about my day to day meanderings that has caused our paths to cross so infrequently? And more to the point, what can I serve up on a Friday night that will entice “marvelous” to visit more often?

I’m not sure I know the answer, but maybe just the acknowledgement that I need to have the welcome mat out more often, to have my eyes open in expectation and to have a ready seat at the table will be enough to find “marvelous” ringing the door bell.

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WDiLT?

At present I am building a report card system for the secondary school for which I work, and not yet having committed to a particular SIS to run the whole thing, and without a server, and without any database software I am having to reinvent the wheel, the axle, the transmission, etc, etc, etc. My colleague at the desk beside me has been building the elementary reports in similar fashion. Together we have been making a lot of noise.

So there has been a lot of learning going on this week (and I predict into this weekend as well!) and I am able to describe, amongst other things, what that has been SOUNDING like!

With both of us toiling away with Excel spreadsheets, mail merges and Word templates there has been a lot of:
• talking, agreeing, disagreeing, questioning, proposing, groaning, swearing, laughing
• Mmmm-ing as the lets-try-this becomes we’ll-have-to-try-something-else
• “Boom”-ing as the maybe-this-will-work actually works
• “You won’t believe it”-ing as the latest phonecall adds yet another consideration that must be accommodated within the spreadsheet
• Singing along to whatever is playing on iTunes
• One asking the other, “Do you remember how to do X?”
• One asking the other, “Can you come and look at this and tell me what you think.”
• Silence, interrupted only by the clatter and clicking of keys and mice
• Vows to never, ever do this again.

So what have I learned today?

Two heads are better than one. If you are not talking you are missing great learning opportunities. Just because you don’t know what to do or how to do it is no reason not to begin. When you trust your ability to learn you can accomplish great things.

I wonder what I will learn tomorrow?

BK

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