Saturday, October 21, 2017

Teaching kids real maths

I've been doing some research about teaching mathematics, and decided to start by reading and listening to the thoughts of the British technologist Conrad Wolfram, who for a number of years has been arguing that we need to rebuild a maths curriculum for the computer age and that students should be calculating "just like everyone does in the real world".  His argument is that school maths is very disconnected from the maths used to solve problems in the real world, and that it needs to be more practical, more conceptual and less mechanical.

I watched his TEDtalk where he states that maths is more important to the world than at any point in human history, yet at the same time there is falling interest in mathematics education, and a lot of this is because we are not teaching "real" maths in schools.  He argues that maths isn't something that is just done by mathematicians, it's done by geologists, engineers, biologists and so on, often using modelling and simulation, yet in education it is mostly being taught using "dumbed-down problems that involve lots of calculating, mostly by hand".

Conrad Wolfram talks about how mathematicss education should basically be done in 4 steps.
  • Posing the right question
  • Taking a real world problem and turning it into a maths problem
  • Computation
  • Taking the answer back to the real world and seeing if it answers the question
The real issue with the way maths is taught in schools today, argues Wolfram, is that most of the time is spent on step 3 - probably about 80% of the class time - and we are teaching students to do step 3 by hand despite the fact that this is the step that computers can do much better than any human.  He argues that we should be teaching students how to do steps 1, 2 and 4 which involves conceptualising problems and applying them, and teaching students how to use computers to do the computation.  He says
Math has been liberated from calculating. But that math liberation didn't get into education yet.
As Wolfram sees it, the problem is not that computers dumb down maths education, but that without them we can only pose dumbed-down problems to students right now.  We don't need to have students work through lots of examples in order to come to an understanding of mathematical concepts, what we really need to do is to teach students to understand how maths works, and the best way to do that is to teach programming, which makes maths both more conceptual and more practical.

Wolfram also argues that using computers in maths allows us to reorder the curriculum.  We currently teach according to how difficult something is to calculate - but he says we need to change this so that we reorder according to how difficult it is to understand the concepts - the calculating can be done by computer.  He talks about moving from the knowledge economy to the "computational knowledge economy" and this can only be done by a "completely renewed, changed maths curriculum built from the ground up" and based on using computers to perform the calculations.  Hearing this, as someone who really believes that technology can transform learning, I became very excited indeed!

Photo Credit: fdecomite Flickr via Compfight cc

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Future Forwards Volume 7: Exploring frontiers in education

Today ASB published the final volume of Future Forwards. The online edition is available at this link. Future Forwards is a collection of thoughts, hypotheses, discussions, and reflections on practices, research and ideas that are relevant to emerging new paradigms of teaching and learning. The focus of this volume is on prototyping.  This fits in nicely with my current reading on innovation, as in the introduction Shabbi and Scot write:
Prototyping results in new tangible innovations that educators, schools and school systems can see, try, evaluate and learn from as they focus on creating something new and better to meet the needs of their students in their schools.

In Volume 7 of Future Forwards you will read about a prototype in elementary school to address the gender achievement gap in maths, developing "glocal" mindsets based on the ISTE standard Global Collaborator, self motivated learning projects in a middle school, ASB's teacher training programme for local educational institutions (my joy - probably the most rewarding thing I've done over the past 6 years), closing the gender gap in STEM in the high school, and developing mobile apps in the middle school.

In his book The Innovator's Mindset, George Couros asks the question "Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?" I think with our R&D task forces we asked ourselves "How can I be a learner in my own classroom?"  As George writes, "the innovator's mindset starts with empathy for our students ... but equally important is the desire to create something better."  What we have done on R&D is to ask "Is there a better way?"  George also points out that many teachers who want to change lack clear guidance and support to make the desired change.  Prototyping through our R&D teams has given us that guidance and support.  He also writes that "being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter" and that social media provides a place for ideas to spread.  He writes, "sometimes the most valuable thing you get from the network isn't an idea, but the inspiration or courage to try something new."  It is with great pleasure therefore that I share the links to prototypes we have been conducting at ASB since 2011.

If you missed the earlier volumes, here are the links:

Future Forwards Volume 1
Future Forwards Volume 2
Future Forwards Volume 3
Future Forwards Volume 4
Future Forwards Volume 5

These eBooks are completely free - enjoy and please consider sharing them with others in your professional network.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Learning from failure

Today at school we had a tech coach retreat.  As we are preparing for a robotics PlayDate next month, we spent some time exploring the possibilities of some of the new robots that we have purchased this year.  We have BeeBots for our youngest students in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, Dot and Dash for Grades 1 and 2, Roamers for Grade 3 (though they are still held up in Indian customs) and Spheros for Grades 4 and 5.  The idea of today's retreat was to play with each of these, try things out, learn by doing and failing, and think about the best ways to integrate robotics into our programme.

Tonight when I got home, I saw an article by MindShift about making mistakes.  There's a great graphic in this article which I am adding below (I'm very grateful that it has a creative commons licence so that I can share it).  In this article is a great quote from the educator Maria Montessori:
It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.

Alongside this quote and the graphic, I want to mention a couple of things from the next chapter of The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  George goes beyond the idea of failure and mistakes to something that I think is even more important - the idea of trying again after failure.  I was thinking about this as were were doing some block coding and driving of our robots today.  We weren't following any instructions but simply playing - sometimes the robots didn't do what we wanted them to do and we had to troubleshoot - in some cases making small adjustments to our programme and then trying again.  What George points out is that while failure can be important to innovation, what's even more important is resiliency and grit - learning from mistakes and trying again to do better.

Let's think about the 4 categories of mistakes mentioned in the graphic.  The best learning opportunities are going to come from what is called "stretch mistakes" which is where we are expanding our capabilities.  Whenever we try to do something that is beyond what we can already do, then we are bound to come up against some roadblocks and make some errors.  Maybe this is what Vygotsky called "the zone of proximal development" where things are really still a bit challenging for us but where with support we are learning some new skills.  At this point it's important to reflect on our learning - and then commit to application so that we change our approach and master whatever it is that we are finding challenging.  With this resiliency and grit, stretch mistakes can be extremely positive.

The second category of positive mistakes is that of the "aha moments".  This mistake is interesting because we actually do achieve what we have set out to do - but along the way we discover that what we tried to do was based on incorrect assumptions.  Once again, the way to move forward is to be reflective, and to think about how we can change things to get a better result the next time.

There are some mistakes that we don't learn much from, for example we make "sloppy mistakes" when we are not concentrating.  High-stakes mistakes are definitely ones we don't want to make and then learn from, because high-stakes mistakes are the ones that are risky and potentially quite dangerous.  They could also be bad mistakes to make if other people are relying on us.  

