Thursday, October 30, 2014

Privacy - is it always a good thing?

A couple of weeks ago we ran a parent session about keeping children safe online.  At the time we pointed out that many very young children already have a digital footprint - it is one that has been created for them by their parents who have posted family photos and information online.  For most of us there is already "big data" about where we live, how old we are, our family and friends, where we shop, what we buy, what movies we have seen, what music we have downloaded, photos we've added to various sites about places we have been, our medical records, pharmaceuticals we've taken, websites we have visited, our emails, tweets, phone calls and messages we have sent and received and images of us taken on security cameras.  Most of us have given up all this data willingly - we are happy to trade our privacy, safety and security because we see the benefits of greater connectivity.

In his book 21 Trends for the 21st Century, Gary Marx writes that in the face to face world we have more control over our identity and privacy than in the online world, where invasions of privacy and unwanted attentions are commonplace.  At ASB we take all this very seriously.  We want to educate our parents and children about these issues so that they can be aware of the risks and make good decisions about privacy.  Recently a jihadist was arrested in India for making threats on a website against our school.  This got me thinking about the benefits that are associated with monitoring all our data and the importance of striking a balance between our safety and our civil liberties.   Marx asks an interesting question:  who should be monitored - and in the interest of fairness, should everyone be monitored?  Shouldn't we all be happy that data is being collected because it can prevent terrorist activities or help to capture criminals?  And how private should private be, especially if it impacts on the safety of our community?

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What's on the horizon for schools in Europe?

After reading the Horizon Report on international schools in Asia a couple of weeks ago, today I turned my attention to European schools.  I've worked in both public and private schools in 3 European countries, and the likelihood is that at some point in the future I will return to work in Europe again.  I'm therefore very curious to know which trends and technologies are driving change in Europe and what are the challenges that need to be overcome.

The Horizon Report for Europe identifies 2 major trends as being imminent in schools in Europe:  the changing role of teachers as a result of technology and the impact of social media.  Further away (around 2-3 years from adoption) the focus will be on open educational resources and on the use of both traditional and virtual learning methods.  European schools see students' low digital competence as being a major challenge, in particular when it comes to actively participating in the design of learning activities.  The more widespread use of cloud and tablet computing, however, are seen as being the drivers of change.

The report identifies the rise of digital learning as being one factor that has called into question the traditional education paradigm of learning taking place face-to-face in the classroom.  More and more hybrid learning systems are growing in importance.  Already many teachers in Europe are participating in online communities using social media, where they are discussing more student-centred and hands-on learning.  The Horizon Report predicts that there will be a major transformation in the role of teachers in Europe over the coming 2 years.

A fast trend identified for European education is that students will increasingly use social media to connect with their peers for learning purposes.  Teachers will need to address issues around social media use with their students.  Teachers are already expected to be able to use technology to deliver content, support learners and conduct assessments, and related to this teachers have already changed the way that they are involved in professional development - using more social media and online tools for their own professional learning.  In fact throughout Europe the teacher's role is becoming more than of a mentor, working with individuals and groups during class while allowing students to have more control over their learning.  Teachers are also exploring ways of flipping their classrooms and finding different ways to use class time.

Although learning analytics seems to be around 2-3 years away from widespread use in schools in Asia, it is seen as being even further away in Europe - in fact the report identifies that data driven learning and assessment for European schools is at least 5 years away from large-scale use.  As I'm working at a school that does use data to inform decisions, and having seen the enormous impact that discussions about this data can have on student learning, I'm hoping that this trend will in fact pick up pace before I think about returning to Europe.

I was really interested to read this latest report and to think about the differences identified between schools in Europe and Asia.  To access a PDF of the 2014 NMC Horizon Report for Europe please click here.

