Thursday, May 18, 2017

How society kills our creativity

This short 7 minute animation was shared by a friend of mine today - and I simply had to share it along further.  Madrid based animators, Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Mendez created this film to demonstrate what happens when we let external influences dim our inner light.  Enjoy!


Moving from best practice to next practice

Last week I was in The Hague at the IB office, meeting about PD.  On our first day there we spent some time discussing "background" issues such as forecasts of the number of international schools, and research into the reasons why people attend PD.  One of the studies quoted was by Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School who characterises PD into functional, emotional and social.  We were asked to consider these questions:
  • Functional - what is the need that it met?  Often times teachers will reply that they attended PD because they wanted to become a better teacher, they wanted to improve student learning or they wanted to get a better job.
  • Emotional - how did you feel about doing the PD?  Here important marker words were things like commitment and reputation, and teachers said they felt valued and recognised by their school when they were sent to PD.
  • Social - what was the social purpose of attending PD?  Often teachers talked about building a PLN, being able to "keep up", becoming a leader, and enhanced status as a professional especially if they subsequently felt they were able to contribute to the profession.  
Sifting through all the responses to the IB questionnaires following PD, similar trends emerge:  teachers write that they want to learn new things, improve as a teacher, help other teachers, advance in their career, and in some cases that the PD was required by the school.  They noted many benefits such as greater course knowledge, career advancement, networking and being certified for new responsibilities.  I have to say this last one is important - especially in countries where the number of IB or PYP schools is growing fast - being trained in the PYP has frequently led to teachers being "poached" by other local schools and given positions of responsibility, simply because of their experience and professional development in another PYP school.

The international school landscape is shifting - and what we mean by an international school isn't just a local private school teaching in English.  It involves having an international mix of students, international governance, internationally minded teachers and an international curriculum.  Generally these schools are promoting themselves as a different quality of education from that you could get at local schools, in particular some schools emphasis that they are a route to "good" universities.  The biggest growth for new international schools is in Asia and the Middle East.

Here are the figures we were given:
2015 number of schools - 7500,  number of international teachers - 350,000.
2025 predicted numbers of schools - 15,000, and predicted numbers of international teachers - 734,000.  
This is a huge growth and of course has a big impact on the provision of PD.

As well as this, the growth is going to change how international schools differentiate themselves from each other. For example in Mumbai we have more than 40 international schools - each is looking for what its unique selling points will be. Many have characterised these as things like engaged and optimistic students (optimism, for example, appears in our mission statement at ASB). Many international schools also stress their global connections - in fact some are parts of global "groups" like the GEMS schools, or United World Colleges. For many of these schools their selling point is that the learning environment supports personalised learning and that the students from these schools emerge as self-directed learners both today and in the future.  Others stress that their students are multilingual and culturally intelligent.

The European Council of International Schools (ECIS) engaged the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) to study the role of international schools in the future. This study showed that it will be international schools who will lead a new global education system, setting educational agendas and addressing the disconnect between schooling and learning. Our international schools could be a creative catalyst bringing about change and implementing what we know about learning. There should be intelligent communities - to focus on reflection both within the institution and with others - a movement away from competition and a realisation that schools are stronger together.

As the role of international schools changes, this should really affect curriculum - moving from best practice to “next practice” that combines the best of local, national and global. New pedagogies will involve strong learning partnerships among students and teachers and of course 21st century skills.  The idea is that there will be a shift from teacher centred learning (with an emphasis on product - which involves lots of plans and interventions, assessments and giving students choice only through electives) to student centred learning which focuses on process, social and life skills, and where student choice is more important than "learning activities".  And of course as this shift happens there will be tension between those teachers who are subject centred and those who are learner centred. This is an exciting time for the PYP that has placed itself in the gap between the two - and how excited I am to be a part of this change!

Photo Credit: jaci XIII Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Teaching and Learning with Technology

About two and a half years ago I wrote several blog posts about the IBO's pre-publication of The Role of Technology in the IB Programmes.  Following my week at the IB office the The Hague, I've now come back to read through the publication of Teaching and learning with technology:  A guide of basic principles, that was eventually published a year later in December 2015.  I wanted to dig into this publication again in the light of the changes coming to the PYP from Principles into Practice (PiP). As we transition and upskill our educators I wanted to reflect on the role of technology in this process.

