Friday, August 30, 2013

Mumbai - the world's top city for Facebook

My son Joal sent this on to me.  It's interesting to see the growth of social media in India (and in Mumbai where I live).

Social Media Usage in India - An infographic by the team at

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Visible Learning

Years ago when working in Amsterdam I became interested in Visible Thinking following workshops and presentations at the school where I was working.  This weekend I was in Singapore at the IBO offices and over dinner one night I heard about Visible Learning (making the learning visible to the teacher).  Professor John Hattie's study is one that involves metadata collected over a 15 year period from over 800 million students.  It looked at the effect of various factors on student achievement such as the school, peers, the principal, teachers and so on and came to the conclusion that above all else students provide the key to improving their own performance.  The factors that lead to higher achievement are things like self-reported grades and formative evaluation, whereas the things that lead to a lack of achievement are factors such as the summer vacation, television and above all else mobility.  The study shows that class sizes, extra curricular activities, ability grouping and homework have very little effect on achievement.  I thought this was a pretty interesting finding since almost all the students I've taught over the past 25 years have been from families who are extremely mobile, but also because our intersessions programme has attempted to prevent the "brain drain" over the long summer holidays.  I was also interested to read that homework has no impact on achievement (which is something I've long suspected).

Visible learning is about helping students to become their own teachers and calls on teachers to become evaluators of the impact of their own teaching.  The focus of teachers needs to be on growth for every student:  everyone deserves a year's growth for a year's input.  Traditionally tests measure students, Hattie says that what is needed is for teachers to be able to evaluate their impact on students so that if things aren't improving it is a call to them that they need to change.  Many teachers feel they cannot change because they need more time or resources, however Hattie writes that they don't need more - they need different.  He writes:
If your teaching practice is not having an effect on your students' performance, you must change.
How does Hattie propose that teachers change?  For a start he advocates working more collaboratively and talking about teaching (not about curriculum, assessment and students).

Here are a couple of videos where John Hattie explains his findings.

Would you like to know more about Visible Learning - visit the VL Website
The infographic at the top of this post is taken from the Visible Learning website.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Schools - Win/Win or Win/Lose?

I've just finished reading Stephen Covey's chapter Think Win/Win.  As I'm reading this book now through the lens of what makes a great school, I'm wondering how this applies to education.  As we go through school we are often compared to others.  Just last week I was reading about the A'Level results in the UK and how the top grades are "down" on those of last year.  In this case a whole year of students are being compared with those in a previous year.  Last year I read that "too many" students passed their GCSE English exams, so the exam boards decided to change the pass rate to keep the "right" amount of pass and fails.  Schools, it seems, do a poor job of Win/Win - exams compare a student's performance with that of everyone else's - if one student wins, another has to lose so that we don't feel that standards are slipping.  This system is focused on the extrinsic value of a person, with little recognition of the intrinsic value or of someone's potential or how they use their abilities.  Covey writes:
Competition, not cooperation, lies at the core of the educational process.  Cooperation, in fact, is usually associated with cheating.
Life, however, is often not a competition.  More often it is important to cooperate with others, and yet the Win/Lose mentality fostered in schools works against that.  This is what I'm thinking about right now:  if we know that the most positive way forward is Win/Win, how can we change schools to allow all students to win?

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Staying in Quadrant II

A year ago I trained to be a PYP online workshop leader.  One of the activities we did during training was a time management exercise where we had to categorize the queries we had from participants into 4 different quadrants:  urgent and important, not urgent but important, urgent but not important, and not urgent and not important.  A good example of something that is urgent and important and needing an immediate solution would be one of the participants not being able to log onto the course.

This model can be applied to our lives as well.  Many of us spend too much of our time in Quadrant I, the urgent and important one.  These tend to be lives dominated by crises and problems and the result of living here is that we become stressed and burnt out.  Of course it is necessary to spend time here "putting out fires", but it's unhealthy for us to spend most of our time doing this.

Other people spend a lot of time working in Quadrant III.  Activities here are often called "busy work" as they include things like answering a ringing phone (which mostly turns out not to be important) or answering message (which are also mostly not important) or writing up reports which end up never seeing the light of day again.  The thing is that people who spend a lot of time here often think they are in Quadrant I, doing important work, but when examined it turns out that most of this work is concerned with the priorities and needs of other people.  Ultimately spending a long time in Quadrant III leads to a very short-term focus and with a feeling of being out of control.

The interesting thing I was reading was that people who spend a lot of their time in Quadrants I and III, tend to spend the rest of their time in Quadrant IV because it is the least stressful of the four quadrants. Most of the time they never get to the things in Quadrant II, which is the most satisfying of all the quadrants.  Effective people tend to stay out of Quadrants III and IV because even though some of these things might be urgent, they are simply not important.  Efficient people also try to do as little as possible in Quadrant I by spending more time in Quadrant II.  Easier said than done, I can hear some people saying!