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The technology outlook for international schools in Asia

Recently my colleague Sharon Brown-Peters and myself worked on an article for the Convergence email that is sent out to ASB parents every week.  We wrote this after reading the recently published Horizon Report 2014 NMC Technology Outlook for International Schools in Asia and we reflected on how ASB is doing in comparison with other leading international schools in this region. Sharon has also posted a version of this article on her blog that includes a link to a video made during one of our Maker Saturdays. ASB has been holding Maker Saturdays since November 2013. These happen once and month and are times when families come together to build and  tinker with different materials and kits.  Each Saturday has 4 headline events that are related to science, art, programming, technology, design and engineering.  ASB has also produced a document about Maker Spaces for families which you may find useful.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Too much, too little, too many

I'm hoping to facilitate a Flipped Classroom online workshop for the IB soon, so I've been reading more about individual teachers' experiences with flipping their classrooms and flipping student learning.  In Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams' book Flipped Learning:  Gateway to Student Engagement a number of teachers tell their story.  The reason why many decided to give flipped learning a try was in response to the challenge of too much curriculum to cover, too little time to do it in, and too many students all with different learning paces, styles and needs.

Teachers such as Carolyn Durley write about how they used to spend time on "content organization, behaviour modification, class control, entertainment and engagement" - areas that might be useful for passing exams, but which did not promote deep learning.  She writes that she knew she needed to find more time to explore things like inquiry, Understanding by Design, Project Based Learning and so on, and that removing content delivery from the face-to-face time in class allowed her to have more meaningful conversations about learning with her students.  In turn this led her to understand that "many students can be responsible for their own learning" as long as they get the support to identify their ideas of difficulty and to make a plan of action to overcome this.  Flipping the class enabled Carolyn to give her students the time and assistance they needed to take charge of their own progress.

Carolyn started her flipped teaching journey the same way that many teachers do - by making videos.  After this she was free to use the time in class to concentrate on differentiation and developing a more student focused classroom.  Steve Kelly, who wrote another chapter in the book,  also describes how in the past he was focused on finding enough time to get through the curriculum, but after flipping the learning he has been able to introduce digital-age projects that use higher-order thinking as his students apply their learning to new situations.  I was interested in Steve's description of the video projects his students make which he describes as one-shot takes.  He writes "students must prepare more than they would for an edited video, since they only get once chance to get it right."

With the Ebola crisis, many schools around the world are starting to think about what they will do if, as in the case of some international schools in Africa, they are forced to shut down for a period of time.  In this situation it would be good for teachers to have a bank of videos ready to use with students who are forced to stay at home and learn.  Discussing these contingency plans in the event of an emergency school closure, could be one way of getting teachers to start thinking about and preparing videos for flipping their classrooms.

More examples of the benefits of flipped learning can be found in the recently published ISTE book Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hedgehogs and the 4th circle

In our Leadership PLC we are moving on to discuss the hedgehog concept.  This comes from Jim Collins' book Good to Great where he writes about a hedgehog knowing one big thing, in contrast to a fox that knows many things and pursues many ends at the same time in a scattered or diffused way without a unifying vision.  Hedgehogs live in more simple worlds based on a single idea or principal - they see what is essential and ignore the rest.  And of course, the hedgehog always wins.

Jim Collins writes about the hedgehog concept flowing from a deep understanding of 3 circles:

  • What you can be best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine
  • What you are passionate about
He writes that you need all 3 circles to be great.  Although I missed the last Leadership PLC meeting the question that was asked was this:  to consider our responses to the 3 circles and then to add a 4th circle in:  what the world needs.

These are all huge questions.  Best in the world - so hard to say.  There are lots of things I'm good at, for example I think in my previous schools I have been good at helping all teachers, no matter what their level of expertise, to move forward and integrate technology in an authentic way to improve student learning, but I would never claim to be best in the world (though I've often claimed that I'm working at the best school in the world!)  Money - another hard question.  I guess I simply need enough to get by and support my family.  Nobody ever goes into teaching for the money or to get rich, though international education does mostly give a very comfortable life because of the benefits packages, and for me the thing that is absolutely priceless is that I've been able to give my own children an international education in the schools where I have worked.  Teaching couples do better of course, but often it has been hard to support a family of 4 on one steady income - so something more than money keeps me in the job which can only be what I'm passionate about.

Because I truly believe that all children can learn, I think what I have is a vision of education that is individualized and tailored to each child, and so I believe that it's important that we value the way each child learns and the diverse ways that they want to express their learning.  To me education is the key to a better, more enriched life.  My brother and I were the first people ever in the entire history of our family to be educated beyond secondary school - this education has given us opportunities, choices and opened doors for us that our parents and grandparents never had.  I have been passionate about passing these opportunities on to my own children and to the children I have taught.  I'm passionate about the way that education can make a difference, and, according to our school's mission statement, that it can allow us to pursue our dreams.