The basic argument of the article is that "mistakes are not all created equal" and adding onto this is the message from George Couros that if we don't have resilience and grit to come back after a defeat or an unsuccessful attempt, then mistakes are not experiences that we can learn from.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

STEAM Maker Saturday

At ASB this is the year of courage and compassion.  How does this transfer itself into everything that we do?  Here's an example of STEAM Maker Saturday, which happens once a month, this one with a focus on courage.  Last Saturday about 100 students and their parents joined us to work together, meet challenges and solve problems while exploring science, technology, engineering, art, and math.  Enjoy!

Learning and innovation: 3 quotations

In Chapter 1 of The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros there is a section entitled New Opportunities which starts with the following quotation from William Pollard:
Learning and innovation go hand in hand.  The arrogance of success is to think what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.
This struck a chord with me because I've been asking myself for some time now whether we are looking backwards or looking forwards.  It also reminded me of our Visioning Task Force, where several members of my group expressed some anxiety about changes that might be coming to education in the future.  It also reminded me about the need for constantly moving forward, not resting on our laurels and thinking "we're a good school" and so continuing to do what worked in the past.  Times are changing, and in a big city such as Mumbai, change also means competition from other schools that are opening huge campuses.  And while it's very flattering that some of these schools appear to be copying our approach to designing spaces, curriculum and so on, my question is do we now need a new approach that will take us towards the future?  When we talk about innovation, we need to be clear what this means - and it doesn't just mean doing things differently from others!  It also means building a culture when innovation is seen as being normal - what we would call at ASB "part of our DNA".  For many years teachers on our R&D core team have been innovative and trying out new things - but how far did this permeate across the whole school?  More and more I've come to see that anyone can be innovative given the right environment - one where it is not seen as a problem to try something that maybe ends up not working that well (because that is a learning experience).  We need to move away from compliance, the cookie cutter approach, where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time!

Just as Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as "the process of having original ideas that have value" - and which includes both imagination and innovation, George Couros defines innovation as "a way of thinking that creates something new and better"  This can also include iteration, which means changing something that already exists.  However it goes further than just having a new idea: Sir Ken writes "innovation is putting new ideas into practice."  And let's be clear about this, as George points out, "it is a way of considering concepts, processes and potential outcomes; it is not a thing, task fo even technology".  And this brings me back to my previous post - should schools be employing tech directors, or has the time for this now passed - should they be employing directors of innovation?  Of course technology can have a role to play, but clearly innovation is not about the what, it's about the how - and the how is all about empowerment.

In the past I worked at a school where questioning was not seen as critical thinking but as criticism.  Since that time I've always argued that questioning what we are doing and why is essential for moving forward and growing.  Another quotation that jumped of the page at me was this one by John Maxwell:
Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional
But should it be optional?  If we know what the trends are for the future (and at my school we have spent a long time exploring these trends) then can we make a choice NOT to grow?  Certainly this does not seem a responsible choice to make when we consider our students' futures.   And I really disagree with my colleagues that change can be scary and unsettling - in my opinion NOT changing is even scarier.  Change should not be left to chance!

Here's the final quote from this post - again from Chapter 1 of The Innovator's Mindset - this one is by Seth Godin:
Change almost never fails because it is too early.  It almost always fails because it's too late. 
As an educator in a school that has always been seen as "cutting edge", I'm hoping that we are not already too late.

Photo Credit: Wiertz S├ębastien Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is the role of tech director dead?

This is a question I've been asking myself over the past 2 days.  Do schools need tech directors, or do they simply need someone to be responsible for tech support while the job of educational technology morphs into something more like a director of innovation and learning?  As I was pondering this thought, I started to recall one of the biggest shifts in my professional life - when I stopped thinking that all my PD had to come from within my school, but instead started to connect  with others via Twitter and by reading blogs of educators all around the world.  One of these was George Couros.  As I thought more about this question yesterday, I decided to get the Kindle version of George's latest book, which is focused on an innovator's mindset, change and moving forwards.  And wow - I'm glad I did!  So far today I've only managed to read through the introduction but here are some brief bullet points of the things that most struck me and helped me to consider my question again:

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai - traditional open air laundry. Not much has changed here despite the city growing up around it

Change (or not?) in schools
  • Change is an opportunity to do something amazing, yet within the institution of education there is often a reluctance to embrace new opportunities.  Even in schools that have the latest technology, teachers and administrators use that advanced equipment to do the same things they did before.
  • If we don't really think about the way we teach, and, more importantly, how both educators and students learn, we will all miss out on the opportunities that lie in front of us - right now we have many 21st century schools with 20th century learning.
  • The world is changing and if you don't change with it, the world will decide that it doesn't need you anymore.
Fort area of Mumbai
Our role as educators 

  • Our job as educators is to provide new and better opportunities for our students.
  • Students remember great teachers, not because of the test scores they received but because their lives were touched.
  • Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later so we can "get through" the curriculum.  If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.
  • Compliance does not foster innovation.  In fact demanding conformity does quite the opposite. In a world where new challenges constantly arise, students must be taught to think critically about what they are facing.  They must learn to collaborate with others from around the world to develop solutions for problems.  Even more importantly, our students must learn how to ask the right questions - questions that will challenge old systems and inspire growth.
Worli fishing village - with the Sealink and new skyscrapers being built in the background.  Here the traditional way of life is under threat - can the people adapt to change?
Learning and growing
  • If we want innovative students we will need innovative educators.  Teachers want to be innovative but instead of connecting and learning from others around the world .... they spend their time in staff meetings that often seem irrelevant to the heart of teaching.  They are constantly told that if they want to be innovative they are going to have to find time to do it. As leaders, if we ask teachers to use their own time to do anything, what we're  really telling them is: it's not important.  We must make time for our teachers to learn and grow.
  • Leaders of the most innovative organisations in the world know there is no end to growth and learning.  Schools, more than any other organisation, need to embrace a commitment to continuous learning.
So as I was thinking about my original question and framing it in the light of the above main headings, I'm considering this:  as a tech director am I encouraging the use of technology to do new things in new ways, or simply letting teachers digitize what they are already doing?  Do we still have 20th century learning (sadly the conclusion that I came to was yes we do) and in that case should the role of a tech director be redundant?  Does our current focus on standards get in the way of inquiry and curiosity (again, yes it does seem to), and how can I encourage the use of technology to have students reach out more to experts in the global community?  How can we use technology to help students ask and find the answers to deeper questions than just those demanded by standards (most of which could be Googled)?  How do we find time for our teachers to "play" and so learn in the same way that we encourage our young students to do?  Does having the word "tech" in the job description limit me too much?

By the way the photos that I've included in this post are from my walk today around the Worli Fishing Village and South Mumbai where I was contemplating change.  A lot of the images show the traditional life in the foreground, and change that is threatening this life in the background.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Resolving problems: when to paraphrase and when to question

As I'm coaching teachers at school, I spend most of my time in planning and reflecting conversations, however sometimes it's clear than although I start with thinking that a teacher wants to plan or reflect on something, it can often be that during the conversation something happens that lets me know that the conversation is not really about planning or reflecting, but instead the coachee has an issue that he or she is stuck with and that planning and reflecting are not the best ways to address this.  That's the time that a Cognitive Coach will need to switch to a problem resolving conversation.

