Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Different perspectives

The final part of the IB mission statement is as that students become "active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right."  I really love this statement and think it gets right to the heart of international mindedness.  I love the word "also" which implies that this is simply a different perspective - and that this difference is valuable.

In Stephen Covey's 7 habits he writes about truly effective people, describing them as having the humility to recognize their own limitations.  Effective people value differences because they know that these different perceptions add to their own knowledge and understanding of situations.  Covey writes that if two people have the same opinions then one of them is unnecessary.  I agree with this statement.  Oftentimes the best conversations I have are with people who see things differently from me - and these are the people that I learn the most from.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013


Evolutions is an eBook produced by the American School of Bombay that contains the reflections of our educators, past and present, about the integration of technology at our school.  Volume 2 of Evolutions was released last week.  It contains teaching and learning stories of how online tools can help English language learners, gamification in science lessons, social networking in modern language classrooms, using iPads with early learners, using Pinterest as a tool for professional growth and development for teachers and my own chapter about Independent Studies and our new iCommons learning spaces.

More than anything else I am happy to be working at an innovative, forward looking school that recognizes the importance of innovation and change - and that encourages me to write about them.

Click here to read Evolutions Volume 2 (2013)
Click here to read Evolutions Volume 1 (2012)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Education for Everyone? The Online Revolution

I posted yesterday about how university education needs to change.  Today I watched Daphne Koller's TEDtalk about top universities putting their courses online for free.    Here are some of the interesting things I took away from this talk:
  • Online students interacted with each other deeper than they did in the physical classroom
  • Peer grading is an effective strategy
  • Students are accurate at grading themselves - students know what they are learning and how they are doing
  • Universities should spend less time lecturing and more time igniting creativity, imagination and problem solving skills
  • Free online courses establish education as a human right - everyone an get the skills to make a better life for him/herself and for their families
  • Free online courses enable lifelong learning as you can learn something new anytime you want.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A university revolution?

I have a son who has left university after gaining a BA and is now working on a graduate scheme for a bank, a daughter who is currently studying at university for her Masters and a niece who gave up on university to start her own business because she didn't feel university was giving her what she needed for the future.  Today I read this statement from An avalanche is coming:  Higher education and the revolution ahead.
Just as globalisation and technology have transformed other huge sectors of the economy in the past 20 years, in the next 20 years universities face transformation.
The premise is that there needs to be a transformation of higher education - the current pace of change is too slow.  But what will the future of higher education be?  Here is a short video that gives one possible answer (and are these digital badges I see at the end?):

If you want to read more about changes in higher education, here is where I found this information. The IPPR's report was published in March 2013.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Good -v- Growth

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a link to the Incomplete Manifest for Growth by our R&D Coordinator, Scot Hoffman.  I've looked at this over and over again during the past couple of weeks, and each time I come back to another point to mull over.  Today I'm thinking about 2 of these.

Last week I had a great chat about my professional growth.  I realize that I set myself very high standards and that I get discouraged if I can't reach them.  However I also know that I'd rather set high standards and face possible disappointment, than set low ones that I know I can achieve easily.  I like to be challenged and I know it's a mistake to be in a place where growth is seen as a threat to the status quo, which is why I'm so happy to have found a school with a growth mindset, where we can prototype and where mistakes are seen as learning experiences.

At a previous school there was a lot of talk about the Jim Collins book "Good to Great".  When I read it I thought it was a rather outdated business model and not that applicable to schools.  To be frank, I got sick of hearing discussions about getting the right people onto the right seats of the bus, in a place where I was convinced that the bus was going to the wrong destination with the wrong driver. However one thing that I did agree with was that you cannot settle for good - or good enough - which on reflection now I know was what was making me so unhappy.

The things I'm thinking about from the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth are these:  forget about good and allow events to change you.
Forget about good:  good is a known quantity .  Good is what we all agree on.  Growth is not necessarily good.  Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research.  As long as you stick to good you'll never have real growth.
Allow events to change you:  you have to be willing to grow.  Growth is different from something that happens to you.  You produce it.  You live it.   The prerequisites for growth:  the openness to experience event and the willingness to be changed by them.
 For me, I think good is like the low bar, the one that I don't want to set as my goal.  The truth is that going for a high bar is not easy, and that before you do eventually reach it you will fail many times.  I suppose the secret is to not allow people to treat you as failures, not allow it to affect your self-esteem.  As teachers I think it is our job to stretch ourselves and our students - to aim a little further than we currently think we are able to reach.  To be open to the bad experiences as well as the good, and to learn from the bad and to grow from that learning and to make decisions to move on and flourish in new directions.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Two monologues don't make a dialogue: empathetic listening

What is empathy and why is it important?  Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else.  I was interested to read that the word has only been in use for about 100 years (I wonder why?). Empathy is also one of the PYP attitudes where it is defined as "imagining oneself in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."

