Monday, October 17, 2016

What is a million?

Once, when I was a Grade 5 teacher, it was my job to teach place value up to one million.  That's such a huge number to imagine that it's best to break it down into actual "things" that students can visualise.  For example:

  • It's the amount of letters in a 600 page book.
  • It's the number of seconds in 11 and a half days.
  • It's the number of times a car tyre rotates when you drive from Amsterdam to Lisbon.
  • It's the number of millimetres in a kilometre.
And as of today, it's the number of people who have read my blog.

Thanks to each and every one of you for keeping me going!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Free is a nice price

My son, a Millennial, has changed jobs several times since he left university 4 years ago and embarked on a graduate scheme with Lloyds.  It seems that as soon as he has mastered one aspect of the job he wants to either move up or move sideways to learn new things.  He's not the only one of his generation doing this - apparently Millennials change jobs around once every 2.5 years during the first 10 years of work.

I'm interested in the recruitment, retention and development of teachers, having studied this on R&D for the past 2 years and been involved in the initial prototypes of the Global Recruitment Collaborative.  One thing is sure - salary is not a big factor in determining whether employees decide to stay or leave.  In fact a recent article on LinkedIn points to the fact that people leave jobs because they want new challenges and responsibilities - in a nutshell they want to develop themselves further.

I've started to think about how often teachers are given opportunities for learning something new within the schools where they are working.  In my case, my first international school encouraged me to develop in many directions - from starting as a high school teacher, to moving down into elementary, and finally to taking a role in the tech department.  Most of the schools where I've worked have given me opportunities to get involved in new things, and reflecting on this I would say I've been blessed, because many teachers who are hired as, for example, a high school geography teachers end up teaching that subject for the entire time they work at the school.

I was recently reading about the Google "bungee program" - which allows employees a chance to try out new positions within the company rather than forcing them to look outside for new opportunities. Bungee program employees take part in a temporary job placement to develop new skills.  A similar initiative,  started by Hootsuite, is called the "stretch program" and allows top performing employees the opportunity to work one day per week in a new team for a period of 3 months, after which, if everything is working out, the decision could be made to jump full-time into a new role.  Even if the employee decides to stay in his or her current role,  there is still a lot of benefit to knowing more about another area of the business.  Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, writes "Giving employees a chance to truly grow - without having to pull up stakes and leave the company - is a common-sense tactic to attract and keep great talent."

I'm thinking about this - and how it could possibly apply to schools.

However for those teachers who have decided to move on, maybe the Global Recruitment Collaborative fair in Dubai might be interesting.  It's the world's first free face-to-face job fair for international educators and it's taking place from November 12th - 14th - so quite a bit earlier than the other recruitment fairs.  Currently there are about 90 international schools across the globe recruiting through the GRC, with about half of them coming to Dubai to interview candidates.  It's possible to come to this job fair, even if you don't currently work in a GRC school.  And since free is a very nice price - if you are thinking of changing job this year, what do you have to lose.

For more information about the GRC click here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Innovation Self-Assessment

Around 3 years ago in R&D we read a book called The Inventor's DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen.  Recently we have also been given a link to an assessment tool so that we can complete a self-assessment of our innovation profile in order to become more aware about our strengths and areas for improvement as innovators.

The Innovator’s DNA research found three sets of characteristics that contribute to an innovator’s profile: the Courage to Innovate, Discovery Skills (Innovation), and Delivery Skills (Execution).  I was curious to find out how I was doing in all of these areas.  Once I completed the survey I was able to follow a link to get my results.  My profile came back as being that of a developer.  This means that I can both innovate and execute, though typically not as well as focused Innovators and Executors do.  As a Developer, I am able to help get new ideas that are often sustaining or incremental. I can also bridge the gap between others in school who are focused on either innovation or execution--helping them to work together seamlessly.

The courage to innovate was broken down into 3 components:  challenging the status quo, risk taking and creative confidence.  Of these I scored highest in challenging the status quo (no surprises there!) but this score was slightly lower than that of successful innovators.

The next section was on discovery skills and of these questioning came out the highest.  According to the report, questioning reflects my passion for inquiry.  Active, honest questioning of the status quo provides a powerful tool for opening up new opportunities and uncovering new ideas and directions.

Another section of the report looked at delivery skills.  These are the skills necessary to execute plans and include analyzing, planning, being details oriented and self-disciplined.  For me planning came out the highest. 

I'm not sure how we are going to use the results of this during our next R&D Meeting, however I'm very curious to find out about the innovation of other members on the team.