I remember at a previous school I had a number of conversations with a member of the administration where I also felt I was stuck in a problem - the biggest problem that I faced there was knowing that the school had not bought the required number of licences for the number of computers a particular piece of software was installed on.  This went totally against my principles and deeply affected my sense of integrity.  However whenever I would raise concerns about this or anything else, I was told that I was a "glass half empty" person and that I needed to focus instead on what was going well, not what was going badly. I remember feeling an enormous sense of frustration after these conversations, above all else the feeling that I was not being heard and that my concerns were not validated.  Usually I came away from them feeling worse than before.  Now that I've trained in Cognitive Coaching the reason is very clear to me: what I said was never acknowledge (which is what we call the existing state and is done using a paraphrase), what I felt was never acknowledged (instead I was told I should not feel it), and I could see no pathway forward (which could have been achieved by questioning me about what the desired state would be and what resources I might have to achieve this).

For our Cognitive Coaching bookclub, this week we are focusing on the problem resolving map.  The problem resolving map is really powerful as it can actually trigger physical and emotional changes in the brain that open you up to optimism, resourcefulness and creative energy, even when you are stuck and uncertain of what to do and feel trapped in a situation without alternatives.  The problem resolving conversation is made up of 2 parts:  pacing and leading.  A coach will pace to honour the existing state and to create awareness of a possible desired state.  Pacing simply lets the coachee know that there is no judgement on whatever he or she is experiencing.  In the previous conversations that I just mentioned, I always felt that my feelings were being denied or judged, and this led to me feeling even more stuck than I was before.  As it says in the Cognitive Coaching book, "by denying the speaker's feelings, it is more likely that the feelings stay unchanged".  Pacing reflects what is, and then makes visible what is possible.  Leading starts when the coachee has signed off on the desired state.  While pacing is all paraphrasing, during the lead the coach will mostly be asking questions.

One of the most important sentences I read in this chapter was as follows:
[We need to] set aside our desire to be consultants rather than coaches, not to be experts and fixers.  Instead the coach enters the world of the coachee with humility, empathy and compassion.
The pace and the lead belong together.  Art Costa and Bob Garmston write that leading without pacing is ineffective because most people can describe what they don't like, but often cannot describe what they want - the coach coming up with a possible goal statement helps the person being coached to see the problem differently.   The other thing that is really important about the pace is that it is not about coming up with a goal that involves doing something, but instead is about being, having or feeling.  As Art and Bob write, a goal is always about a destination, not a journey or what you have to do to get there.  And for many of us the destination can be summed up in 3 main ways:  it's about identify, connectedness or potency.    In the earlier example I gave, what it really amounted to was identity - being asked to do something that I was uncomfortable with was a threat to my sense of integrity.  Looking back now, the reason that the conversations I had at the time were unproductive was largely down to the fact that there was no pace.  The pace works directly on the emotions and (I love this phrase) "restores or refreshes the chemistry of hopefulness" so that the emotions of the coachee are validated without increasing the chemistry of defeat or frustration.

So once the pace and the goal statement are signed off, the coach proceeds to the lead.  Here the coach needs to think which state of mind needs to be awakened to deal with the wicked problem.  If questions around that state of mind don't appear to be productive then the coach can simply try asking questions around another state of mind.  It's also during the lead that you can deal with 3rd party problems.  These are ones where the problem does not belong to the coachee but to someone else. When this happens the coach needs to refocus on the coachee as you can see in the following set of questions:
  • What behaviours do you want from the person/group?  (focus completely on others)
  • What knowledge, skills or attitudes will they need to perform those behaviours?
  • What might you do to help them develop these resources?
  • What internal resources do you need in order to do that?  (focus back on the coachee)
The aim of a problem resolving conversation is not to solve someone else's problems, so there may be no real conclusive ending to the conversation.  Often a coach may pose a question for the coachee to think about at the end of the conversation.  In this way it's clear to see the distinction between coaching and consulting.  With consulting, the goal is to solve problems and the conversation ends when the coach has come up with an action plan.  With coaching, the goal is to support the internal resources and to restore states of mind of the coachee - so the conversation does not have to come to a conclusion in order to be of value.  For a coach this may be difficult as he or she needs to give up the need for closure or to know the end of the story.  

However there is a benefit to the coach as well as to the coachee.  In recognizing the 5 states of mind in others, the coach also comes to recognize these states in him/herself.  For example, I have come to see through coaching others that my lowest resource is the state of mind flexibility.  Now I'm much more aware of this and consciously push myself to see things from another's point of view.  So maybe I am a glass half empty person, or maybe with the right coaching I can be a glass half full person, or maybe the glass is intended not to be full for some reason or other.  What I am sure of, however, is that digging deep into coaching not only helps others, it also helps me to think more kindly about others (as flexibility increases) and so it helps me to become a better person too.  What an amazing win-win!

Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Shaping the future of learning

As part of the visioning team at ASB I've been reading through several publications from KnoweldgeWorks, and today I read Shaping the Future of Learning.  It's clear from this that there are both new opportunities and new challenges as we look to a future that is linked with our "digital companions".  Here's a great quote from the introduction:
The next decade represents a critical window of choice.  Exponential advances in digital technologies and new social norms, organizational approaches and economic models are ushering in new ways of living, working and learning that could look dramatically different from today's realities.  As the pace of change accelerates, education stakeholders need to explore how best to harness emerging trends to create and foster future learning environments and ecosystems that prepare all learners to thrive amid rapid change and increasing complexity.
This report highlights 5 foundational issues facing education and asks the following questions:

  1. 360 Degree Learners - how can we educate the whole person and enable lifelong learning that supports academic and social-emotional growth?
  2. The Whole and the Sum of its Parts - how can we personalise learning in the community, reorienting education around learners while strengthening society?  Learners' interests and needs should play a larger role in what is taught and how learning is organised.
  3. Elastic Structures - how can we create flexible approaches to learning that respond to learners' needs?  Current funding, administration and governance are a barrier to meaningful change.
  4. Innovation with Intent - how can we ground systems change in equity, including and supporting underserved learners?  We need to be aware that changes on the horizon may actually exacerbate inequity.
  5. The new A+ - how can we renegotiate definitions of success?  We need to question what the fundamental purpose of education is and move away from success being defined in the form of scores and rankings.
Here are some strategies for K-12 schools for responding to the above issues:
  • Educate the whole person:  identify learner-centred approaches and consider the learners' point of view when evaluating potential changes.  Support learners' social and emotional growth and personal development.  Give learners the opportunity to practice both academic and non-academic skills to help them develop adaptability and self confidence and ownership for their own learning.
  • Personalise learning: connect learning to community needs so that it is both personally and publicly relevant.  Get away from the idea that personalisation means leaning in isolation and focus on collaborative learning.  Move away from giving feedback only through grades and tests, and find opportunities to participate in authentic and meaningful work beyond the school walls to encourage a greater sense of responsibility.
  • Create flexible approaches to learning:  find manageable small-scale ways to prototype ideas and pursue R&D.  Effective use of technology can enable schools to be in contact with families, communities and experts.
  • Equity:  consider how changes impact traditionally underserved learners.  Plan for future challenges in advance so that you can adapt to emerging trends and be proactive in forming solutions that respond to the changing environment.  Innovation need to be grounded in learning science and not motivated by politics or profit.
  • Redefine success:  identify what success looks like.  Many schools consider themselves successful if they have set learners up for the next stage of life, but consideration needs to be given to the more distant future.
At our visioning meeting last week some people said they were excited by this, others that it was a bit scary.  It's a huge responsibility to make changes for the future - what if the changes we make are wrong ones?  My concern, however, was more immediate.  What if we are wrong with the things we are doing now?  At the end of our meeting we had to write ideas on 3 different coloured sticky notes:  what we are doing now that we want to continue, what we are doing now that we want to stop, and what we are not doing now that we need to start doing.  I'm excited to look at these and what trends and ideas are emerging at our next meeting.

Photo Credit: april-mo Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Thriving in ambiguous and uncertain times

If you are a regular reader to my blog you will know that I've made several posts this week about the future of learning based on reading I've downloaded from the KnowledgeWorks website.  Previous posts have speculated on what the future of work might look like, so for this post I want to dig a little deeper into what education might look like in order to prepare students for these possible futures.

  • More emphasis on teaching social and emotional skills - these will be vital for success in the emerging workplace.
  • The nurturing of visions and passions - K-12 education should support self-discovery.
  • Bringing ambiguity and uncertainty to the classroom - to prepare students for work tasks that will likely be vague and approachable through multiple solution pathways.  Students will need to strengthen their abilities to ask questions and to seek help.  Learning activities need to become less prescriptive so that students will build their skills to navigate ambiguity.
  • More cognitive diversity and flexible thinking - future work will involve decision-making and problem-solving, creativity and innovation.  Students will need to recognize and appreciate diverse perspectives in order to be successful collaborators.
  • Using technology to enhance human capacity and facilitate deeper thinking - as people will increasingly need to use technology that augments human strengths, teachers should design learning engagements that use technology to push higher-order analysis, synthesis and generative thinking.
  • Redefining success - there will need to be a move away from traditional notions of success that are linked to mastering specific skills and knowledge, and a move towards new kinds of context-dependent skills and knowledge.  Educators need to focus on assessing how students combine continual learning and reskilling with social-emotional development.
  • More emphasis on reflection - which also implies that students also need more agency in setting goals.
  • Teacher training that has social-emotional intelligence at its centre - research shows that social-emotional skills are more predictive of success and adaptation than intellectual skills.  Teachers need to be trained in how to ask meaningful, respectful questions that help students' curiosity to unfold and confidence to grow.
  • Partnerships that engage students in experiential and project-based learning, possibly bringing on-board out-of-school learning providers.
The report states, "In many K-12 environments, responding to these opportunities will mean rethinking how learning is structured and organized; how resources such as time, technology and people are allocated to create meaningful learning opportunities; how learning is assessed and progress tracked; how space is used; and how educators are supported in modelling reflective learning and aspirational personal development."

This year I'm part of the Visioning Task Force at ASB.  Our big question this week was: Based on who we are, where we are, and what we know about the future of education and the future of work places, what do we need to and want to become?  This is a year-long task force and I'll be blogging about my thinking and about our ideas regularly.

Photo Credit:  image found via CC Search - Hall Art Foundation

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The impact of praise on a growth mindset

Today I'm helping to facilitate Day 2 of ASB's Teacher Training Programme.  We started today with a session on growth mindsets.  Our Head of Elementary shared the following video, which prompted a great discussion among the participants.  In a nutshell the language we use to praise students can help encourage or discourage a growth mindset and has broad implications for how students persevere in the face of challenges.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Partnering with machines: 4 scenarios for the future

Following on from yesterday's post about the impact technological innovation and change will have on the workforce, this post is about 4 possible scenarios for the future of work as jobs become increasingly automated.  Yesterday's post was about the 2 trends evident today:  the rise of smart machines and the decline of full-time employment.  This post projects into the future, to 2040, and looks at how these trends might play out and how education will need to change in order to adapt to these futures.  There may be either low or high technological displacement, and governments may take an active or passive role in these changes.  I have adapted the graphic in Redefining Readiness for the Era of Partners in Code from KnowledgeWorks.

Scenario 1 - Partnering for Mobility
In this future automation has eliminated some jobs and changed others, however at the same time new jobs have emerged.  While manual tasks are mostly being done by machines, there is still the need for high-value services.  The most common employment is "mosaic careers" and jobs are those that rely on completing short-term projects lasting several months to a year.  Companies use predictive analytics to project their workforce needs, and provide skill development to meet their needs, so reskilling and upskilling are constant.  The defining characteristics of this future are:

  • partnerships between people and machines
  • data-driven feedback to help people develop mosaic careers
  • workforce analytics that support the design of adaptive career pathways
  • more emphasis on micro-credential and certificates
  • lifelong learning
Impact on education:  schools and universities need to help students develop human-machine partnerships in ways that augment and leverage their uniquely human capabilities.

Scenario 2 - Checking for Upgrades
In this future workers are seen as "professional nomads", charting their own paths, juggling multiple contracts and moving from one short-term project to another, where they build their own capacity and professional networks. Jobs are tied to the emerging needs of organizations that are reconfiguring work processes by using AI and smart devices, as in general employers concentrate on doing more with less people.  Full-time positions, if they can be found, are likely to average 1-3 years.  Keeping current with digital tools will be necessary in these integrated environments, along with building a solid reputation and strong support networks.  In this scenario low-skill workers are likely to scramble to keep up with the rapid pace of change.  The defining characteristics of this future are:
  • extensive human-machine partnerships leading to fewer full-time employees
  • individuals must take responsibility for staying relevant
  • a mixed response to the new automation infrastructure
Impact on education:  educators will need to learn about AI and schools need to foster flexibility to prepare students for ongoing learning in uncertain environments.

Scenario 3 - Finding New Meaning
In this future AI and automation enable a new social infrastructure in which paid work is just one of several options (which implies some sort of universal basic income to buffer people against changing economic conditions).  In turn this may lead to more opportunities for meaningful work with social purpose, such as relationship-intensive caring roles.  Such roles as nurses, educators and care providers will combine AI with human expertise.  In this future with mass production of cheap products, more value may be placed on unique artisanal products.  Community infrastructure projects may be compensated in the form of vouchers or credits for goods and services.  With less traditional careers, education will need to reevaluate its purpose.  The defining characteristics of this future are:
  • a human-centred economy that drives growth in the arts and civic projects and in the caring professions
  • education shifting to more emphasis on personal growth rather than skills needed for the job market
Impact on education:  schools will need to prepare students for a world in which paid work may not be the primary organizing principle and will need to promote lifelong learning.

