Saturday, December 31, 2016

Living with dementia: the sandwich generation

It's the last day of 2016, and as always I like to look back to see which of my posts have been most popular throughout this year.  I was surprised to see that this year the posts that have got really high hits have been the ones where I have written about my mother's dementia, and how I have been exploring some iPad apps with her to see how she reacts to them.  Dementia is of course a very common issue today: in the UK alone more than half a million elderly women are living with dementia, though it's not just a disease of the elderly, with around 50,000 sufferers below the age of 65, and it's not just a "Western" disease as the largest increases in dementia are currently in China, India and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Globally around 47 million people are living with dementia.

Dementia leads to memory loss, changes in behaviour, confusion and disorientation and difficulties in communicating and my mother is experiencing all of these things.  There are no treatments that can stop or slow down dementia, though mum has tried medication to help her live with the symptoms a little better.  Basically what we are looking at is that the disease will continue to get worse over time.

This summer, as many of you know, our daughter left university having finished her Master's.  Both our children are now working, which should be a time for us to take a bit of a breather financially and to start to save for retirement.  But as part of the "sandwich" generation, the generation that is caring for both children and parents, it's clear that my time and money will now need to be diverted into the care of my mother.  I am needing to think about relocating back to Europe at least for part of the year, and I'm not yet sure how to do this.  I've considered (and applied for) jobs in European schools and I've wondered how realistic it might be to work as a consultant, or to lead IB workshops and school visits for the time I will be in Europe.  At this point, I don't have any answers and I'm running out of ideas.  However what I do know is that thousands of my readers are based at schools in Europe - and that some of you might have some ideas or know of schools that are looking for someone to work part-time, or someone to run workshops, or someone to give advice and support about technology integration, someone who can support a school as it goes through the process of becoming PYP, or someone to introduce a culture of coaching.  If you are able to give me any information or any leads that I could follow up - please reach out to me and let me know.

Life has taught me that when one door closes a window often opens.  I know what I need to do now is to hang on in there until that window opens - even though where I am right now is a pretty dark place!

Let's see what 2017 brings. Happy New Year to you all!

Photo Credit: Pen Waggener Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why Millennials struggle

I have two children who are millennials - so I'm always interested in reading or hearing about their experiences, in this case why Millennials struggle with career success (they want purpose and to make an instant impact).  Simon Sinek puts this down to 4 main factors:

  • parenting - where they were told they were special and could have anything in life - yet in the real world this is not the case and this leads to lower self esteem.
  • technology - in particular social media and cell phones which can be addictive.
  • impatience - a world of instant gratification, which doesn't lead to job satisfaction and strong relationships.
  • environment in the workplace that cares about short-term gains rather than lifetime gains.

This video is funny and insightful and has me questioning whether I should buy an alarm clock and ditch my cell phone - and it makes me realise why I get so annoyed with my children who want to use their cellphones while we are together eating or playing a game.  Watch it to the end, and watch out for the reaction of the Millennials in the audience too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Making the biggest difference

Every teacher wants to make a difference, but with so many ideas and strategies coming in and out of vogue a question often asked is what makes the biggest difference to students' success.  Educational researchers such as Marzano and Hattie have reviewed data from hundreds of studies and they agree that the following are the most important:
  • A clear focus - students do better when teachers are clear about what they are learning and when this new learning is challenging compared to where they currently are.  Both agree that the goals need to be shared with the students.
  • Direct instruction - Marzano believes the most important factor in student success is to explicitly teach the things that students need to learn and showing students what they need to be able to do.
  • Engagement with the content - both Hattie and Marzano agree that students need to link what they are learning with their prior knowledge.  Both felt that teacher questions, note taking and using manipulatives were valuable here, but only for surface engagement.  For deep understanding, using graphic organizers to show how the new material is organized is more effective.
  • Feedback - letting students know what is good and bad in their work and how they can improve.  Interestingly struggling students need immediate feedback whereas the more successful students do better when feedback is delayed.
  • Multiple exposure - combined with rehearsal and review of what has previously been learnt.  Practice is seen as being really important here.
  • Application of knowledge beyond the particular topic - so that students come to generalize their learning.  One aspect of application is problem-solving for real-world issues.
  • Collaboration - when students work together they achieve better results.  However both Hattie and Marzano believe groups should be small and that this cooperative work needs to be well structured (so students need to be taught how to work in groups).
  • Self-efficacy - students who believe they can master new learning are likely to be able to do so.  This fits in with Carol Dweck's work on growth mindsets.  Teachers can encourage this through sparing praise (too much send the message that you value mediocrity).  As students belief in themselves is reflected in their achievements, this in turn leads to them being more self-efficacious.  
No great surprises here, though I was curious to see the value of direct instruction, since much of what we do in the PYP is inquiry-based.  I was especially curious to read this article because after Christmas I'm mentoring a new teacher at ASB and I'm thinking that each of these areas could provide a great area for observation and subsequent discussion about what I noticed.  