The difference between people in Quadrant I and II, according to Stephen Covey, is that those in Quadrant I are problem minded and those in Quadrant II are opportunity minded.  The things that make a positive difference to both our personal and professional lives are the things found in Quadrant II.  By focusing in Quadrant II it's possible to prevent some of the crises of Quadrant I.  Quadrant II involves relationship building, planning and recreation.

The only way to make more time for Quadrant II is by taking time from Quadrants III and IV as it's not possible to ignore the urgent and important calls on our time from Quadrant I.  However to say "Yes" to the important things that belong in Quadrant II, you do have to learn to say "No" to other things in other quadrants.  In the chapter Put First Things First, Stephen Covey recommends that you don't simply prioritize what is on your schedule, but start to schedule your priorities.  Schedule in all those Quadrant II activities on a weekly basis first, and you will find you still have plenty of time to schedule in other activities.

So I'm going to give it a try.  Next week my Quadrant II looks like this:
  • night out listening to jazz
  • Hindi lesson
  • massage
  • Godrej Indian Culture Lab event
  • Bollywood dancing class
  • getting ready to go to Singapore for a workshop
Quadrant I looks like this:
  • PD meeting
  • doctor's appointment
  • CPR training
  • coaching training
Everything is scheduled - so let's see how easy it will be staying in Quadrant II.

Principles and Integrity

Integrity is something I've thought a lot about recently because it is part of our school's mission statement, and we were discussing this during the first week's orientation.  The mission statement is as follows:
We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.
Integrity is an important word that covers honesty and acting according to your values and principles.  It is basically the value that we place on ourselves.  If we act with integrity we walk the talk, and we are able to do this because we know we are in charge and that we can change the things we don't like.  We can imagine something better and have a vision of what we can become.  Stephen Covey writes about being principle-centered and says "You can't become principle-centered without a vision of and a focus on the unique contribution that is yours to make."

The PYP lists integrity as one of the attitudes that help promote international mindedness.   Knowledge, concepts and skills are important, but by themselves they don't make an internationally minded person. Attitudes are one of the 5 essential elements of the programme as the PYP recognizes the importance of developing personal attitudes towards people and the environmental as well as towards learning.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The IB Learner Profile: Principled

Long ago in this blog I started writing a series about the IB Learner Profile and discussing some of the attributes.  I wrote about being balanced and being a risk taker, being a communicator and being caring.  I wrote about being reflective and knowledgeable and being an inquirer and a thinker and I've written about being open minded.  Some of these attributes I've posted about more than once.  Yet strangely I've never yet written a post about being principled, so I guess it's about time to do that now and wrap up the series.  This one is the hardest one for me to write, simply because being true to my principles has, at times, appeared to have negative consequences.  Refusing to do something that I knew was wrong (for example refusing to use unlicenced software), led to extremely difficult conversations where I was told that I had to follow a direct order from a senior leader of the school.  In a situation like this, when the principals were themselves unprincipled, the only good option, of course, was to leave.

As I have re-read Stephen Covey's book about the 7 habits of highly effective people, I'm now reading it as a different person than the first time around.  I'm thinking of it in terms of how these principles apply to schools and not just individuals and I'm also thinking about how this time around different passages in the book jump out as being more important because of the experiences I've been through since my first reading of it.  For the past couple of weeks I've been mulling over the idea that our security comes from knowing that correct principles do not change and that we can depend on them, simply because they are deep, fundamental truths.  Covey writes:
Even in the midst of people or circumstances that seem to ignore the principles, we can be secure in the knowledge that principles are bigger than people or circumstances.  Even more important, we can be secure in the knowledge that we can validate them in our own lives, by our own experience.
We never know what life will bring us, and a path that we thought was a good one can change overnight and we find the things we thought were important to us really count for nothing.  What I have found is that it's very easy to get rid of things, it can also be easy to walk away from people, especially once we come to realize that those people are bad for us or for those we love.  The things that remain are core values and principles, things you don't want to compromise on.   Covey goes on to write:
The personal power that comes from principle-centred living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviours and actions of others, or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.
Amen to that, I say.

This is how the IB defines principled students in the Learner Profile:  "They act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them".  Actually it is not just students who should be striving to embody the Learner Profile in an IB school - it is everyone in the school (teachers, administrators and so on).  As a PYP workshop leader I once did a diamond ranking activity in a workshop with all the Learner Profile attributes  Of course the participants had many different ways of ranking them, and the conclusion we came to at the end was that all are important.  For me my ranking would always have principled at the top, even though I have written about it last.  As Stephen Covey would say:  put first things first.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Question Formulation Technique, Design Thinking and the Inquiry Cycle

Following on from my last post - a guest post from our iCommons Coordinator Heeru Bhojwani - I would like to write about a method of questioning that she introduced to me recently.  Devised by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, this is a technique to teach students to ask their own questions.  It is a process that allows them to think more deeply and refine their questions and one that encourages divergent thinking, convergent thinking and metacognition.  As I considered the process of divergent thinking (generating a wide range of ideas, thinking creatively) and convergent thinking (analyzing and synthesizing information while moving towards a solution), it reminded me of the flair and focus stages of Design Thinking.