Photo Credit: mknowles Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The 4 audiences for each presentation

This afternoon we did a 4 corners activity.  First of all we were asked to go and stand in 4 corners based on which of these questions resonated the most with us:  What?  Why? So What? and What If?  After that we were asked to regroup based on what we most hope to get from a presentation:  facts and information, engagement, ideas and data or self expression.  In my case I chose the question So What? and what I hoped to gain most was engagement.  Our answers to these questions put us into 4 groups called the professors, the friends, the scientists and the inventors.  Each of these groups comes to a presentation with different motivations and hopes to get something different out of it to take back.  As a presenter, therefore, it's important to design your presentation so that each of the 4 groups feels they have learned something that can be used.

The Professors - these are the What? group.  They value data and expect the presenter to be an authority on the subject.    Often they expect a lecture or demonstration and they want a clear agenda, handouts and bibliographies to take away.   They feel comfortable sitting in rows.  What they are looking for is a way of remembering all the information that is presented.

The Friends - these are the So What? group.  Often they want to sit at circular tables where they can interact with others.  These people like wearing name tags and frequent opportunities to mix and discuss their ideas with the other participants.  They are looking for involvement and engagement and do well with personal stories, sharing and hands-on group activities.

The Inventors - these are the What If? group.  They like mindmaps, colourful charts and opportunities to solve problems.  They like to reorganize the information presented into new and different arrangements and to make new connections.  Often they enjoy being given creative tasks that allow for their self-expression.

The Scientists - these are the Why? group.  Participants in this group like structured topics organized around questions, and they like handouts where they can write lots of notes.  Their aim is to understand the information being presented, to inquire and make judgements.

While learning to be presenters, we have come to realize that we need to intentionally cater to all 4 types of audience (not just the one that we prefer ourselves - though in general presenters do best when the audience members are most like themselves.)  There needs to be a balance with learning engagements that will appeal to all.

Photo Credit: Jocey K via Compfight cc

Wearing all the hats

As part of my professional goal to become a Cognitive Coaching trainer, I'm attending the Presenters' Forum in Denver this week.  Over the years I've been teaching, I've quite literally made hundreds of presentations:  within schools that I've been working, for example at faculty and parent meetings, at other schools, and at conferences.  However until today, I'd never really learned about the craft of presenting.  I'm really hoping that as well as helping me to move closer to my goal of becoming a Cognitive Coaching trainer, that this forum will also give me better skills when making other presentations, either in my new consulting role for Consilience, or for the face-to-face and online workshops I facilitate for the IBO.  First of all, however, it's important to work out which hat I'm wearing.

Presenting:  today we learned that to present is to teach:  to enrich knowledge, skills or attitudes. Presenters do this in many ways:  lecture, study groups and so on.

Coaching:  helping someone to take action towards his or her goals.  Through using various tools (pausing, paraphrasing and questioning), a coach will promote self-directed learning.

Facilitating:  quite literally this means making something easier.  Facilitators are usually found in meetings where the purpose may be to dialogue in order to understand everyone's viewpoints, or in discussion with a view to making decisions.  The facilitator is the director of the meeting, and is not usually the person in the group with the greatest knowledge.  The difference between a presenter and a facilitator is that a presenter is a teacher, whereas a facilitator is a servant of the group.

Consulting:  is sharing or delivering knowledge, content or processes - the idea of a consultant is to influence others.  Consultants and presenters are both experts in their fields and generally a person will be a consultant first and a presenter second.

What was important to take away from today's sessions were that all hats are needed to work together for the improvement in student learning.  In most schools these hats are worn by the leadership team and those responsible for professional development - all of them need to wear all of the hats.

Photo Credit: arbyreed via Compfight cc

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trends and challenges on the horizon

The NMC Horizon Report Preview for 2016 K-12 is out.  I've read it through and there are few surprises.  This post is about the trends and challenges identified.

Long Term Trends (5+ years)
Redesigning Learning Spaces - to accommodate more active learning such as PBL and the Flipped Classroom.  The report predicts that as education moves away from teacher-centred settings to more hands-on scenarios, classrooms will start to resemble real-world work and social environments.
Rethinking How Schools Work - PBL and challenge-based learning also call for a move away from the traditional classroom to enable students to move from one learning activity to another across disciplines.  Schedules will also become more flexible.

Mid-Term Trends (3-5 years)
Collaborative Learning - based on the idea of learning being a social construct.  Collaborative learning leads to improved student engagement and achievement.  Teachers also benefit from interdisciplinary teaching opportunities.  There is more of a focus on online global collabortaion using digital tools to support intercultural understanding.
Shifts to Deeper Learning - including critical thinking, real-world problem-solving, collaboration and self-directed learning.

Short-Term Trends (1-2 years)
Coding as a Literacy - coding is being integrated into the curriculum to promote complex thinking at a young age.  Students in many schools are now designing websites and developing educational games and apps.
Shift from Consumers to Creators - students are learning by making and creating - there is more active, hands-on learning.