Scenario 4 - Working the Platforms
In this (dystopian) future there will be intensive automation and extreme taskification with workers being involved in fragmented short-term work.  Low-skilled workers will need to compete for jobs locally, whereas middle-skilled workers will be competing globally for professional and knowledge work.  University degrees will be regarded as luxuries, and most people will find jobs through work-life logs that give evidence of quantifiable performance metrics.  There will be chronic unemployment and under-employment, and a shrinking tax base will lead to strained public infrastructure and services.  The defining characteristics of this future are:
  • extreme taskification
  • quantified workers heavily monitored and evaluated through data capture and analytics
  • traditional certificates and degrees replaced by work-life logs showing proof of experience
Impact on education:  the focus will be on helping students cultivate their personal brands and on reputation management.

Personally I find this final scenario very difficult to contemplate!  The final 5 pages or so of the report deal with opportunities for education.  This is where I'm going to be focused for my next blog post.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Partnering with machines: 2 trends for the future

Although I write about a lot of different things in this blog, my real focus is looking at technology and how this impacts education.  As such, I was interested to read the Future of Learning forecast from KnowledgeWorks.  I was hooked from the first paragraph when I read "our lives will become inextricably linked to the code in our digital devices as we increasingly use them to navigate, make sense of and contribute to the world around us".  The focus of this forecast is to look at how we as educators can help to prepare our students for their futures, especially in an era where machines are becoming capable of cognition.  The report states:
Education at all levels will prepare learners continually to reskill and upskill and to know how to partner constructively with machines.
As someone who is passionate about curriculum (and tech integration into the curriculum) I'm also hoping to see a shift away from content acquisition towards more higher order thinking skills.  We know the future of work is going to be more project-based and that there will be greater emphasis on inquiry, analytical thinking and problem solving.  The report from KnowledgeWorks Redefining Readiness for the Era of Partners in Code looks ahead to the year 2040, and what work will look like.  It identifies 2 main trends:

  • The rise of smart machines - that will eliminate many routine tasks and will also impact professional and knowledge work.  This could go either way:  possibly new jobs could be created, jobs could become safer, easier and more interesting.  However there is also the possibility of displacing significant numbers of human workers as factories, transportation and so on become fully automated.  Artificial intelligence is already starting to impact the insurance and news industries, as well as medicine and the arts.  Certainly new jobs that are created will demand new skills, especially those connected with computer use.  However studies from the University of Oxford and the OECD show that around 50% of middle-class jobs will disappear and that even today in countries where GDP is growing, this is mostly attributed to technological efficiency and not to human output.  This leads to the second trend.
  • The decline of full-time work - already there is a trend to employ people with specialist skills as and when needed, and often these people can be located anywhere in the world.  As this increases, tenure is shortening and there has been a rise in "taskification" which is the breaking down of jobs into discrete tasks (often at low wages and with informal job structures).  As this trend continues these tasks will be managed algorithmically.  By 2040 it's likely there will be a decline in full-time employment and an increase in "career mosaics" that include different types of work both spread out over time and also taking place concurrently.  The report also indicates that employees are likely to move through their workplaces horizontally rather than vertically, with the average person having a new job around every 4 years.
As these changes begin to impact the workforce, the nature of education will need to change.  The report states, "the act of working will become learning, so people adopt new skill sets to align with employment opportunities".

The report continues looking at 4 different scenarios that may emerge as a result of these trends: there may be high or low technological displacement of human workers, and in addition there may be a systematic and intentional societal response, or it may be market driven.

As I read on through the report I'll be blogging about how these 4 scenarios might impact the future of education.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tug of war

This is my final post about gender biases at work.  I've been inspired to write these 4 posts following a session I attended at the NESA Conference about women in leadership, where videos by Joan C. Williams were shown and discussed.  This post is about the tug of war bias, and in a way this is the saddest of all biases as it is about women working against other women at work in order to advance themselves.  This bias also includes the 3 previous patterns of gender bias, for example women often apply harsher standards of competence to other women than they do to men (which then works towards reinforcing the "prove it again" bias).  In addition, women can also increase the feeling of judgement based on male and female attributes (being competent -v- being liked).  Women with children are also criticised by other women in ways that they wouldn't think to comment on in men with children - and often this is because these same women are also in situations where they are also struggling to find their own balance between family and career.  The tug of war can be especially strong in older women who have struggled to get where they are today and who unintentionally resent the way that younger women may not have these struggles.

Joan's suggestions for dealing with the tug of war bias are as follows:
  • Assuming the best of other women - stop judging them.
  • Resolving conflicts with female colleagues - don't ignore the problems and allow them to create more tension.  Find opportunities to collaborate with other women.
  • Respecting each other's diverse experiences.
  • Mentoring other women can build positive  and supportive working relationships.
  • Advocating for other women, especially in situations where they appear to be ignored.
Here's the final video in this series:

Photo Credit: SAIatCalU Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Student agency - giving learners a voice

Today I came across this continuum of voice by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey (whom I did a workshop on personalized learning with 4 years ago).  I've been thinking a lot about student voice and choice recently, and am keen to collect resources about developing student agency.

This graphic shows the continuum from teacher-centred, through learner-centred to learner-driven.  This graphic reminds me in some ways of Hart's Ladder of Participation which I often use in PYP workshops to unpack student action.  Basically the aim in both these models is to give students the opportunity to be active participants in their own learning and in the action that arises from this learning.

In teacher-centred environments there is little student agency, except perhaps some feedback on the lesson at the Expression level and some sharing of their strengths and interests during the Consultation level.

In learner-centred environments students will determine their own learning goals, and how they will show they have achieved them.  There is a lot more decision-making in the Participation level than in the teacher-centred environments.  In the Partnership level students will also contribute to lesson design and will engage in projects and inquiries based on their interests and curiosities, often owrking in small groups.  In these classrooms teachers are facilitating the learning by checking in with and monitoring the various groups.

Finally in learner-driven environments there is more emphasis on student action as they have identified a problem or challenge and they are working to tackle it.  At the Activism stage, students will be involved with experts outside of the classroom, actively building up their own PLN.  At the final stage of Leadership, students are self-directed, take action that will make a difference and will take responsibility for the outcomes.  The teacher is more of an advisor, providing feedback and suggestions on resources or connections that students can use to achieve their goals.