What the world needs.  Empathy, tolerance, understanding, compassion.  For sure, an education that develops these values, that promotes international mindedness, is what the world needs.

This diagram isn't the 4 intersecting circles that it should have been, but hopefully it's clear enough!  I'd love to hear from more teachers:  what are you passionate about, what are you best at, what drives you economically and what do you think the world needs?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leadership, motivation and change

As I continue to think about leadership for change, I'm considering the chapter in Michael Fullan's book Change Leader entitled Motivate the Masses.  Fullan writes that to be a successful change leader it's important to be able to motivate people - in order to have the commitment of the group behind him or her.  The thing that most motivates people is experiencing success/improvement.   Fullan argues that motivation doesn't come first, and then followed by better implementation - it is the accomplishment that comes first that then causes motivation to increase.

Fullan writes about something called "motion leadership" for change that has 9 characteristics:
  • Putting relationships first - very important in new leaders because if you want to encourage people to change you have to first build a relationship and not simply take action.  It's important to listen and to solve problems collaboratively, which may mean slowing down, getting to know everyone and engaging everyone in determining goals.
  • Focus on the right priorities and take action sooner rather than later - beware of "fat plans" that take a long time to implement and see any impact.
  • Change behaviours before beliefs - new experiences lead to new emotions and feelings so successful leaders need to create purposeful experiences that lead to changed behaviours.
  • Watch out for the "implementation dip".  Anyone who experiences change knows that you go through a honeymoon period and then a dip.  Change is hard so leaders need to work on building capacity and working through frustrations and times when gains are hard to see.  A good leader understands and helps people to get through the dip.  (It occurs to me that this is very typical of international teachers moving to a new job/country - at first it seems great but around about October people find themselves in a dip.  A good leader needs to empathize with this and support teachers as they move through the dip.)
  • Communicate during implementation - Fullan writes that this is more important than communicating before implementation.  It's important that this is open, two-way communication so that leaders can see what the problems are and perhaps redefine the goals.
  • Learn during implementation - build collaborative cultures so that people can give feedback and learn from each other.
  • Avoid hype before implementation - but strive for small, early successes because excitement comes from seeing the results of doing something worthwhile.
  • Encourage people to take risks in order to learn - successful leaders need to establish a non-judgemental culture and appreciating that people learn from mistakes.
  • Combine authority with democracy - good leaders can be assertive when they have good ideas only after they have built relationships that empower people to act upon the ideas.
In situations of change, motion leaders need first to establish the conditions where people become intrinsically motivated and collectively take ownership of the initiative so that they are committed to keeping it going.  Once staff are motivated they will become the leaders who will sustain the changes.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Leadership and Change

I've been reading a lot about leadership recently, and at the same time am in a school environment leading a subject (technology) that is constantly changing.  In recent discussions with teachers in other schools, I've been asked about how teachers can be persuaded to change - mostly this question was asked in relation to getting them more onboard with technology.  What I've often replied is that it's no use spending a lot of time winning hearts and minds, but that if you change practice, belief will follow.

Michael Fullan writes a lot about change and leadership and in his book Change Leader the first chapter is devoted to this idea - that practice drives theory.  He writes that while theory can be useful in moving forward, it is the day to day practices of a leader that provides learning and so becomes the most powerful tool for change.  One thing he recommends is to examine the successful practices of others, to try out these ideas for yourself and then to draw conclusions about what you have learned.  It is reflective practice that leads to discovery about what works.

I really like the term "deliberate practice".  Fullan explains that most of us are not born with talent but that we can develop it deliberately through practice and extensive feedback.  He writes "practice is the driver of improvement."

There are a lot of overlaps with Michael Fullan's work and that of Jim Collins.  Collins refers to Level 5 Leaders as having an unwavering resolve to do what needs to be done, Fullan calls this "resolute leadership" - focusing on a small number of key priorities and staying the course.  However this is not enough as there are numerous examples of leaders who have stuck to a particular course regardless of the human dynamics.  Fullan argues that you also need to have "impressive empathy". There needs to be ownership of change on the part of the people who work in schools, and where there are deep divisions purpose and empathy must be combined to bring about true and lasting change.