In Design Thinking the first stage is Empathy - this is where there is a flair with ideas coming from all over the place and where you consider both the explicit and implicit needs of others.  This is followed by the focus of the Define phase where some ideas are thrown out in order to come up with a unique, concise reframing of the problem, grounded in the insights developed in the previous stage.  After Design comes Ideate, which is a huge flair.  The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) uses divergent thinking as the flair where students are generating ideas about possible research topics, perhaps using "out of the box" thinking and coming up with inventive new ideas.  It is a process that can be taught to students of all ages to help them handle challenges.

Creativity involves more than simply divergent thinking - it involves synthesizing the ideas and facts.  In the PYP inquiry cycle we talk about tuning in and finding out.  After this comes sorting out which to me matches really well with convergent thinking.  During this stage of the inquiry cycle students look at all the facts they have collected during the finding out and try to make sense of them all.  It is suggested that fostering creativity involves planning for both divergent and convergent thinking and that metacognition, being able to reflect and think about your own thinking, is essential for learning.  The QFT is a process for fostering these skills.

Step 1 - The Question Focus
This is what we refer to as the "tuning in" stage of a PYP inquiry and involves using a stimulus or provocation to encourage students to ask questions.  One difference is that this is not a "teacher question" but is a focus for student questions.

Step 2 - Rapidly Producing Questions
This stage uses a protocol to encourage students to generate their own questions in groups.  The rules for this are:
  • Ask as many questions as you can
  • Do not stop to discuss, judge or answer any questions
  • Write down every question exactly as it was stated
  • Change any statements into questions
Step 3 - Categorizing the Questions
Once all the questions have been generated, they are categorized into open and closed questions. Closed questions can be answered with a yes or no, or with a one word answer.  Open questions are those that require an explanation. They are looked at again to see if the questions can be rewritten and sharpened - some closed questions can be improved and turned into open questions.

Step 4 - Prioritizing the Questions
Students start to look at the questions to find out which ones are the ones that will help them get the information they need.  This stage involves comparing all the questions assessing which are the most useful.  Students may also sequence the questions as some may need to be answered before others.

The PYP supports student learning by having them draw on their prior knowledge and by providing provocations and experiences so that students can construct their own understanding.  The pedagogy is significantly dependent on students' inquiry and students become more engaged and take ownership of their learning.  Students are encouraged to be curious, to ask questions and to explore and design their own inquiries that will help them find responses to their own issues and interests.  Classroom experiences are planned by teachers to help students respond to the questions they have generated.  I think that the Question Formulation Technique could be a great way to have students focus on what they want to learn.

Would you like to know more about the QFT?  Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana have written a book about it entitled Make Just One Change.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Library 2.0: Decentralizing the library into 6 iCommons

A guest post from my colleague, Heeru Bhojwani, the Elementary Librarian at the American School of Bombay in India, who is sharing with you the reasons why we decentralized our traditional library to create ASB's Information Commons (iCommons).  Heeru originally delivered this presentation at ISTE in June.

School administrators around the world are now looking at re-designing classrooms to support collaborative, personalized and inquiry based learning.  Research and educational institutes are showing that open learning spaces do enhance learning.  Following the re-design:
  • International School of Brussels showed higher test scores at the graduation level.
  • Cristo Rey School, Minneapolis showed growth in ratio of graduate students increased form 50%, to 95%
  • Meadow Dale School, Washington, showed scores that were above state standards on MSP and EOC exams.
  • Broad Meadows Primary School: In Australia this impoverished school showed above average scores compared to average national scores

Last year, ASB’s Administrators along with the board members took the courageous step to re-design the school, this lead to a creation of a new campus for the ES and a new learning space for MS and HS students. This triggered the creation of our iCommons.  Inspired by the world architects of new school design, Fielding Nair International, ASB took the step of designing open classrooms.  Walls were taken down and replaced by screens and sliding shades to create open collaborative spaces for learning. Groups of– teachers, students, parents and administrators brainstormed to come up with functionalities and designs that were important for a learning environment. Finally, new learning spaces were designed.

Then came up the question of our library – we all know that a library is a center of an education institution, without which schools cannot function. The library is a powerhouse of learning. At that point, the Elementary Principal and I met to talk about our vision, design and location for the school library.  At the same time a group of teachers brainstormed and discussed about the library. There were 2 reading specialists,  2 librarians, the Assistant Principal, the Elementary Principal and the PYP Coordinator. Of course, there were diverse views and opinions regarding the decentralization of a library, it was like breaking the sanctity of a temple for the whole community. It was a very difficult decision.