As I'm working on designing some new workshops for the PYP, I'm thinking this graphic may be a good one to share with teachers as they think about student agency.  I notice that Barbara and Kathleen have developed several other continuums as well, for example on ownership and efficacy, and I'll be checking these out as well later this week.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The maternal wall

This is my third post about women in leadership and the biases women have to encounter at work which make it hard for women to reach a leadership position.  This post is about the maternal wall.  When I first heard the term "maternal wall", the first thing that came to mind was another metaphor "glass ceiling" which also describes an invisible barrier through which women can see elite positions but cannot reach them.  In this case, the term glass ceiling also applies to ethnic minorities, who also find it difficult to secure leadership positions in the workforce.  In the case of the maternal wall, women with children encounter assumptions that they are no loner committed or competent at work - or that they shouldn't be.

When I had both my children I was living in Holland.  Although people's views of Holland are that it is a modern, forward looking country, 27 years ago when I had my son many people were shocked that I decided to return to work when he was 6 months old.  People would say to me, "You're going back to work?".  Some of the kinder people added another word to this:  "Already?"  At that time in Holland maternity leave was 16 weeks.  As my son was born in February, this meant I was due to return to work right as the schools were breaking up for the summer, so I postponed this return until the new school year.  At that point, an emergency appendectomy, followed by peritonitis and septicaemia meant that I could not return until October, by which time my son was actually 8 months old.   I returned to part-time work, and my husband also took parental leave - he was the first person in his company ever to do this.  Holland was a country where in the early 1990s women with children stayed home - in fact children were sent home from school to eat lunch at home, so having a parent at home was the only option.  Even though I worked for an international company, when I returned to work I was definitely seen as less committed to my career.  If I had chosen to stop work at this point, I very much doubt I would have been re-hired, and would probably not be an international educator today.

In the video Joan Williams talks about how the assumption that women can't be committed both as workers and mothers has a huge impact on women's careers.  Statistics show that women with children are 79% less likely to be hired and only half as likely to be promoted.  At one point, when my son was young, I was forced to leave a faculty meeting that had run over its time, in order to collect my son from his daycare before it closed.  The following day I received an email from the head of school saying he noticed I left the meeting "early" and wondered what was wrong.  Williams points out that this is typical:  women with children are actually held to higher performance and punctuality standards than women without children.  And when women do perform well, they are often judged as being "not maternal enough".

Women with children are often not offered new assignments or promotions because it is assumed that they don't have the time or the inclination for extra work.  Even younger women, who do not have children, report that they are being passed over for promotions because it is assumed that they will eventually have children.

Williams has the following strategies for dealing with the maternal wall bias.

  • Voice your commitment when you return from maternity leave
  • If you need to be out of the office, be explicit about your reasons - otherwise people will assume you are taking time off because of your children.
  • Senior women need to set an example that it is acceptable for people to spend time with their families
  • Don't hold yourself to unrealistic standards - focus on what you are doing well and stop judging yourself
Here's the third video.  Have you experienced the maternal wall bias?  What have you done to show you are committed to your work as well as your family?

Photo Credit: demandaj Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Walking the tightrope

This is the second post about gender bias at work.  After yesterday's post I started to think about how this might apply specifically to schools.  I've worked in both primary and secondary schools, and I began to count up how many of these schools had a male head of school, as opposed to a female.  I was especially interested in this trend in primary schools where the majority of teachers are women.

When working in the UK I was a secondary teacher - both schools I worked at had a male Headmaster.  In my years in Amsterdam, the school had 5 Directors - of these 4 were male and 1 female.  In Thailand, Switzerland and India all the Directors/Superintendents have been male. Looking specifically at the primary sections of those schools, in Amsterdam I worked for 1 male Primary Head and 1 female.  In Thailand the Primary Head was male.  In Switzerland the Primary Head was female.  In India, both Primary Heads have been male.  Let's also think about the %.  Currently in my school there are 44 teachers in the elementary school, of which 4 are men and 40 are women.  You would think therefore that statistically women were 10 times more likely than men to become a head of school, but clearly this is not the case.

The second video in the series What Works for Women at Work,  focus on the issue of the tightrope. Women often feel they have to navigate between being perceived as too "masculine" where they are respected but not liked, and being too "feminine" where they are liked but not respected.  Masculine qualities are seen as being assertive, competitive and ambitious, whereas feminine qualities are things like being nice, helpful and modest. Looking at the person doing a particular job, we often make biased assumptions which work to the disadvantage of women, particularly in education, where they may be seen as being warm, supportive, nurturing and caring. When women act in more "masculine" ways that don't match our assumptions, we often have subconscious, negative feelings towards them. However by recognising these biases we are able to address them.

When people think of a successful leader they are likely to think of this person in terms of someone who is assertive, competitive and ambitious (the "male" qualities).  In order to get ahead women need to be seen as both competent (male) and likeable (female) and this works to the disadvantage of women's careers because women often face pushback for the same behaviours that are admired in their male colleagues.  What is called "assertive" in men, for example being direct and outspoken, is often called "aggressive" or "abrasive" in women. While men are applauded when they discuss their successes, women are frequently seen as lacking in modesty when they do the same.  Expressing anger or frustration can also increase a man's perceived status while it decreases a woman's.

In the video below you'll see Joan William's suggestions for dealing with walking the tightrope at work.  She suggests:
  • Practicing gender judo
  • Forming a group of co-workers who will celebrate one another's successes
  • Expressing anger carefully and sparingly
  • Using strategic body language
  • Making statements with confidence and avoiding "upspeak" where statements appear to be questions
  • Making sure that time-consuming office "housework" gets rotated, and ensuring you are involved in high-powered work that will allow you to turn down undervalued work.
Here's the second video:

Photo Credit: Lieven SOETE Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Prove it again ... and again ... and again

This is the first of 4 posts about women in leadership, specifically about the Women in Leadership session I attended at the NESA Conference last April where the videos by Joan C. Williams were shown and discussed.  Joan is the co-author, with her daughter Rachel Dempsey, of What Works For Women at Work:  Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know.  This post is about the "prove it again" bias against women, where women's performances at work are undervalued and where women have to provide more evidence of competence than men to be perceived as equally competent.

Williams mentions that 2/3 of the women she interviewed had encountered this bias, where men tend to be judged on their potential but women on their performance, which means that women often lost out on promotions as they are seen as risky.  In addition, women's mistakes are noticed more and remembered longer.  Whereas men's successes are attributed to skill, women's are more likely to be put down to luck.  Women also experience polarised evaluations, often being rated much less competent than men.  There'a also a very common pattern that emerges in the workplace called the stolen idea - an idea that is overlooked when a women states it, but which is taken up immediately when later on a man says it.

Strategies for dealing with the prove it again bias include;
  1. Going for promotions that are outside your comfort level
  2. Keeping records at the end of every day of your successes and achievements.  A great idea is to form a posse that includes men as well as women to celebrate each other's successes.
  3. If you see a "stolen idea" make sure you acknowledge the originator of the idea.
And now here's the first video:

Photo Credit: jean louis mazieres Flickr via Compfight cc

Women in leadership and the imposter syndrome

This morning I was talking to our school counsellor, and she mentioned something to me that I had to go and look up - it was the term "the imposter syndrome".  People experiencing this feel that they do not deserve the success they have achieved, along with a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".  The term was first coined by Clance and Imes in 1978, and apparently is particularly common among high achieving women, many of whom believe they are not intelligent and that they have been over-evaluated by others, and these beliefs lead to them undermining their achievements, discounting praise, overworking and perfectionism.