The report identifies challenges that are easy to solve and those that are more difficult.  Among the easy to solve challenges are creating authentic learning opportunities, bringing real-life experiences into the classroom, and rethinking the roles of teachers so that students can continue learning beyond the traditional school day.  Challenges that are not easy to solve include the digital divide which is not just about access but also about differences in the training and curriculum design support offered to teachers.  Scaling teacher innovation is also seen as difficult - K-12 education is still restrictive for innovation, limiting the diffusion of new ideas and discouraging experimentation.  The achievement gap is seen as a significant challenge, even though technology is playing a greater role in identifying lower performing students.  Personalized learning is not adequately supported, though advances such as online learning and adaptive technologies do make it possible to support a student's individual learning path.

Developments in Educational Technology
Time to adoption less than 1 year:  Makerspaces where people are open to experiment, iterate and create, and online learning, often complementing face-to face instruction (blended learning approaches).
Time to adoption 2-3 years: Robotics and virtual reality such as the Oculus Rift that make learning simulations more authentic for students.
Time to adoption 4-5 years: Artificial Intelligence which can enhance online learning, adaptive learning software and simulations that more intuitively respond to and engage with students, and Wearable Tech which will be able to track aspirations and when they can be accomplished.

Photo taken at Juhu Beach

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Becoming resilient

Last week I had to go to the Foreign Registration Office to re-register myself with my new visa.  This has usually turned out to be a pretty tedious day, with an awful lot of waiting around - and the recommendation has always been to "bring a good book".  Last week I took 2 very short ones and this post is about the books.

The first book I read was called The Resilient Teacher.  I found this book to be focused on American teachers, who apparently have left the profession in huge numbers in recent years.  The reason for this is that decisions that affect teachers every day are being made far beyond the classroom and that teachers have very little say in them.  The focus of the book is on 6 attitudes that can build resilience and promote happiness in the profession.

  1. Be grateful - appreciate what you have because unhappiness is caused by thinking you deserve better than you have.  Basically although teachers have a very challenging job, there is also plenty to feel thankful for - long holidays and the opportunity to impact the lives of young people every day.  The recommendation is to spend 10 minutes on a Friday to email a list to yourself of 5 things you are thankful for that week - and then to read this list first thing on Monday.
  2. Sweat the small stuff - show students and colleagues that they matter - this can be as simple as saying hello to everyone or approaching someone you don't usually talk to and initiating a conversation.
  3. Have fun - make it part of your job.
  4. Challenge yourself to get better - do something different, master a new challenge.
  5. When you say it, mean it - require polite and respectful behaviour among your students.
  6. Surround yourself with a few fans - you need a social network.
The book goes on to identify areas that can cause teachers stress and frustration and suggestions for dealing with these.  They include policies, supervisors and colleagues, student behaviour, and difficult parents.

The second book I read was called Stress Busting Strategies for Teachers.  In this book good stress, which can enhance motivation and help us to do well, was distinguished from negative stress which can affect our mental and physical health.  I remember a couple of years ago saying "I'm working harder than I've ever worked before, but I'm less stressed."  However this year I have started to feel stress - not because of the job but because of the location of the job - so far away from my mother who has Alzheimer's.  It's stressful trying to balance a job I love in India with a family I love in the UK.  

In a similar way to the previous book, I felt the audience was very much American teachers working in public schools  Statistics from the US point to a decline in teacher satisfaction and in increase in stress.  This stress is caused by many things:  a lack of resources, difficult parents, poor student behaviour, unrealistic accountability measures and so on.  Stress leads to teachers working less efficiently, which means they may have trouble meeting deadlines and end up feeling that work is piling up.   What the book explains is that stress comes both from what we think - our mindset - and what we experience.  

It's really important to tackle teacher stress because it's hard for a stressed teacher to provide a nurturing environment where students feel safe, happy and successful.  Students spend more hours every day with their teachers than with their parents, and often pick up on this stress.   How can teachers themselves recognise that they are stressed?  This can happen because of  physical complaints such as muscle tension, poor sleep or a lack of stamina, emotional stress such as feelings of being overwhelmed, resentful of change, and anxious, and intellectual stress that compromises our capacity.  Stress often emerges when we are pushed to perform outside our natural limits without having the time to re-energize - in this case it's important to notice and self-regulate, as teachers are called upon to make thousands of spontaneous decisions throughout the day and need to be at their best to make good decisions.  The book includes many helpful ideas for getting on top of stress, including:
  • Prioritizing - the suggestion is to make a 3+ list - these are the 3 tasks that you need to do that day to feel productive and successful.  These need to be ranked, and then 2 more "plus" tasks added which are not urgent and simply bonuses.  The idea is to focus on the 3 tasks and not to add to them,  Once they are completed, cross them off and if you have time start on the 2 "plus" tasks.
There are other suggestions for managing time, delegating tasks, setting parameters, getting organized, adopting a positive mindset, establishing strong communication skills, physical activity and mindfulness.