The most favored opinion was to create 2 libraries one for Kindergarten to Grade 2  and the other for the Upper Elementary.  We also designed new book carts to facilitate easy browsing as compared to looking at spines on the shelves. We designed our own book carts that worked well with our campus.
We discussed the functions and features of a library and we realized that a library had 3 important functions.
1.  a place where our vast and diverse resources were housed,
2.  a place where students and parents hung out and find comfort
3.  a quiet spot to read and learn.

Now, if we believe that a library is a center of an educational institution, then it would be clear to say that a library is also a center of a child’s learning journey. In an ideal situation, we would like every child to have his own library at his fingertips. A librarians’ dream is to see the right book in the hand of a child at the right time. And, if we are to believe all this to be true then I think creation of these 6 libraries or  iCommons  truly resonate with a 21st century learning environment supporting students in mastering information literacy skills.

Another important reason for spitting the traditional library were the different types of classroom collections. Why do classrooms have their own library? Why were they developed every school has its own centralized library, why do some classes have a leveled library, and others have other specialized library for their projects or curriculum based connected materials? These resources began to find a place in the classrooms or close to their classrooms? WHY? Why have several libraries. This also made me realize that if we move our centralized library collection closer to the children, it would truly become the hub for their collaborative learning. Imagine every grade level has the comfort of a library along with its diverse resources! 

What is the iCommons?
We define the iCommons as an information Commons, a place where students interact, share ideas and information and respond positively to become information creators. They use digital tools to demonstrate their understanding and thinking.  The iCommons is situated at every grade level right outside their learning spaces. It is an extension of their classrooms.  Members of the community and students are responsible for the resources, students check out their books and other resources independently, there are teachers and teaching assistants to support their selection. All materials are found in the iCommons – ranging from picture, nonfiction, magazines, videos and playaways.

The process of decentralizing the library
Questions often asked were there enough books for all – yes there were15,000 books and playaways, magazines etc. Were there any duplications Yes, there were duplication when class sets were added. This was a good thing since it provided extra copies for the popular titles and no extra budget was necessary to buy those books. Adding the centralized library collection developed a full-fledged collection for the iCommons. In each iCommons the reading level of the resources was 2 levels above and 2 levels below the grade level. 

In the 1st step , data was transferred electronically within  Follett into an additional site.  Each book on the shelf was analyzed by the librarian, and on the basis of Interest level, age appropriateness, curriculum connections, then it was allocated to a grade level. So, I had 6 baskets in front of me and after looking at the appropriateness the book it was placed in an appropriate grade.  It was quite challenging for some of the titles – I  had a tough time deciding the grade levels for the popular titles that were used by different grades along with the series.  I think because of my experience at the school, and understanding the curriculum and population of students it made is easier for me to decide. But this problem was rectified when I later saw the class collection. For example the Anthony Horowitz series are popular with grade 4’s and 5’s so I split the library collection and decided to house it in both the grade levels but later when the class collections were added into their grade level iCommons I found that many of the classrooms had multiple copies of the same titles that library did not have.

The circulation type was divided into 6 grade levels – Generally the circulation type indicates the type of book – whether it is a fiction, a picture book, biography or one of the DDC numbers. But instead we allocated grade levels to the iCommons instead.
  • The IRA recommends a strong research based collection because it fosters and demonstrates positive attitude among students and develops a strong and complex language structure. They request librarians to collaborate with reading speciaslits to participate and develop and all round collection for the students.
  • Susan Newmann in her article Classroom Collection writes that a rich collection near the heart of their learning environment  incresase literacy related engagements and activities.
  • ALA: recommends 20- 27 books /child
  • Fountas and Pinnell recommnends – 300-600 books in a rich collection.

A varied collection with all different genres leads to the development of rich language skills that foster oral and written communication skills (needed for the 21st century work force).  Interest, age and curriculum connections helped me decide the location for the book.

Genres – Grades 3 – 5 wanted to have a book store effect so that books were books are arranged according to genres. The classroom teachers picked 3 main genres – mysteries, fantasy and historical fiction for their iCommons.  Color codes and stamps were added to indicate the floor of the iCommons. And finally the collection was added into the respective iCommons. The process started in April and we moved in by mid-August 2012.

I know many of you must be thinking about the 70’s when the open classroom concept didn’t work. Back then there was no internet. We must keep in mind that digital information and media have penetrated our lives and there is no stopping or looking back. It is essential that we capitalize on this phenomenon to prepare our students for the future world.  Research and evidences are indicating that libraries are rapidly expanding their web-based information, More and more print books and journals are being replaced by ebooks. Library collections are moving to cyberspace. The turning point came in April 2011, when Amazon reported selling more eBooks than print books.

The ALA report asks librarians to focus on digital literacy and the key features are information literacy, media literacy and research. They recommend creating a “tech playground “in the library to promote services related to ebooks and online services.  If these are important issues then it is evident that now it is the time to invest and proactively support our students to navigate the large databases of information.