Back in the pre-publication days, I wrote a blog post about whether technology was a language, a literacy or a concept.  I like the way this is now explained:  "things and concepts work together as "technologies" to make the world easier to live in and understand:  technologies are anything that aids or extends you" (the you here refers to the entire school learning community).  Technology supports the curriculum and does not dominate it.  It is:

  • evident but seamless in the curriculum
  • accessible to all learners, creating classrooms that are inclusive and diverse
  • adaptive to many contexts
  • Supportive of intercultural understanding, global engagement and multilingualism (the things that really define what an IB school is - the things that set these schools apart from other "good" schools)
  • helpful in fostering the collection, creation, design and analysis of significant content.
Of course technology is also a literacy - it needs knowledge to be acquired, applied and reflected on, and it is cognitive, being demonstrated more through thinking than simply mastering a variety of tools.  However technology literacy does encourage the development of different skills, and the ability to understand and communicate in many forms (multimodal).  As the emphasis is on the connections to the real world, technology can broaden students' experiences and prepare them for their futures in a multicultural world.  And literacy is developed by actively choosing and using multiple technologies in the classroom.

Back in the day, I also wrote a blog post about integration -v- implementation.  I've been thinking about this again today too.  One part of the document that really spoke to me was this:
Integration means developing approaches to learning that technology supports, or that are only possible by using particular technologies ... the popular definition of technology integration involves learning to use "things", but the academic definition involves learning concepts that these particular "things" support or make possible.
And in my mind this is how it relates to PD: "in order for technology use to be better connected to both pedagogy and instruction, professional development must demonstrate to educators both how and why they need to use new technologies."  Right now I'm facilitating a workshop on digital citizenship and I know that some of the new technologies introduced might be challenging to some of the participants, but hopefully we can explore these hows and whys, so that they will feel comfortable using them with their own students and sharing with others in their learning communities.

Photo credit:  I took this photo last week in Den Haag

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

We are what school should be

In today's staff meeting we were talking about how ASB is different.  With around 40 other "international" schools in Mumbai, what really sets us apart.  We talked about the idea of a value proposition - a promise of value to be delivered.  For example we have often said that ASB students set themselves apart by the quality of their character and the high caliber of their holistic education.  But is that enough?  Today in our staff meeting we talked about the things that make ASB great:  our STEAM programme, the collaboration and relationships we build, the talent of our teachers.

In all we talked about the 6 aspects of ASB that clearly differentiate it from the rest of the schools in Mumbai, and from most international schools around the world.  These are:

  • Being intentionally international
  • Our remarkable educations
  • Our educational ambiance,
  • The pursuit of dreams
  • Individualized pathways
  • Life beyond the classroom

We're going to make a video about each one of these, but here's the first - we are intentionally internationally.  Enjoy!

Photo Credit:  Artwork by Kindergarten Students at ASB

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Staying in Day 1

Following our R&D Meeting today I searched for Jeff Bezos's letter, published a few days ago to Amazon shareholders, about keeping a company great.  He sums this up as a Day 1 approach, and writes that he's been reminding people that it's Day 1 for a couple of decades.  He writes:
Day 2 is stasis.  Followed by irrelevance, Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.  And that is why it is always Day 1.
I've been thinking about this in terms of schools.  Today I was talking to a colleague who told me the next move she makes will be to a "tier 2" school.  She talked about the pressure of being in a tier 1 school, and the toll it takes on her life and family.  However I disagreed.  Having once worked for a tier 2 school I realised how much it sapped my energy being mediocre.  I don't think I'd ever choose to work at a tier 2 school again.  But then I started to think about how schools change - some become much better and others stagnate.  And I started to make the connections between tier 1 schools and Bezos's ideas about staying on Day 1.

Bezos writes that when companies become Day 2 organizations, the decline happens in slow motion - it could take decades, but the final result (decline/death) would still come.  How does a school or a company keep the vitality of Day 1?  Bezos's answer to this is to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings and double down when you see customer (student) delight.  He also points out that the outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won't or can't embrace powerful trends quickly.  He writes, "If you fight them, you're probably fighting the future.  Embrace them and you have a tailwind."

