Sunday, March 22, 2015

Making a ripple -v- making a dent

Leaders are the people who arrive in the future before anybody else - Bill Cook

I'm writing this in a fairly exhausted physical and mental state, having spent around 8 hours a day for the past 2 days involved in ASB's strategic planning process.  It's really exciting to be thinking about where we are as a school and where we want to go, in a time where the future is changing fast and where that change is bound to impact education.  I feel fortunate to be working at a school in India, a country that is growing and where change is accelerating, and I'm excited to be at a school where I feel there is more potential for change than in schools in many First World countries.  I also feel fortunate to have spent the past 2 days having amazing conversations with school leaders, teachers and parents.

International education is growing fast, in fact it is predicted the number of international schools will double over the next 10 years.  Currently there are around 4 million students in international schools around the world, by 2025 the numbers are predicted to be 8.26 million, which means the number of international teachers will also double (from around 350,000 to around 700,000).

We spoke a lot about empowering students to develop their full potential, based on their interests and passions as well as their abilities and aptitudes.  We talked about the necessity of recruiting and developing educators who will deliver a relevant and challenging programme, and we also talked about character and the kinds of people we'd like to see our students become.

This afternoon we were talking about our vision, and someone suggested the word "ripple".  I really liked this metaphor of what we are doing spreading out in ever widening circles.  However later I also heard the word "dent", as in the Steve Job's quote "making a dent in the universe".  Is this more what we are going to do, I wonder?  ASB is already a thought leader in education, and as we plan for where we are going in the next 5 years I have a feeling that sharing our direction and vision will be important for many schools around the world.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

4 pillars of the flip

Over the past few months I've co-led a face to face IB Continuum on Flipping Classrooms, and have recently facilitated an online version of the same workshop.  Interest in the flip is growing, and I was really pleased to see how enthusiastic the workshop participants were in making changes in their own practice, so that direct instruction could be shifted outside of the classroom, and teachers could reconsider how to best use their time in class with students.

Yesterday one of my online workshop participants posted a link to a Review of Flipped Learning.  I found this a great resource as it outlines the things that students can do with this "extra" class time, once they have watched the videos at home and prepared themselves with the content, such as collaborating on projects and other forms of active learning.  It also mentions things that teachers can do, such as coaching students to give them more control over their own learning.

Here are the 4 pillars of flipped learning:
  • F is for Flexible Environments - as there is no/less lecture style lessons, many flipped classrooms use their learning space differently.  Students may be involved in group work, while others are studying individually.  There is flexibility over when and how students learn, how long it takes to learn something and how students are assessed.
  • L is for Learning Culture - the teacher is no longer the "sage on the stage", as there is a shift to a more student-centred approach.  
  • I is for Intentional Content - as teachers evaluate the content that needs to be taught directly and what students can explore on their own.
  • P is for Professional Educators - teachers need to make choices about when and how to shift direct instruction from the group to the individual learning space.
While flipped learning is relatively new, the pedagogies that underpin it have been studied extensively.  For example shifting to active learning is known to improve student performance, higher level thinking, engagement and a more positive attitude towards learning.   Studies also show that flipped learning can have a positive effect in English language learners.  In traditional classrooms, many of these students focus solely on the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy - remembering and understanding the teacher.  Once this instruction is moved outside the classroom, these students can focus on understanding the content at home and use class time for engaging in the upper levels of the taxonomy, such as applying and creating, where they are using their emerging English skills with native speakers.

Teachers who have flipped their instruction have reported that as well as students being more engaged, standardized test scores improved and they themselves experienced more job satisfaction. Students feel they have more positive interactions with teachers and more choice about following their interests in their learning.  Generally learning becomes more differentiated and personalized.

Is there a down side to flipped learning?  Gary Stager believes there may be.  Flipping the classroom does nothing to address the issue of too much content, and he has also expressed concern that making the videos may be farmed out to others, thus leading to a more standardized experience (similar, I guess, to everyone using the same textbook).  In my workshops I have seen teachers using content that was already created, but I have also seen them personalize this content for their own students.  In fact one thing that Bergmann and Sams discuss is that watching videos made by different teachers may tap into different students' learning styles, and that some teachers may well be more knowledgeable in some areas than others.

Overall the review of flipped learning is a positive one.  It is early days, but I hope to work with many more educators who want to give flipped learning a try.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Discussing the Nondiscussables

Last week I was on a Cognitive Coaching workshop in Europe.  It was absolutely wonderful to be back in a place that I called home for 3 years, with beautiful views, fresh air and with people I had worked with who, in the dark days of being lied to and lied about, were supportive and generous with their ideas.  Next week I'm going to be facilitating a PYP collaborative planning workshop for the IB, and as always before such workshops, I prepare by going through the course materials and readings.  So today I read a article that was published 9 years ago in Educational Leadership entitled Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse by Roland S. Barth.  Barth maintains that the quality of a school and of student accomplishment is influenced above all else by the relationships of adults within the school.  If the relations between admin and teachers are helpful, trusting and cooperative then relations between teachers, students and parents are likely to be similar.  If, however, relationships between admin and teachers are fearful, competitive, suspicious and corrosive, then these same attitudes will hang over the entire school community.