The role of a librarian
Our role has changed to some degree and yet stayed the same. Earlier librarians helped students in  the literacy programs which is now replaced by digital literacy, earlier we supported students in research using books and now it’s replaced by ebooks and the vast information in the cyber world.

Mini Workshops were held for Teachers and TA’s to understand the concept and purpose of the iCommons. They were shown how to access the physical books and ebooks in our new physical and digital spaces. Students, too were taught how to access their books. Some TA’s were further trained in to shelf, locate and help with the inventory. This created a feeling of ownership among the community.

Change in the Parent mindset was important and also led to several workshops on understanding the use of iCommons as well as accessing the online databases and ebooks. Parents were educated or brought up to speed in understanding the importance of information literacy.

Collection Development
This academic year, books were replaced by ebooks and other titles that met the needs of the curriculum.  Most of the books were ordered through the library and so if a title that was required by the teacher was available in an e format, it was recommended. Yes, the process was not as rapid as we would have liked it to be but it is surely changing. Books used for literature circles with multiple copies they too were added into the iCommons.

We fulfill the role of an information coach to promote information fluency. Research focus is now on creation of knowledge and not mere passive consumers of information or regurgitating facts in a different format.

Independent studies and media classes were introduced. These classes were co-taught with the Tech Coordinator. Students were guided into selecting their own topic of their interest, they wrote down their questions, students learned  to transform their closed ended to create open ended questions, students learned to select appropriate websites, evaluate, analyze, synthesize and finally demonstrate their understanding using a digital tool. The research cycle was followed. Students learned the importance of selecting copyright free images, to cite resources, understand plagiarism and the importance of creative commons and copyright concepts. In the media classes, students learned  photography, digital art and movie making. They created movies for entertainment, public service announcements or simply describing a topic.  Continuing to mentor students in their global learning engagements and personalized learning automatically are a part of the librarian’s job.

Tony Wagner, in his article Rigor Redefined (ASCD)  says that for students to be successful it is necessary for them to be able to interpret, evaluate and analyze data and think creatively to problem solve.  He goes to say that even the “best” schools are failing to prepare students for 21st-century careers and citizenship. Tony interviewed a number of company heads and asked what they were looking for in their candidates and they said that they could  teach them the technical stuff, but they can't teach them how to ask good questions—how to think. Today's students need to master seven survival skills to be survive in the new world of work. And these skills are the same for them to become productive citizens of the world. It is these skills that will help solve some of the pressing issues we face in the 21st century.

Information fluency, Media Literacy, MOOCs and Creative Products are important ingredients of today’s education.  Our role is to continue to support, mentor and guide users to  become champions in information and media literacy. When students begin to think creatively they then use information to solve and evolve in their understanding, automatically leading students to create rather than be passive consumers of information.

According to a paper The Hyperlinked Library by Dr. Michael Stephens, the librarian must connect with the heart.  It satisfies the needs and wants of users - something librarians have always done well.
I would like to conclude with what he says: that librarians must continue to encourage the heart,
engage and explore with users, create a space where users will connect, create and follow their dreams. Users will meet in groups and tribes will be formed based on projects and interests. Librarians will always support and provide unfettered Access to information

AT ASB, we have tried to create this dream where the iCommons is the center of child’s learning journey where students collaborate, engage and create – where technology and physical books are merging together to create the magic of learning.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Leadership first, management second

Following on from my last post I'm interested to read how leadership and management fit into the concept of everything being created twice (first mentally and second physically).  Stephen Covey writes that leadership is the first creation and management is the second because management is a "bottom line" focus that is concerned with how best to accomplish things.  Leadership has to come first because it is "top line" and asks what you actually want to accomplish.  There's another ladder metaphor here too:
Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
This is why when you question a manager about a decision the response is often a negative one - their focus is on keeping busy and moving forward to accomplish a task that someone else has assigned to them.   They don't want to deal with questions about why they are doing it.  The leader is the one who can stand back and say "no this is the wrong direction - going this way won't let us achieve our vision."  Leadership is so important because, as Covey writes:
 We are more in need of a vision or destination and a compass (a set of principles or directions) and less in need of a road map .... an inner compass will always give us direction.
Management is important, but, as Covey points out, efficient management without effective leadership is like "straightening deck chairs on the Titanic."  Leadership is vital because without it the managers are simply doing "busy work" and getting nowhere fast.

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Creating things - twice

Last week I shared one of Stephen Covey's metaphors about the importance of having the right map in order to find your destination.  No matter how hard you work, no matter how positive your attitude, following the wrong map will not lead you to the correct destination.  The second habit Covey writes about is starting with the end in mind (which reminds me of the Backwards by Design concept).  He writes about the importance of having a clear understanding of both your destination and of where you are now so that you know you are moving in the right direction - and that is is possible to be very busy and yet still not very effective.