People who exhibit the imposter syndrome often overwork to avoid the fear of being "found out"; sometimes they work 2-3 times as hard as others, leading to burn-out and sleep deprivation.  Feelings of being phoney can also lead to giving people the answers they believe they want, which then increases the feeling of being a fake.  Gifted women often don't react well to praise or recognition - they may attribute this success to charm, not to ability.  Because of this someone with the imposter syndrome tries to avoid showing any confidence in his or her abilities, fearing rejection by others.

As I dug a little deeper, I came across an article in Forbes that categorises people with the imposter syndrome into 5 types:
  • The perfectionists - who set high goals for themselves, yet when they fail to reach a goal experience self-doubt and worry.  These people can be control freaks who believe if they want something done right then they have to do it themselves.
  • Superwomen/men - who push themselves harder  to  measure up to their colleagues and often overwork.
  • Natural geniuses - who judge success based on abilities rather than efforts.  They believe if they have to work hard at something then they must be bad at it.  These people differ from the perfectionists in that they are focused on getting everything right first time.
  • The rugged individualists - who believe asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  • The experts - who feel they have tricked their employer into hiring them and who fear being exposed as inexperienced and unknowledgeable.
As I read through this I immediately recalled a Women in Leadership session I attended at the NESA Conference in April that was led by Laura Light of International Schools Services.  Laura showed a 4 videos presented by Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for WorkLife Law at the University of California.  She is the co-author, with her daughter Rachel Dempsey, of What Works For Women at Work:  Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know.  On my return to school after the confererence I was able to lead a session on this at ASB.  These four patterns are as follows:
  • The prove it again bias (underestimating women’s performance and what women have to do to prove themselves)
  • The tightrope bias (being seen as likeable -v– being seen as competent)
  • The maternal wall bias (the assumption that women are less competent and committed to their careers)
  • The tug of war bias (how women interact with other women)
Following on from the conversation with the school counsellor I looked back at this blog and asked myself how did I fail to blog about this really important issue (and to share these great videos)? And do any of these biases that Joan Williams identified match with the imposter syndrome? Therefore my next post will be about the patterns that women experience at work and how to deal with them.

Photo Credit: Spiced Coffee Flickr via Compfight cc

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A cat's view of time

Another section in Mo Gawdat's book Solve for Happy that struck a chord with me was the chapter about time.  Perhaps I should mention at this point that I have 2 cats.  Living with these 2 cats I certainly appreciate that animals have no sense of time - or rather no sense of "the right time".  When they feel hungry they go and eat.  When they feel tired they sleep.  I've often said that I'd like to come back to life as a cat one day!

There's a really interesting bit in the book that I've just read about emotions - most of your thoughts have very little to do with the present time - they are anchored in the past or are ones we are projecting into the future.  And that's especially true of negative thoughts.  Anger, annoyance, guilt, feelings of disappointment and hurt - all these are linked to events that have already happened.  Nothing I can do now will change that.  That time is gone forever and now only exists in memories.  Perhaps I need to stop dwelling on what cannot be changed.

The same is true of the future.  Thinking about what could be in store can cause all sorts of anxiety: for example just this morning the news appeared to show that the USA is on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea. Thinking about the future can cause stress and tension, anxiety, worry and pessimism.  And again, nothing I can do can have any impact at all on the future.  There are infinite possibilities of things that can happen - and I'm focusing on just one or two of these and letting them worry me.

Positive emotions tend to occur in the here and now.  For example as you can see in the photo I'm sitting out on my balcony on a day off from school (it's Indian Independence day today - a public holiday).  It's a little cloudy and there's a light breeze so it's quite cool out here and I'm feeling calm and relaxed.  I'm satisfied with today, even though the only thing I have planned is a walk around Joggers' Park later, because this is also part of my goal to get fit and keeping healthy.  And I'm really happy that I have found the time to blog which always makes me feel good.

According to Mo this is the important thing:  when we're focused on the past or the future then we're living in our thoughts and not in reality - and we know that our past and future thoughts are often quite negative ones.  When we are living in our heads in the past and the future then we're not experiencing the present.  In fact we're not even laying down the present that will become a past memory in the future.  What a waste!  So here is one part of Mo's equation - maybe the most important part (I don't know because I'm only half way through the book): use time, don't let it use you.  If you want to be happy, live in the here and now.

So here is another analogy.  You're on a train and it will stop at 75 stations, each of which has a lot to experience.  You have the capacity to press a button whenever you want that will move you to the next station.  You can press it 75 times to get to the end, or you can get out at each station and experience what's there on the journey.  The ride is all you have - at the end there is no destination, only death.  What do you choose to do?  Will you spend your time thinking about getting to the end, will you spend your time regretting all the stations that have already passed, or will you get out and enjoy every station and all that it offers as it comes along?

So right now I'm sitting on my balcony and enjoying my cats, my little family here in India.  And because I get so much joy from them I'm going to post another photo!

OK, time for a little more mindfulness .....

The Eraser Test

Every year we have a summer read - in fact this year at ASB we had 4 books we could choose from. I chose to read Your Brain at Work, but I was also interested in a couple of the other books as well.  So this week I did a swap.  I gave my book to a colleague and I took the book that she had read.  This book is called Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat.

At the weekend I was chatting with my son, who doesn't read much, but who has set himself a task of reading 6 books this year.  Perhaps I should clarify that - he reads non-fiction but not fiction - the challenge is to read 6 novels.  Because of this I hesitated to recommend him a non-fiction book, but I did think he'e enjoy this one.  The section I was talking to him about was called The Eraser Test.

Before I go into this, a little background.  Mo is a highly successful engineer who works for Google [X], yet in 2001 he realised that despite all his success he was really unhappy.  He set out to find the equation for permanent happiness.  Having found this, in 2014 his perfect happiness was put to the test when Mo's 21 year old son Ali died during routine surgery.  This prompted Mo to write his book to share his equation with the world to help as many people as possible to become happier.

I've read about half of the book so far, and the theme is to be content with our present situation and optimistic about the future.  The Eraser Test fits into this in the following way:  imagine a technology was invented that would allow you to choose a past event and to erase it from the flow of time.  Of course this would also erase all the effects and consequences of this event as well, right up to the present moment.  How many events would you choose to erase?  Surprisingly, even though at the time that we experienced events as being bad, most of us would not choose to erase them now.  Most people would choose to keep the events and be grateful for the path onto which they were led.  Even Mo, who admitted he would erase the death of his son, has seen that some positive came of it - it led him to writing his book which in turn was good for others.  I thought of some of the events of my past which initially I thought I would like to erase as well, though in retrospect I realise they did bring me to a better place, and without which many, many good times and opportunities would not have occurred.  And this knowledge does give me comfort at times like now when I find myself in another tough place, wondering where my path will lead me next - should I stay in India, or should I return to Europe?