Fullan argues that you can learn to become a resolute leader, but at the same time you must develop empathy as you also need to believe that your teachers have the ability to grow and learn over time through practice.  In fact it is only empathy that allows the resoluteness of leaders to reach out and motivate people.

In all the books I'm reading, motivation is coming up as important, over and over again.  As I think more about leadership and change I feel I need to delve down more into what motivates people to want to change.  More thoughts about this coming soon.

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How many TWIRLS are your students doing?

Since doing an IB Workshop on Flipping Classrooms in August, I've had lots of people ask me about flipped learning - what do the students do at home and how do you use the class time?  As I've been reading about individual teachers' experiences with this, I came across the term TWIRLS as something that teachers want students to demonstrate on a daily basis.  This acronym stands for:
Listening and
One thing that struck me in the chapter by Crystal Kirch was that she said that before flipping her classroom there were a lot of TWIRLS going on in her classroom - but that they were being done by her and not by her students.  She described her students as "spoon-fed learners" who didn't take ownership of their learning.

Crystal writes about a tool she uses to help students engage with videos at home.  She calls it the WSQ tool.  Students first Watch and take guided notes.  They can re-watch the lesson as often as they want.  Then they need to Summarize what they have learned and to ask Questions about it on a Google Form.  Back in class, students spend the time discussing their learning - Crystal has already looked at the form and so has been able to break the class up into groups for "WSQ chats" or reteaching to individuals.  The questions the students have written are used in class to challenge other students and to guide discussions.

Brian Bennett also describes how he uses his class time in order to have engaged, active learning. He found he had to create new materials that pushed critical thinking, reasoning and questioning and just like Crystal, discovered interaction to be the key.  He writes that time discussing the material and working one-on-one with his students has made the biggest difference as "flipped learning is simply using technology to remove a component of a traditionally taught class, which allows us to focus on the more important things during the day."

More examples of how individual teachers have flipped their classrooms can be found in the recently published ISTE book Flipped Learning:  Gateway to Student Engagement by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.

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Leadership PLC - part 2

Last week I didn't make it to the Leadership PLC as I was out of school on a PYP Evaluation Visit.  Our group was looking at First Who ... Then What?  I have to admit that I was skeptical about this concept, having seen it used in a very negative way in the past as a way of getting rid of anyone who didn't "toe the line".  I was determined to look at it again afresh this time round.

The idea behind this concept is that it's important to get the right people onto the bus and the wrong people off the bus and then decide where to drive it.  Most school leaders do this the other way round - they decide where it's going to go first, and also, of course, for various reasons, in international schools it's often not very easy to simply get rid of teachers and replace them with new ones, especially in some schools that are in not so desirable locations.  I certainly do agree that if you start first with the who, and make sure that these are all dynamic and adaptable people, that you can more easily change direction to adapt to a changing world.  However I would say that the success of this depends entirely on having a Level 5 Leader.  Reflecting now, I think my previous experience with this concept was simply the result of having a Level 4 Leader making these decisions about the who, and as a result the wrong people were being kept on the bus.  Level 5 Leaders are those who are driven but at the same time humble, as opposed to Level 4 Leaders who are egocentric and like having "plastic people" around who make them feel good and simply submit to dictates.  Jim Collins writes: "If you have the wrong people, it doesn't matter whether you discover the right direction, you still won't have a great company.  Great vision without great people is irrelevant."  Great people with a Level 4 leader will also get nowhere.

One of the things I've come to see is that great leaders build other leaders, and I think this is the key difference between ASB and some other places where I've worked where the leadership didn't want strong people around them - a situation described as the "weak generals, strong lieutenants" model where generals are keep weak and the lieutenants stick around for lengthy periods.  This is totally the opposite of what happens in great schools where the leadership team is a "strong team of equal partners" some of whom move on to other great opportunities and themselves become leaders of great schools.