Some years ago I attended a presentation by Jim Hayhurst Sr on the importance of climbing the "right" mountain  (Jim was part of the Canadian expedition to Mt Everest in 1988).  Covey uses a similar metaphor when he refers to a ladder leaning against the wrong wall:  every step we take gets us to the wrong place faster.  I'm interested in what he writes about all things being created twice:
"Begin with the end in mind" is based on the principle that all things are created twice.  There's a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation for all things.
He goes on to give examples about planning a trip first and then taking the trip second, or planning how to plant a garden first in your mind or on paper, and then physically designing and planting the garden.  Covey writes that if we do not become responsible for our first creations then we empower other people:
We are either the second creation of our own proactive design, or we are the second creation of other people's agendas. 
I definitely agree with this - and this is something that we also need to teach our students that they need to start thinking and dreaming and creating their own futures.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Being Proactive

We've come to the end of our orientation week, our students begin on Monday.  It's been a great week with the right mixture of all school meetings where we have discussed new approaches to learning (for example Design Thinking) and our common values (for example respect), and smaller curriculum meetings where we have really focused in on what we want students to learn.  We've had time to get our learning spaces ready and get set up for next week.  It has been an optimistic and supportive time, where we have welcomed new members to our community and embraced them into the ASB family.

Last week I had a conversation with my daughter who was talking about how upset she had been recently to be shouted at by a person in a position of authority.  We had this conversation by skype because she is doing a holiday job in the country where she is going to university, to raise money to pay for her next year at university.  There are many times when we miss being with each other face to face, and this was one of them.  As a mum I really wanted to hug her, but instead I had to talk to her about taking responsibility for her own life and making decisions based on her values and not her feelings - in short being proactive.

Even as an adult it's sometimes hard to be proactive, even when circumstances are so bad that we know we really have to move on.  Another response to a bad situation, or to someone treating us unfairly or disrespectfully, is to decide that what happens will not hurt us or turn us into a bad person ourselves. Living through such an experience has taught me that these are the times when we grow as a person, we develop the grit to go on, and that staying true to your values and principles through all this develops an inner strength and provides an inspiration to others.  I was recently reading about the terrible situation one international teacher found himself in in Qatar, when he spent 12 days in prison based on something he was alleged to have said to a student.  Having come through this experience he has returned to his home country of Nepal to start an educational charity to build a school.  You can follow this link to find out more about this school.

As I have read further in Stephen Covey's book about 7 habits, I have come to a passage that illuminates for me our choices:  we are free to choose our responses in any situation but in doing so we pick up the attendant consequences "when we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other."

We don't often know what the consequences will be when we make our choices (hindsight is a wonderful thing) and sometimes the choices we make lead to consequences we would rather not have happened, and if after all this we look back and say "I should have done things differently" then we call those choices mistakes.  A good example of this is when I left Thailand and accepted a job in Europe, and then a few days later I had the chance of another (better) job.  Having accepted the first one I did what I thought was the principled thing and stuck with that decision, but the consequences of this choice was a lot of unhappiness and a negative effect on my family.  Would I do things differently again - yes.  Yet you can't turn back the clock or hit the Undo button.  The best you can do in these circumstances is to learn from the mistake, correct it and not allow it to turn you into a failure. Correcting the mistake takes away the power it has to hurt us - so a proactive attitude can empower us to turn a failure into a success.  While it is true that we pick up both ends of the stick, we don't have to keep hanging on to a stick that is no use to us - we can make a new choice to put it back down again and pick up a different one.

Dorje Gurung could have made different choices.  He could have chosen to leave education altogether after the way he was treated by a student, the student's family and the school.  Instead he has chosen to be proactive, to walk away with his head high, his values intact, and to pursue his dreams of starting a school, so that the students who attend it can also start to follow their dreams.  He has turned a terrible situation into one where he is now able to improve the lives of those who up to now have had few opportunities to better themselves.

Dreams are important; they are part of ASB's mission statement too:
We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.
I'm so proud to be a part of this school!

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Using empathy to solve wicked problems: staring ambiguity in the face and still walking forwards

I watched the musical "Wicked" with my son this summer.  It was an interesting twist on an old story that made me realize how important perceptions and interpretations are in solving any problem.