Last week at ASB we hosted a showing of Most Likely To Succeed, a documentary about education and curriculum reform.  The movie explains that our school system was designed over a hundred years ago to produce a workforce for the industrial age, which prized conformity and standardization.  Today the same education system is crushing the creativity and initiative that young people will need to thrive in the 21st century - one where automation is likely to do away with many white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs.  Basically the message is that American schools are failing their students, leaving them without the ability to think critically, and unable to contribute to an innovation economy.  And to be honest American schools are not doing too well on standardized tests either:  the USA is ranked at 24th in the developed world for reading and 36th for maths (well behind countries such as Estonia, Vietnam and Poland) - in fact the maths scores in the USA are actually declining!  In Bezos's terms, American schools have already moved into Day 2 (or possibly Days 3 and 4 if these are associated with irrelevance and decline). And my question is, are international schools doing any better, or are we still pushing forward with an irrelevant curriculum, based on knowledge and skills that are no longer valuable?

For those who haven't seen it, here's the trailer for Most Likely to Succeed.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

People on the edge

In our R&D Meeting today we continued to discuss the diffusion of innovation, this time focusing on opinion leadership.  Last month I blogged about innovators and early adopters,   It's the early adopters who are often highly respected as opinion leaders.  When the early adopters endorse an innovation this is what gets the innovation out to the majority.  There could be many reasons for this, for example they could have greater exposure to mass media or social media.  Today we were talking about how these opinion leaders are often people on the edge - bringing new ideas from outside their social group to its members.  They are not the people at the top, not the leaders of groups, but instead they are the people who move between groups, as they have extensive interpersonal network links. The role of the innovation leader in a social system is to reduce uncertainly abut the innovation - therefore these people must be seen by others as having good judgement about adopting new ideas - and after the opinion leaders in a system adopt an innovation, it may be impossible to stop its further spread.  We talked about how school leaders will often want to get the opinion leaders onboard in order to role out a new initiative, and about the people in school who could be seen as early adopters.

Are you an opinion leader - someone on the edge?

Photo Credit: jonny goldstein Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, April 10, 2017

Developing my skills as a Cognitive Coach

Twice a week, every week, I meet with a colleague at ASB and we practice coaching.  Sometimes we coach each other, sometimes we talk about specific skills, and sometimes we watch videos we have made of us coaching other people and talk about ways we can improve our craft.  Chapter 3 of the book Cognitive Coaching is all about the mediator's skills, and about how both linguistic and non-verbals can foster cognitive development.  There are 5 types of verbal responses that a coach can give that help to mediate thinking:

  • Silence - wait time and listening
  • Acknowledging - both verbally and non-verbally
  • Paraphrasing
  • Clarifying
  • Providing data and resources
I remember when I did the training learning a little about status - I came back to this again in Chapter 3 where it states that the coach assumes teachers know more about their students, the content they teach and their own skills and strengths than the coach does.  They coach conveys this by listening empathetically and questioning rather than telling.  

Non-verbals are more important than verbal cues - nearly 2/3rds of meaning is conveyed non-verbally, for example with eye contact, nodding, matching voice tone and pace, using gestures and so on that contribute to building rapport.  It's also important to use the approachable voice when questioning, as the credible voice can feel to the coachee like an interrogation and can shut down his/her thinking.

Silence also indicates a productive conversation.  In fact when my colleague and I are reviewing our videos we are looking for the pauses which communicate respect for the time the other person is taking to think and reflect and which then results in higher cognitive processing.  Pausing also conveys the message that the coachee is valued and respected and that the coach has faith in the other person's ability to continue to think and then respond.  

One thing I'm working on at the moment is paraphrasing.  I know I need to work on this skill because in general when I look at the amount of time I spend talking compared with the colleagues that I am coaching, I find I'm doing a lot of talking!  I need to be more concise and to get to the heart of what they are saying.  Paraphrasing is important because it lets the other person know that you are trying to understand them and value what they are saying.  And just as using the "wrong" voice when asking questions can shut down thinking, questions that are preceded by a paraphrase can do the opposite - they can lay the ground for inquiry.  One thing I've tried over the past few days is writing down my paraphrases and then trying to cut them down in length - this is also helping me to consider the beliefs and values behind what a person is saying and this helps me to make more abstracting paraphrases.

So far as a coach I've rarely been called on to collect data (I'm thinking perhaps I need to offer this more during the planning conversations).  Data is often a very "neutral" way of giving feedback as, along with mediative questions, it's non-judgemental.   Other forms of feedback are not successful in encouraging the coachee to think - inferences, interpretations, personal opinions and evaluations may lead to mistrust or even fear.

Videoing myself is scary - sometimes I really dislike looking back at the videos because I feel I've done poorly or missed the mark.  But it is really valuable - and it is helping me to develop my skills and get better.

Photo Credit: sundaymay Flickr via Compfight cc