Mo writes "When you realise that every seemingly bad event nudged you onto the path of many good events, you'll reset your definitions of good and bad ... life can surprise you by eventually coming around to work in your favour.  It so often has in the past.  Why would it change now?"

Photo Credit: Petur Flickr via Compfight cc

The Thinking Teacher

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I'm in a virtual Cognitive Coaching book group.  We "meet" every Wednesday and discuss a chapter from Art Costa and Bob Garmston's book Cognitive Coaching.  This week we have been focusing on teacher cognition.

Near the start of this chapter is a quote by Charlotte Danielson that teaching is very cognitively demanding - "a teacher makes hundreds of nontrivial decisions daily" - as he or she manages the multitude of activities in the classroom.  This made me think about when I first started teaching in Amsterdam where I was a high school teacher, however I used to eat lunch in the classroom of a colleague in lower elementary where it seemed that all sorts of different activities were going on simultaneously and where the teacher was totally aware of all of these and managing them skillfully. At that time I remember thinking I could never be an elementary school teacher - and yet eventually I did become one!

My earliest experiences in the classroom allowed me a lot of flexibility to make instructional decisions.  In both the UK and in Amsterdam I wrote and assessed most of my own curriculum.  The longer I've been teaching, the more the trend has been away from this - and with some state or national curricula that has now been adopted in many schools, I have seen a growth in the tendency for some teachers to deliver this curriculum in a rather unthinking way (hence my wish to stay working in PYP schools where teachers have agency to collaboratively build the curriculum).  It has been clear to me, and something that I continually aspire to, that teaching is a highly intellectual process and, as Art and Bob point out, "teachers who possess cognitive systems with highly developed levels of perception, abstraction, complexity and decision making consistently have students who perform well on both lower and higher cognitive tasks".  Teachers who do not actively think about their experience are more likely to focus on short-term surface knowledge (the content) when planning or teaching a lesson, whereas the thinking teacher simultaneously is aware of the deep long-term learning (conceptual understanding) which can be transferred to other situations in school and later in life.

There has been research on teacher cognition, with studies showing that when teachers talk aloud about their decisions this causes examination, refinement and the development of new theories and practices, and it also engages teachers emotionally - another plus for collaborative planning!  Further research has shown that there are 4 real categories of teacher thinking:  planning before teaching, interacting during teaching, reflection when recalling and analysing a lesson, and projection when teachers use this thinking and apply their learning to plan next steps.  As I read this I immediately called to mind the coaching maps we use when having our conversations with teachers, which really provoke thinking in all these 4 areas.

I was interested to read that developing learner outcomes is often a low priority for many teachers when planning their lessons.  Studies point to the fact that teachers often think first about the content, materials and resources before they consider aims and purposes.  In Cognitive Coaching the learning outcomes are discussed right from the start in the planning conversation, with the first 2 areas of the map being those of clarifying goals and specifying success indicators - what the students will be thinking, saying or doing that shows the learning outcome has been achieved.  At the same time the coach will be aware of the need for flexibility, and the ability of the teacher to see not just the immediate details of the lesson, but also how this connects to other long-term learning or curriculum goals.  A flexible teacher can design multiple alternative instructional strategies for achieving their learning objectives because during a lesson teachers need to juggle many things - the content, the instructional process, and the learners - and the flexible teacher will be able to respond to how all these are interacting and how the lesson plan is paying out.  In a nutshell, what Art and Bob are telling us is that the basic teaching skill is decision making.

The goal of Cognitive Coaching is to help teachers become more thoughtful in the decisions they make - as teachers reflect upon their experiences they will become more conscious, efficacious, precise, flexible, informed and skillful decision makers - and therefore together coaches and teachers will come to impact student learning.

Photo Credit: Oneras Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Candles of the People

This summer I spent a couple of days in the Finnish capital of Helsinki with my daughter.  Having already visited or lived in the other Scandinavian countries, I was curious to see how Finland compared, and even more interested because as an educator I'm reading regular reports of Finnish success in schools.   Since the year 2000, when the OECD first started publishing a ranking of international educational systems, Finland has been at or close to the top of the list of 70 countries in maths, reading and science.

The reasons for this success are not immediately obvious.  There is no more spent on education per student than other OECD countries, and Finnish teachers are paid roughly in line with other Western European teachers.  Class sizes are also roughly the same - around 20 - 23 children per class.  School days are short (around 4 hours), holidays are long (10 weeks in the summer), students don't start formal schooling until the age of 7, there is little or no testing below the age of 16, and almost no homework - and yet over 95% of Finnish children go on to some kind of further education.

Another striking feature of Finland's performance is that the success is spread evenly among all its schools - there is just a 4% difference between the performance of the best and worst school. This compares with other countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan which also perform well but where there are huge differences between schools as students are often admitted on based on entrance tests that measure ability.  I was interested to read that enormous resources are channeled into supporting students who fall behind in Finland - around a third of Finnish students get one-on-one tutoring each year.

The reason most frequently cited for the success of Finland's education system is teacher training. Some of this is historic, as following independence from Russia 100 years ago teachers were seen as playing a key role in the newly independent nation.  This early education was mostly survival skills such as woodwork and sewing, and teachers became known as the "candles of the people", lighting the path to Finnish self reliance.  Today teaching is an attractive career in Finland.  This compares very favourable with the UK, where as I mentioned in a previous post, every teacher friend I have who started with me back in the 1980s has now left the profession.  Today I was reading a BBC article that stated that there is such a shortage of trained teachers in the UK that schools have been allowed to employ unqualified people - there are 24,000 teachers without formal teaching qualifications in state schools in England - an increase of more than 60% over the past 4 years. Looking closer at these figures, it seems that a large number of unqualified staff are in academies and free schools.  In local authority secondary schools around 5% of teachers are unqualified, but in academies and free schools it's more like 10 - 12%.

In Finland, however, teaching attracts the brightest students, with over a quarter of university graduates stating that this is their top option.  In fact teacher training courses can be more difficult to get into than law or medicine, and since 1970 all Finnish teachers are required to have a master's degree, which is seen as a crucial element in their success.  In addition there is not the two-tier public/private system of education that exists in the UK as almost all schooling is state-funded.

There are some changes underway in Finnish education:  one year ago it became compulsory for every Finnish school to teach in a more collaborative way, to allow students to choose a topic relevant to them and to base subjects around it.  Basically there is more of a PBL approach with the aim of equipping students with the skills they will need - no longer woodworking and sewing, but instead critical thinking and technology.  And just as 100 years ago teachers were called "the candles of the people" today they are still carrying on that role, leading the next generation of Finland's people into the future.