Barth writes about what he called the nondiscussables - such factors as the leadership of the principal, or personal visions of excellence.  In fact he writes that these factors are indeed discussed - but in the car park or over a cup of coffee or glass of wine after school and never at faculty or PTA meetings - and that improvement in school culture is impossible when these nondiscussables have such power over us.  He characterises relationships at school into 4 categories:
  1. Parallel play - seen in many schools where teachers work in self-contained classrooms with the doors shut.  It's also characterised by school principles who see each other's schools as "competition" and who don't communicate or share, even though they are only a short distance away.
  2. Adversarial relationships - either overt or in subtle ways by withholding information or support.  In these schools teachers may summon up the courage to share important learning at faculty meetings, for example, only to be faced with the "tall poppy syndrome" where they are cut down and put back into their place.  Some schools also covertly encourage competition for resources, promotional opportunities and other recognition.  This reinforces the culture of parallel play, where teachers keep their heads down and shut their classroom doors to escape the conflicts outside.
  3. Congenial relationships - these are interactive and positive, personal and friendly.  For many teachers in schools with a poor culture, it is these relationships that get them into school each day.
  4. Collegial relationships - these are the hardest to establish, but flourish in schools where teachers are part of a professional learning community.
How can school leaders move their schools from parallel play with adversarial relationships to places with congenial and collegial relationships?  Barth sees this happening in the following ways:
  • encouraging educators to talk together about practice
  • encouraging educators to share their craft knowledge
  • educators observing one another 
  • educators rooting for one another's success
Stepping away from my school and being immersed in the culture of another is always a great opportunity to reflect.  This week, back at ASB, I'm feeling blessed to be in such a dynamic, supportive and collegial school, where we know that together we can make things happen.

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Solving -v- Resolving

I've just been to the Inter-Community School of Zurich where I've completed Days 5 - 8 of the Cognitive Coaching Foundation Training.  Much of this time was spent getting familiar with a new map:  the problem-resolving conversation.   This map is very different from the previous two where a goal has already been set.  In the problem-resolving map teachers often cannot envision a goal or a desired state because they are caught up in the present with a wicked problem.   They are stressed and feel overwhelmed because their resources are low.  They know what they don't want, but can't yet imagine what they do want.

One of the first things we learned about with this map was that often when we listen to someone who is "stuck" in the present, we tend to do something called "solution listening".  We focus on analyzing the problem rather than focusing on the desired state.  If we believe we are responsible for coming up with other people's solutions, then what we are doing is keeping others from coming up with their own creative responses.  Therefore with the problem resolving conversation we do validate the present situation and the emotions that are connected with it, and then we quickly move away from the problem and on to the desired state.  Previous maps dealt with the future (the planning map) or the past (the reflecting map) but the problem-resolving map is all about the present.  At the same time it's important to know where the end point of the journey will be:  you can't decide on your route until you know your destination.

As a coach, during the problem-resolving conversation you need to set aside your comprehension of the issue (it's not necessary for you to understand or to know what has led up to the existing state - we are not therapists or counsellors), and you also need to set aside your own comfort and wish for closure.

I was really interested to read about the science behind this map.  The problem-resolving map is used for people in stressful situations - they are dealing with the freeze/flight/fight emotions which means their brains are no longer thinking or reflecting but are simply in reflexive mode.  These are the times when you have the churning in your stomach as you get out of bed, not wanting to go into work or face another day dealing with difficult individuals.  In these situations coaching can really help to get people out of the reactive, survival mode and into one where they can think productively.  And coaching helps in another way too:  talking about an issue with another person activates more parts of the brain than just thinking about the issue alone.

In the problem-resolving map, the coach honours and acknowledges the existing state.  S/he will first say "You're ... (emotion), because ... (content)".  This lets the coachee know that the coach understands in an empathetic and non-judgemental way.  Once the coach receives a reaction to this paraphrase (called a BMIR) that lets him or her know that the emotion and content have struck a chord, then the coach can move forward to mediate thinking that draws on the internal resources of the coachee in order to frame a possible desired state.  At this point the focus is all about what the other person wants to be, have or feel, so the coach will say "And what you want is to ..... (goal connected with feeling, being or having), and you're looking for a way to make that happen."  This is called the pathway, and it is then up to the coach to ask questions that tap into the 5 states of mind (consciousness, craftsmanship, efficacy, flexibility and interdependence) that help the coachee to think further on the solution - the problem has been left behind, as brain research indicates that you cannot think about a problem and a solution at the same time.

Resolving a problem is different from solving it, it's a more dynamic process.  We are not looking for a quick fix, and we want to encourage thinking as opposed to doing during this conversation.  The coach, in fact, walks alongside the coachees and reflects back to them what they are saying.  The coach has to let go of the solution, let go of the fact that s/he may never know closure.  The entire aim of this conversation is that the coachee is left feeling more resourceful and so it is possible to end the problem-resolving map with either a reflection on the process or with a "walk away" question that will encourage further thought.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The impact of social media

In the final week of the IBO online workshop on Flipping Classrooms we discussed using social media in the classroom.  One of the participants shared a video that has been used by her IT department when introducing the power of social media to both teachers and students.  There are a lot of talking points that can come out of this video.

This is actually an advert for the Guardian which looks at how the story of the three little pigs might be covered today online and in print.  It has won various advertising awards for its storytelling.  Perhaps this is a good provocation that could be used to introduce a unit on the critical evaluation of messages presented in the media and our responsibilities when using virtual environments.  I'm thinking it could be an ideal resource for our central idea "Digital tools change the way in which people access information and connect to each other".

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