This week I've heard the term "wicked problems" several times. We've talked about it at school in our Design Thinking meetings and I've heard it on a TEDtalk about how we can develop empathetic leaders through design (embedded at the end of this post).  First of all most people want to know what a wicked problem is, as opposed to a tame one.  There are many definitions which I will attempt to summarize here:
  • a wicked problem is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements
  • it's an incomprehensibly complex and messy issue that we have trouble defining as well as attempting to solve
  • it cannot be reduced to a single cause explanation - it's complex because of the interconnectedness of things
  • it's not governed by simple cause-effect relationships
  • it hides below the surface of our immediate perceptions
  • it's a divergent problem - the more it is studied the more people come to different solutions and interpretations
The TEDtalk below asks some interesting questions for educators:  how do we prepare students for the future when the future is constantly changing?  How do we prepare students, when we don't know the answers ourselves?  Sami Nerenberg argues that students want to put their education into action and solve the world's problems by empathizing with those in it and designing projects that will have local and social impact.  Human-centred design involves taking in the world in order to give back to it.  In Design for American students are asking what is the smallest change they can make that will have the greatest impact.  There are many interesting answers.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Hearts and Minds

There are some schools that everyone seems to have heard about.  Sitting in the Blogger's Cafe at ISTE in June I met any number of people who said things along the lines of "Oh you're from ASB.  Everyone is talking about that school.  Everyone says how great it is to work there.  Is it really so good?"  The answer is yes, it is.  I've worked at great schools before, but this one is outstanding.  When people ask me why, it's hard to give a simple answer, but I think it comes down to hearts and minds, both of which grow big here.  Stephen Covey writes:
You can buy a person's hand, but you can't buy his heart.  His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is.  You can buy his back, but you can't buy his brain.  That's where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.
Last week it was one of my colleagues in the IT Department's last day.  He has been given the opportunity to become a teacher in a school in the Middle East and he is moving there in a couple of weeks.  Despite the fact that his last official day was Wednesday, I saw him in school on Thursday too, working on setting up an online course for our new teachers.  He talked about his 8 years at ASB and how happy he has been to be a member of this community.  He talked about the experience and memories that will stay with him for the rest of his life.  He talked about how he has grown as a person and as a professional during the time he spent here.  He referred to ASB as "a family".

I think this is why we are known as an amazing school.  We are, all of us, encouraged to be the best we can and to give some of that best back to others too.  We are supported in our growth.  We are incredibly enthusiastic and loyal.  We are trusted, and so we are able to be creative and innovative.

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Dependence -v- Interdependence

I'm reading what Stephen Covey writes about dependence, independence, interdependence and paradigms and I'm thinking how this can relate to students and learning.  Briefly this is what he says:

  • Dependence - the paradigm of you, as in you take care of me.  Dependent people need others in order to get things done.
  • Independence - the paradigm of I, as in I am responsible, I can choose and I can do it.  Independent people don't need others as they can get what they want through their own efforts.
  • Interdependence - the paradigm of we, as in we can do it, we can combine our talents and abilities, we can create something great together.  Interdependent people combine their efforts and so achieve their greatest success.
Often in schools we start off with young children who are very dependent on us, and we aim to create a sense of independence in students by the time they leave school.  However reading about interdependence made me realize that perhaps this is a better goal for us as teachers - that we encourage students to learn to cooperate with others, and together create something better and more dynamic that they could have done by themselves.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Red, yellow, green or blue?

Last week my son was talking to me about a personality test he had done at work.  He described this as a 4 colour test, and I was curious because recently we have been talking at school about different characteristics of teams which we called north, south, east and west.  I wondered if there was any similarity between the two.  Joal explained to me that he is a "red" personality, but that recently he has tried to move more towards the centre.  The colours are arranged in 4 quadrants along 2 lines - the horizontal one is to do with how direct or indirect you are with feeling on the left and thinking on the right, and the vertical axis range is between open and self contained with introversion at the top and extroversion at the bottom.  Since I couldn't find a copyright free image showing this I made my own.

The colours seemed to me to match quite well with the compass points characteristics.  "Red" people would seem to be north with a "let's go for it" attitude, "yellow" people with a focus on creation and vision would seem to match with the east "big picture" people, "greens" are people persons who focus on getting everyone onboard and therefore match with the south characteristics and "blue" people are attentive to details, facts and methodologies which would tend to match with west.

When I read through the descriptors I first of all put myself into the red quadrant.  This is because recently I've been told I'm free spirited and spontaneous.  I think I'm fairly adventurous too.  "Red" people are basically results focused and want to get things done.  This seems to match perfectly with my "north" personality.  However I decided I'd go ahead and take the quiz anyway.  The results were surprising!  It came out with blue above all else, and red was actually my lowest score.

What this means:
They are fun loving. They live for the moment. They like bright things and happy people. They like to follow strong leadership as long as the leaders treat them nicely. They love a sense of humor in someone. They are very spontaneous. They are not very mindful of being on time. They are forgetful. They spend their money freely (don’t save much at all). They love to travel and have adventures. They love to be outside in the sunshine. They love being social and meeting new people. 
 I actually agree with most of this, and I notice the word spontaneous is in there too.

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Character -v- Personality

Today I caught myself saying "I've never worked so hard in my life, and never been less stressed."  It's a strange dichotomy really isn't it?  Many people believe it's overwork that leads to stress, however my mother always used to say to me "Hard work never killed anyone, it's stress that does that."  As I thought more about what I'd said, I started to realize that one of the most important reasons for not being stressed is that at my very busy and intense school I am valued and I feel that the hard work is making a difference.  I also think it is a lot to do with the people I work with and with my own perception of my life and school.