Photo Credit: duane.schoon Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, December 5, 2016

Approaches to teaching and learning

I took part in another IB webinar last week.  There were 1600 registered participants for this webinar - WOW I thought, it's great that so many educators are taking part with a view to strengthening IB programme implementation.  Our focus this week was on Standards C3 - teaching and learning.  One thing we talked about was that we are moving to alignment within and between the programmes.  Also we are not just focusing on Approaches to Learning (ATLs) but also Approaches to Teaching:

At this point we were challenges to look at our own curriculum and to see what can be improved upon with the Approaches to Teaching.

Another area touched upon was how far policies drive the practices in our schools.  Our policies represent our own schools' contexts and beliefs and as such they should be "living" documents and not just sit on a shelf.  Also the Action Plans that we make should not just be addressed at times of evaluation - they need to be looked at continually to strengthen the programme.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I want to challenge that!

Today I spent the whole day at school putting into practice my learning about the 6 Thinking Hats.  As we are re-thinking structures at ASB, our task as volunteers was to come up with ideas to conserve and grow ASB's culture of innovation in the areas of personnel, systems and processes and non-human resources.  We started the day with an introduction to the Thinking Hats, and then went on to deepen our understanding of how these can work by considering challenges.  It's important to know that a challenge is never an attack or a criticism, but it's a challenge to something that seems perfect - to see if you can do it an another, different way.  A challenge is always based on what the existing situation is and it can challenge both what is going on and what you are thinking.  The key word for challenges is why: in fact we are challenging something that is not broken but just asking why it's the way it is.

When considering why, there are 3 approaches:
  • Alternatives - challenging uniqueness - asking "Is this the only way?"
  • Because - challenging the reasons and asking if they are valid
  • Cut - challenging the necessity and asking "Do we need to do this at all?"
When challenging traditional thinking we need to start with the C (do we need it?) and then move onto B (are the reasons we are doing this valid?) and finally the A (are there other ways of doing this?"

We were given a checklist to work through when considering our issue, which in our group was non-human resources.  The checklist was made up of 5 areas:
  • Dominating ideas, thoughts and beliefs that control the situation
  • Boundaries that we think we need to work within
  • Assumptions  that we are making - do they just exist in our minds?
  • Essential factors that have to be present
  • Avoidance factors
Having considered all the above, we we able to use to Green Thinking Hat to come up with a lot of new ideas.  For example just challenging the notion that the school day runs from 8 am to 4 pm would give us many new ideas to work with. Perhaps there could be 2 "shifts" with elementary running in the morning and secondary in the afternoon, for example.  We ended up with many new ideas, and then these were sorted into a grid based on the impact they would have on student learning and how sustainable they would be once the present faculty who were advocating for them left the school.

In the top right quadrant (high impact on learning and sustainable) we had about 50 ideas.  These were then numbered and we were each given 18 stickers to write down the number of our favourite ideas. Once these were then sorted and grouped, 4 main ideas came to the surface:
  • Becoming a green school
  • Exploring outdoor education and the use of green spaces around the campuses
  • Multi-age approaches to inquiry
  • Building an off-site innovation centre 
All of these seemed great ideas to work with - and hopefully we will take these forward to grow ASB's culture of innovation.

Photo Credit: Hampton Roads Partnership Flickr via Compfight cc