Another interesting concept I thought about this week is the model of "a genius with a thousand helpers", which is exactly what a Level 4 Leader is.  They don't build great teams because they don't need/want one, they simply want people to help implement their own ideas!  So this is what the difference looks like:

Level 5 Leader + Management Team -> gets the right people onto the bus and builds a great team -> then decides what is the best path to greatness
Level 4 Leader ("Genius") -> sets a vision of where to go and develops a road map -> then enlists a crew of "a thousand helpers" to make the vision happen.

I was interested (and pleased) to discover that there is no pattern linking compensation with moving from good to great.  The right people are building excellence for its own sake, they are doing the right things regardless of the compensation/incentive system.  The idea isn't to pay people more to do a good job, but to provide the environment where great people will thrive.  From personal experience this is certainly true.  I've moved from Switzerland, a country where salaries and quality of living were very high, to India where living can at times be quite difficult, yet the school environment is amazing.  Anyone who has been reading my blog for any length of time will know which place is the one where I've been able to thrive.  Jim Collins writes that good to great companies place a greater weight on character attributes than on educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge or work experience.  I think that is certainly something to aspire to.

As I was away last week I will need to catch up with what our next discussion topic will be.  In any case my next post about our Leadership PLC will be after the Diwali holiday.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Leadership PLC - part 1

Some years ago at a previous school I read the Jim Collins book Good to Great and hated it.  It was often referred to by admin as a way of putting people down (there was a lot of talk, for example, about getting people off the bus).  When I heard that our Leadership PLC was going to be discussing the book this year I wasn't very enthusiastic, yet this morning changed all that.  I was working with another teacher and we were discussing the question:  to measure schools going from good to great, what 5 variables would you consider?

This was a difficult question.   I think without a doubt we felt it was important to nurture the right people - which brought us onto a discussion of professional development and the importance of creating opportunities for growth and leadership.  We felt this was particularly true considering that Jim Collins' research showed that great leadership invariably comes from within the company rather than being recruited from outside.  We talked about how it is important to consider recruitment, retention and turnover along with PD (though in international schools with highly mobile educators this can be difficult).

We also talked about our core business and about how important a personalized or differentiated programme is to caters to different learner styles abilities and interests.  Our core business is learning, or perhaps preparing students for the future - but for which future?  For their future at ASB, for their future when they transfer to another school, for their future when they leave and go to college, or for life beyond college.  All these, it seems, could be pulling us in contradictory ways.

Another factor that we thought distinguishes schools that are going from good to great is that everyone is on board with the mission of the school - that everyone has a similar vision of what the best in the world looks like, and that we will not stop until we got there.  We talked about a culture of discipline that did not require a hierarchy, bureaucracy or excessive controls.

We talked about the fact that if you are not the best in the world at your core business then you need to change your core business.  This brought us on to a discussion about what we have to stop doing - what used to be the core business some years ago that we are still holding on to but that may now be unnecessary?  A few of us started to talk about grades and GPAs at this point.

Generally schools are very resistant to change - they settle for goodness rather than greatness, for mediocrity rather than for growth.  We talked about the fact that few other professions would be content with this.  One area we are dissatisfied with as a school and want to change is the whole process of teacher recruitment.  Schools are aware that the services that are offered by large recruitment organizations is poor and the cost of this poor service is high.  This year 35 international schools have decided that enough is enough - they have joined our global recruitment collaborative because they have decided that change needs to happen.

One of the final things we talked about was Level 5 leadership.  Collins' researchers noted that every company that moved from good to great had Level 5 leadership during the pivotal transition years. These leaders are ambitious for the company but display a remarkable sense of personal humility, and they work to set up their successors to be even more successful than they are.  Reflecting on this, and on the school leaders in the various schools where I have worked, it is really clear to see a difference between those Level 4 leaders who are simply egocentric and whose personalities/characters lead to mediocrity, and the Level 5 leaders who are not doing the job for personal gain.  And then I started to reflect on how these mediocre Level 4 leaders select others for leadership positions in their schools - and it is clear that they totally overlook those with the potential to evolve into Level 5 leaders.  In some cases it is even more toxic than that - it's the "tall poppy syndrome" of not wanting to be eclipsed by anyone else.

Here's our final question - why is it difficult for schools to have/find/nurture Level 5 leaders where the success of the school is more important than the success of the leader?  If anyone has any ideas on this, please leave me a comment below.

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