Thursday, September 20, 2018

Building virtual bridges and windows to the world

“When I die, you need to pick up my gun and keep fighting." These were the last words spoken by Christoper Stevens, the American Ambassador to Libya who was murdered on September 11th, 2012 during a 13-hour terror attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi Libya.   Christopher Stevens was known for his fascination of other cultures and his goodwill towards others.  As a student he studied abroad in Spain and Italy and later joined the Peace Corps and worked in Morocco.  As a diplomat he spent the majority of his career in North Africa and the Middle East dedicating himself to building understanding between people from different countries.  Following his death, the Steven's Institute was set up in partnership with his family.  The aim of this organisation is to give young people the international exchange experiences that Stevens had, which helped shape him into the person he became, and this is done through virtual exchanges to build global competences and mutual understandings between young people in the Middle East and North Africa and others of a similar age in the USA.

Person-to-person exchanges change lives, create opportunities and build lifelong mutual understanding and respect. But such programs, as vital and transformative as they are, reach only thousands. Less than 1% of young people ever get the opportunity to study abroad - so virtual exchanges are one way of expanding that number.  Virtual exchanges can reach millions and create windows to the world for every student. Today, technology has a huge role to play in enabling virtual exchanges to take place, so that life-changing, cross-cultural experiences can be made available to a large number of young people.  The Initiative has partnered with Twitter and Vidyo to facilitate these exchanges.  Over the past two years, awards have been made to 22 organisations that have reached over 28,000 young people in the USA and in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Henry Shepherd, the Assistant Director, to ask if I was interested in getting involved in reading and assessing application proposals for this year's round of grants.  Henry told me he'd found me on Twitter and had reached out because of my participation in online discussions about international education.  After a Skype chat, and then a webinar about how to actually rank the applications, I was all set.  I've been given 13 proposals to read, and to be honest it has been both a humbling and uplifting experience.   The priority topics are technology and computing, world affairs and global studies, business and entrepreneurship and language learning and practice.  The Stevens Initiative puts emphasis on reaching young people whose access to exchange programmes has been limited. Virtual exchanges can give young people new opportunities to gain critical skills and see the world from new perspectives even if they are not able to participate in an in-person exchange.  The aim is to address the needs of women and girls, underserved youth, refugees, people with disabilities and minority groups.

Since being sent the applications last week I've managed to read through a couple each day. I've been impressed by how many of these proposals aim to give young people a better understanding of global issues and how the issues in their own communities are part of a global context, while at the same time building practical skills of the participants.
Ambassador Stevens might not have meant this when he urged those in the consulate to keep fighting. However I think he would have been proud of what has happened since his death, and how the Stevens Initiative has been established to work towards a better and more peaceful world through empowering young people to participate in activities and experiences that will give them long-lasting skills and knowledge to help them understand global issues through the eyes of the participants in the other countries.   

One of my biggest fears on my return to the UK this summer was that I would not "fit in". I'd become worried by conversations I'd overheard on buses, in pubs and at bus stops about immigrants in the UK. I wondered where these intolerant attitudes had come from . Therefore, in my own small way, I'm delighted to be part of the fight against bigotry, xenophobia and closed-mindedness. It has been a joy to be part of an initiative that aims to give young people the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to prosper in an interconnected world.
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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Fit and healthy - part 2

In January this year I wrote a post about several apps I've been trying out that are focused on health and fitness.  Now as it turns out I was in the pharmacy yesterday and I came across a leaflet called 10 Steps to an Active You.  This leaflet recommended an app called Active 10 which monitors you for 10 minutes of brisk walking (basically the aim is to get your blood pumping and improve your mood).  Apparently just 10 minutes of brisk walking can improve your health straight away - though you need to do 15 sessions of these a week since doctors recommend you are active for 150 minutes a week to reduce your risk of long-term health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia and cancer.  Of course the good thing about walking is that you can do it anytime without the need for any equipment at all.