Most people do not listen with the aim of understanding others - they are listening with the aim of replying, which means they are preparing to speak (about themselves/their opinion/feeling) instead of listening to what someone else is saying.  Conversations that result from this sort of listening have been described as "collective monologues".  Empathetic listening is different because it means you are listening with the intention of understanding another person and getting inside their perspective.  It doesn't involve agreeing with this perspective, but it does involve understanding the person on an emotional as well as an intellectual level.  It goes beyond listening with your ears, to encompass "listening" with your eyes and your heart.  Essentially this implies you are listening for meaning, and watching for behaviour and feeling.  The reason why it is so important to listen empathetically is that it gives us accurate data to work with and because it means we are seeking first to understand, before we are trying to be understood which is one of the habits of effective people.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Focus on your strengths - part 2

Having recently completed the Gallup StrengthsFinder analysis, I'm now thinking of how to apply these strengths.  The report that comes with the survey suggests many ways in which to build on your "signature strengths".  My 5 strengths are as follows:

Learner - no surprises here as I'm constantly wanting to learn and improve myself.  The report highlights that it is the process of learning rather than the outcome that is exciting (I agree).  Because of this I have little difficulty in giving intense effort to projects.  Here are the suggestions for application of the Learner strength:
  • be a catalyst for change - willingness to soak up newness can calm others' fears and spur them to action
  • shift your career towards a field with constantly changing technologies (already done!)
  • you might excel in a consulting role in which you go into new situations and pick up new competencies (I would love to do this)
  • when people have the opportunity to learn and grow they are more productive and loyal (definitely true of me) - look for ways to measure the degree to which you and others feel that your learning needs are being met to create individualized learning milestones and to reward achievements in learning (busy with this - thinking about Open Badges).
Input - a craving to know more and to collect and archive all kinds of information - again a very accurate description of me.  The survey also picked up that I welcome opportunities to think out loud about ideas and to keep abreast of the news, or in my case anything new.  Here are the suggestions for application of the Input strength:
  • look for jobs in which you are charged with acquiring new information each day (I have such a job)
  • identify ways to share information with individuals and groups who can benefit from your knowledge
  • leverage the knowledge and turn it into action.
Achiever - I have a great deal of stamina and work hard.  I like to complete work on schedule and pursue goals until they are reached.  I'm a good advisor to many individuals and I enjoy launching new initiatives.  To apply this strength further:
  • select jobs that allow you to have leeway to work as hard as you want and in which you am encouraged to measure my own productivity
  • build celebration and recognition into my life as you tend to move onto the next challenge without acknowledging your success
  • the prospect of what lies ahead is infinitely more motivating than what has been completed - launch initiatives and new projects as your endless reserve of energy will create enthusiasm and momentum
Intellection - I read avidly and like to ponder what I have read, and I acquire knowledge more easily when I can talk with others about ideas.  To move forward with this strength:
  • deliberately build relationships with people who are "big thinkers"
  • take time to write as this is the best way to crystallize and integrate my thoughts
Connectedness - this was the one I felt was least like me.  However I do agree with the description of being able to welcome a wide array of people into my life.  To develop this strength I need to seek out global or cross-cultural responsibilities which again is really interesting to me.

The process of identifying my strengths has been an interesting one, and I will certainly delve deeper into the various suggestions.  Reflecting one year on from my move to India, I feel I am in a place where these strengths are valued and where I am encouraged to develop them further.  What a difference a year makes!

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Focus on your strengths

A couple of weekends ago I was involved in a coaching workshop.  Before this workshop I had to fill out a Gallup survey to determine my strengths.  The idea behind this is that people who focus on their strengths are 3 times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life.  In the workplace, people who focus on their strengths are more engaged, more productive and happier, and those who are given the opportunities to focus on their strengths every day are 6 times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and to be more productive both individually and in teams.

Oftentimes when we have goal setting meetings we say we want to work on the things that we are weak at and want to improve.  Gallup turns this idea on its head, and instead focuses on developing the strengths that you already have.  Research has identified 34 strengths that exist within everyone, but Gallup defines the "signature strengths" which dominate a person's actions and behaviours.  Once you discover and develop your strengths, this helps you to achieve your full potential.  In addition, knowing and developing the strengths of the people you are working with helps you become a better leader and allows you to maximize the full potential of the team.

Here is one of my strengths and a suggestion for developing it:
Your mind is open and absorbent. You naturally soak up information in the same way that a sponge soaks up water. But just as the primary purpose of the sponge is not to permanently contain what it absorbs, neither should your mind simply store information. Input without output can lead to stagnation. As you gather and absorb information, be aware of the individuals and groups that can most benefit from your knowledge, and be intentional about sharing with them.
I was interested to read this and think it is absolutely true.  I think for years I have felt driven to share the knowledge I have and the continual learning that I am doing about how technology can transform teaching and learning.  This is what led me to blog, to use Twitter and to now be involved in facilitating online courses.  I now realize that one of the reasons why I was so unhappy in a previous school was because this very strength was not valued at all - openly sharing this knowledge was discouraged.  Coming to understand this is one of the keys why I am so happy in my new job.  At ASB we believe in openness and sharing, and we are constantly communicating about what we are doing.  Our R&D Task Force reports are open for everyone to read on the Findings blog - we hope that other schools can learn from us and not have to "reinvent the wheel" themselves.  I think the strength and suggestion for developing it identified by the Gallup survey was extremely accurate and I feel blessed to be working in a place that has allowed me to recognize that this is a strength.  As a result I am now engaged, productive and happy!

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