Many people find India a tough place.  Of course they recognize the culture, but for some it's difficult to live here.  As I drove back from the airport to my apartment on Tuesday morning in the pouring monsoon rain, however, the thing that struck me most about India was how full of "real life" it is.   Stephen Covey wrote:
We must look at the lens though which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.
This quote comes from the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People".  I picked up this book again recently and wondered if the habits apply equally to highly effective schools.  However before I get onto that, I want to write about the difference between the character ethic and the personality ethic, which Covey also discusses in his book.  The character ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living and that success comes from integrating these into their character. These characteristics are things like integrity, humility, courage, justice and so on (some of which appear to align well with the IB Learner Profile).  Recently, however, the character ethic appears to have been eclipsed by the personality ethic, with public image, attitudes, behaviours and so on being more important to success.  One of the joys of arriving at ASB last summer was our very first all school orientation meeting.  In previous schools I'd had to listen to boring speeches about how "excellent" the IB or AP scores were (even when they weren't really very impressive at all in some places) and lots of hype about how the school was "one of the best international schools in the world" (which plainly wasn't true).  Last year was very different.  We talked about our core values.  We talked about practice, perseverance and reflection.  We talked about being thought leaders and change agents.

I've thought about how the personality ethic and the character ethic can affect the cultures in schools.  For example in some schools you can get by if you "play the game".  These are places where the personality ethic is valued, there is a lot of emphasis on behaviour and attitudes, and where you can do well by paying lip-service to the things that are the latest buzzwords.  And reading Covey's book again, one sentence really stood out to me:  what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.  We respect people, we work well with them, because we trust them as people:  we trust their characters.

Now in some schools there is a lot of talk about getting the right people onto the right seat in the right bus and so on.  What Covey talks about is social paradigms.  He gives the analogy of using the wrong map and being frustrated in trying to find your destination.  In this situation, behaviour (trying harder) and attitude (thinking positively) will still not get you to the right place.  Covey writes about the maps that are in our heads - are they maps of the way things are (realities), or are they maps of the way things should be (values)?  This is an interesting question isn't it?  The basic problem with the cult of personality is that changing outward attitudes and behaviours does little good in the long run if the paradigms (maps) are wrong.  In fact he points out that every significant breakthrough in science was a break with the old way of thinking, with the old paradigms.

I feel we have got it right at ASB.  We value change and we value character.  Plus I don't think we are reading the wrong map - in fact I think we are drawing the map!

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is this the end of Tech Transformation?

Over the past couple of weeks I've faced quite a serious problem, and since I can't solve it I'm putting it out there for my blog readers to see if they know the solution for me.   As many of you know, I started writing my blog Tech Transformation in 2009 when I was teaching in Switzerland.  At that time the URL of the blog was   Some time later I decided that I wanted this to be "my" blog, so I bought a domain name using GoDaddy and directed my Blogger account to that.  This is the domain name that you see at the top of this blog:  I bought this domain using my Swiss credit card, and it has renewed every year since using the same credit card.  All well and good.

Last year I moved to India.  I closed my Swiss bank account and therefore gave up my Swiss credit card.  In my Google Wallet account I added a new card and made it the default.  I thought I'd done everything I needed to do to continue using this domain name.  I was wrong.

Over the past few weeks I have received many emails from the Google Apps Team.  You can see an example of one of these below:

I did what anyone would do - I clicked the Log in button.  This took me to a log in screen where I was able to enter my password and this brought me to the response you will see at the top of this blog - "Invalid Request".  How can this be, I asked myself?  Who could I ask to help me to fix this problem.  I have to admit that at the start of this problem I thought it would be an easy fix.  Three weeks on I'm pulling my hair out and resigning myself to the fact that I may end up losing everything I have in my Google Apps account.  I have an ordinary Google account, not a business one where I can ask for telephone or email help.  I have tried to contact a person at Google for help, but so far have not been successful.

This is what I have done.  I have tried using different browsers and I have tried logging in from different locations and even from different countries.  I have tried 2 different computers (Mac and PC) and an iPad.  I have cleared my cache and deleted my history.  I have made sure I have no other Google accounts open.  I have checked online and googled "Invalid Request" but while I can see others have had exactly the same problem I cannot find their solution.  Finally I am turning to my readers.  In the past day over 4,000 of you have read my blog.  In total over 400,000 people have read my posts and some of those people have read more than once.  Surely someone has the answer to this problem.  Maybe that someone is a Google employee who knows someone who can help me.  Maybe that is someone who is a teacher and who has experienced this before and can tell me what he or she did to fix the problem?

I don't know what will happen next.  If the domain name ceases to work in a week's time, please try to log onto my old URL:

Fingers crossed this won't be necessary and that someone will come to my aid before then.
Thank you for anything you can do to help.