The idea behind the Active 10 app is simply to keep you motivated, with the idea of working up to 30 minutes (three Active 10s) each day.  You set your own goals and you increase or decrease them when you want. The app monitors your progress over 7 days and over 30 days.  Your progress shows up on various screens, and you can see both how long you have walked for in minutes and then how much of that was brisk walking.

I used this app yesterday and today and I did find it motivating.  Yesterday I started out with a goal of one Active 10 in the evening, but as I was walking I increased it to two.  This morning having completed two Active 10s, I then changed the goal to three.




There's an Active 10 website as well.  This contains more information and also others apps that are made by the same developers, one of which I have used before as a podcast and which I know has been successful in getting millions of people running worldwide.  I already monitor the number of steps I walk as well as the distance I walk and I wondered whether it was possible to use all 3 apps in combination.  I therefore went and downloaded the Couch to 5K app as well.

This app is sponsored by the NHS and the BBC.  It's designed for beginners to build up to running for 30 minutes without stopping.  This might or might not be 5k depending on how fast you run of course.  The programme is a 9-week plan aimed at running three times a week with rest day between each run, though you can repeat weeks if you don't feel you are physically fit to move onto the next one.

With this app you start off by choosing your trainer.  There are five to
choose from.  Next you will see the wheel which shows you the day's running schedule.  This wheel also displays a countdown timer so you can see how much of each section - walk or run - you still have to do.  You can use this app in conjunction with your own music, and interestingly, there is a bell that rings when you are half way through your run so that if you are running in one direction rather than a circular route you will know it's time to turn round and run back.

So this morning I set off on a walk/run with all 3 apps monitoring my progress.  According to the Steps app I spent 51 minutes walking and running 4.5 km - and did about 60% of my daily target of 10,000 steps.  The Active 10 shows I managed to achieve today's goal of three Active 10s, and that I walked for a total of 54 minutes, of which 44 were brisk.  The Couch to 5K app shows I completed Run 1 of Week 1, but no further information, though since I know the yellow sections on the app are the running sections I can work out that I ran for 8 minutes as today's schedule was "run for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds".

In general I feel all these apps could be very helpful in motivating someone and keeping them exercising - check back in another 9 weeks to see if I've managed to get myself to 5K and if technology really can help people to get fit and transform their health.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Coaching your colleagues - part 2

About a month ago I announced my intention of using the month of July to write a book on coaching.  I'm happy to say that last week I managed to write 2 chapters of this book - which focused on the benefits of coaching and what coaches do.  This week I'm going to start on Chapter 3 which is about trust and how that is the cornerstone of building capacity in teachers.  As mentioned previously as well, I'm spending the summer reading Peer Coaching by Pam Robbins.  As I was pulling my thoughts about trusting relationships together, I thought I'd dip into her book and see what she had to say.  Here is how she starts:
Day in and day out, dedicated teaches work tirelessly in individual classrooms ... More often than not their students represent a wide array of learning differences in terms of skills content knowledge, background experiences, interests, parental support, learning challenges, and self confidence.  They come from a variety of cultures and consequently view and speak about the world differently .... Isolated in their classrooms, teachers often wonder, Did I use the best lesson strategy today to teach this standards?  How would my colleague across the hall do it?
Peer coaching seems to address the very same issues that I've been helping our coaches to address at ASB, in a model that I've called Coaching your Colleagues.  Schools around the world are bombarded with the latest and greatest initiatives that promise to enhance learning and teaching.  At the same time, teachers are facing new ways of evaluating their performance and the word "accountability" is one that is frequently heard.

In our PD 3.0 task force on R&D some years ago we looked at what new models of professional learning could look like.  We felt that coaching was the way forward.  As Robbins writes, "it fosters meaningful, personalized, professional growth opportunities for staff; increases the influence of exemplary teaching; and magnifies the collective propensity of schools to be able to provide responsive, high-quality learning experiences to ensure that every student succeeds".

Robbins' model is one where colleagues work together.  In terms of Cognitive Coaching, most of these would not be classed as coaching, but instead as collaborating or consulting.  However here is the list of what Robbins means by peer coaching.  Colleagues:
  • reflect upon and analyze teaching practices and their consequences
  • develop and articulate curriculum
  • create informal assessments to measure student learning
  • implement new instructional strategies, including the integrated use of technology
  • plan lessons collaboratively
  • discuss student assessment data and plan for future learning experiences
  • expand, refine and build new skills
  • share ideas and resources
  • teach one another
  • conduct classroom research
  • solve classroom problems or address workplace challenges
  • examine and study student learning with the goal of improving professional practice to maximize student success.
Just like other forms of coaching, peer coaching has been seen to be effective in augmenting the availability of feedback to teachers, increasing their problem-solving capabilities, building capacity, planning instructional time, expanding the integration of technology, designing more challenging student work, and personalising professional learning.  And just like other forms of coaching, trust has to be there at the start of the process.  Robbins writes that a lack of trust is often the reason why coaching fails to change teacher practices.  While many coaches have exceptional content knowledge, they are not taking the time to focus on building relationships and trust, and hence their impact is limited.  In fact some teachers in these situations will remain skeptical of coaching and see it just as another form of teacher evaluation. She writes:
Peer Coaching activities change in form and structure as relationships among colleagues grow more trusting and comfortable .... if trust is just beginning to develop, staff members may initially prefer to work collegially ... Next as trust develops professional colleagues may draw from these prior learning experiences and create lessons together ... Finally teachers may form pairs or trios so that one teacher can teach the lesson they helped develop, while the  others observe.  Following the lesson, the teacher and observers may reflect and analyze what led to desirable student performance and what they might do differently.
The Peer Coaching model, therefore is made up of two distinct parts:

  1. Collaborative work to increase the capacity of teachers to promote learning
  2. Formal coaching that includes a pre-conference, an observation and a post-conference. 
I was interested to read about how technology can be seen as both a benefit and a deterrent to collaboration.  Often, as teachers may lack collaborative planning time, or in situations where there is no common meeting area, combined with a chronic shortage of time, teachers may simply rely on email instead of face-to-face interactions.  However technology can also help - in situations where it is just not practical to observe another class, digital recordings can open up the classrooms, and tools such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts can allow colleagues to meet at a time and place that works for everyone.  But let's not think technology is the answer to everything!  Coaching requires both time and money for the trainings and time (which may include money if substitutes have to be employed) for the observations and conferencing.

I can't stress strongly enough how coaching needs to be totally separate from evaluation.  Principals need to be absolutely clear about that - it is possible for a school principal to coach, but he or she needs to be crystal clear about which role they are in.  And for coaching to be supported in a school, a principal needs to go further than just lip-service.  He or she needs to be substituting for teachers so that they can coach their peers, coordinating schedules for coaching interactions, and sharing research about coaching.

At ASB we have seen our tech coaches as being leaders - and we have tried to distribute the leadership by ensuring that teachers don't take on too much - for example not being a team leader as well as a coach.  Having coaches within the teams that they are already working in does remove the stigma of supervision and evaluation from the process, and contributes more to teams seeing themselves as communities of learners.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

What if?

Around a month ago I blogged about Scott Klososky's presentation on augmented intelligence and the impact this might have on schools.  Today I've been looking at a recent KnowledgeWorks report which focuses on how wearables, AR and VR might enable the creation of responsive learning environments.  The report asks 5 main questions:

  • What if wearables and augmented reality could help learners navigate extended learning opportunities by connecting with mentors and coaches wherever and whenever they were needed?  For example students could use wearable devices to connect with educators when they need support, such as difficult homework assignments.
  • What if educators could help address resource gaps by using augmented and virtual reality technologies to apply a digital layer atop unused community spaces? The proposal is that such spaces such as shopping centres and public buildings could be turned into high-quality learning experiences that all could access.
  • What if students could practice key social-emotional and metacognitive skills in safe virtual environments, aided by digital depth technologies? Schools could use technologies to enable  students to practice, develop and reflect on these skills in safe environments.
  • What if digital depth technologies could be leveraged to create immersive narratives enabling education decision-makers to “walk in the shoes of others” in order to increase empathy for the students and families whom their decisions affect? Well designed immersive experiences may increase opportunities for empathy and perspective-building among administrators and policy makers, leading to more compassionate, equitable policies that can help support increasingly diverse student communities.
  • What if augmented reality supported students in overlaying their perspectives on social justice issues atop their own neighbourhoods? Three-dimensional overlays of text, images, and video embellish neighbourhood places and people into a living history book that supports present-day social justice actions. 
The conclusion of this report highlights that digital technologies do have the potential to create environments that respond to and support core social-emotional skills and cognitive and metacognitive capacities, to develop practices and behaviours such as empathy, perspective taking, critical thinking, and self-awareness that will support their personal, academic, and professional lives.  However, for education to make full use of digital depth technologies, careful consideration should be paid to how wearables, AR, and VR are used.  In particular consideration needs to be made of equitable access, and of teacher professional development including exposure, time, and training in order to develop an understanding of how best to employ these technologies, including how to assess how these technologies might support learning outcomes and assessments. Other issues that schools will face are those around privacy and ownership of data.  Safety considerations are also important and teachers must ensure that these technologies are used in developmentally appropriate ways. There are already studies showing that exposing students to potentially violent or harmful situations using VR may be damaging to healthy brain development and can lead to anti-social behaviours. One of the downsides is that cyber-bullying and other forms of abuse could also take on new and more extreme forms.

A warning is also given to avoid using new technology in old ways such as "the creation of canned experiences that represent simply the next iteration of mass-marketed curriculum. Such powerful technologies can and should be utilized by educators to create responsive learning environments that optimize learning, not as a means of making education more efficient".

Are these new technologies a bridge or a barrier to learning?  What do you think?

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Coaching your colleagues

As most readers know, I'm moving back to the UK.  I've decided that during the month of July I will write a book called "Coaching your Colleagues".  I've learned so much about coaching these past 4 years and I really want to share this with other teachers and schools.  When I met George Couros in Athens recently he inspired me by telling me he had written one chapter of his book each day.  I'm setting that as my aim too!

Even though I will not be at ASB next year, I was delighted to get a copy of the summer read Peer Coaching by Pam Robbins.  So far I've read the introduction and this post is a reflection on my reading so far.

Pam writes that teachers often operate in isolation.  They feel uncertain and overwhelmed by all they have to do:  the curriculum, assessment, grading, new initiatives and so on.  Interestingly enough she writes that technology has increased this sense of isolation as we don't take our questions to our colleagues - we just Google them - and we often send a text or email instead of talking face-to-face.  As a result we tend to converse less about our practice and our students.

I'm not familiar with the "peer coaching" model so was interested to read that it covers both collaborative work and formal coaching.  When a school's culture is one of isolation, then teachers are often not comfortable sharing publicly about what they are doing.  Collaboration offers a way of working together without the anxiety of classroom observation.  If schools support coaching (and that includes making the time for it to happen), then colleagues can engage in pre-conference, a classroom observation of a lesson, and a post-conference focused on the teaching practices that enhance student learning.  This sounds very similar to the cycle of planning and reflecting conversations in the Cognitive Coaching model.

Research shows that where teachers collaborate, academic achievement is four times more likely to improve than in schools where teachers work in isolation.  In addition peer coaching promotes learning-focused cultures, teacher leadership, more understanding of the curriculum and the promotion of good practices across schools.  In this model technology can enhance coaching, as you can video yourself teaching as well as observe videos of other teachers, leading to more questioning and gaining more insight into how to explain complex ideas to students.

As more and more teachers are using technology to flip their classroom, peer coaching is also a great tool to use to compare and contrast this practice with others.  Tech tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook groups, Instagram, Skype and so on can also enable teachers to engage in dialogue about instructional practices and their impact on student learning.

The important thing about coaching is that it is non-evaluative.  It's a really super way of differentiating professional learning, and it's job-embedded.  In my own experience of coaching, I've experienced enriched interactions between my colleagues, and meaningful personalised professional growth for those who have engaged in it.

I'm excited to have a new goal for the month of July, in particular because I feel that writing a book will keep me current with new forms of professional learning for teachers, and it will be a great way of keeping connected with some of my excellent friends and colleagues in my PLN.  I think it will be challenging for me to work from home - certainly it will be more isolated than working in a school.  I'm moving away from my vibrant PLC and know I need to put a lot more effort into the network of educators I've built up around the world.

It's time to start a new chapter.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Poor white schools

Years ago, when I was a teacher in the UK,  the "problem" areas where there seemed to be huge issues in achievement were the inner-city schools, where these issues were blamed on high levels of ESL students who underperformed on the tests.  I did my teaching practice at an inner city school in Leeds and it was a bit of a shock to the system, even growing up as I did in East London.  However recent reports that I've been reading have shown that inner-city schools are doing much better in the UK now, and it's the schools in "poor white areas" that are facing problems.  This is not an issue with language:  in fact children from poor Indian, Pakistani, African and Caribbean families do much better than white British children in similar areas of disadvantage.  I was interested to find out that in central London, fewer than 1 in 5 primary school children is now categorised as "white British", and of those I'm guessing the working class is an even smaller number.  The "problem areas" have therefore shifted.

During the week I was reading a BBC report about league tables and how these are unfair to schools in white working-class areas.   It states that white working-class boys have the lowest rates of university entry of any group in the UK.  Some time ago I was reading in the Guardian about Jaywick, a coastal town in Essex, being the most deprived English neighbourhood, and incidentally the first place in the UK to elect a UKIP MP (I'm sure there's a connection).  The deprived areas of the UK are no longer inner-cities - they are the rural and coastal areas.

As students move from primary to secondary, the impact of deprivation grows.  Less well-educated parents are less able to help with homework, and many are not supportive of schools, having had a negative experience with schools themselves.  Gaps in vocabulary are also more obvious at a secondary level, and families are less interested in looking into options for university.  The situation may get worse when Ofsted intervenes, school leaders lose their jobs and it becomes even harder to recruit teachers to these schools.

Now clearly, living in India, there is no comparison at all between levels of poverty in our inner-city slums and white working-class areas of the UK.  But talking to some of our NGOs who work in these slum schools, perhaps there is something that can be learned.  For example, there is no inevitable link between poverty and low achievement in school.  It's much more to do with low aspirations and negative attitudes towards education.   Perhaps in India there are actually more aspirations - there are a huge number of service jobs here and Indians themselves are very industrious, with people setting up small businesses on every pavement that serve their local community (shoe repair, sewing, tea making, snacks etc).  Perhaps that's the secret - the community.  As mentioned in a previous post I lived and worked in a mining community in Yorkshire for 6 years - and it really was a community in my first years there.  There was a Working Men's Club where people could go to socialise, evening classes at the local school, a church that arranged social events, and so on.  The local pit, where most of the men worked, was a community in its own right.  In many parts of the "industrial heartland" of the UK this can no longer be said.  Today many working-class families are living on low wages and with uncertain employment.  They are suffering from debt and insecurity.  Families are under pressure and the children have little hope of a better life.  Even at the height of the miners' strike, you could feel the sense of community and purpose.  My hunch is that sense is no longer there in these areas.

Obviously there is no quick fix - but there does need to be a solution if these areas are not to become even further deprived.  The inner-cities have done it.  What would it take to turn the rural and coastal areas around now?  All I can think of is that education, and in particular giving students the skills they will need for their future, are vital if we are to move forward and give all children the ability to pursue their dreams.

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