Tuesday, April 25, 2017

We are what school should be

In today's staff meeting we were talking about how ASB is different.  With around 40 other "international" schools in Mumbai, what really sets us apart.  We talked about the idea of a value proposition - a promise of value to be delivered.  For example we have often said that ASB students set themselves apart by the quality of their character and the high caliber of their holistic education.  But is that enough?  Today in our staff meeting we talked about the things that make ASB great:  our STEAM programme, the collaboration and relationships we build, the talent of our teachers.

In all we talked about the 6 aspects of ASB that clearly differentiate it from the rest of the schools in Mumbai, and from most international schools around the world.  These are:

  • Being intentionally international
  • Our remarkable educations
  • Our educational ambiance,
  • The pursuit of dreams
  • Individualized pathways
  • Life beyond the classroom

We're going to make a video about each one of these, but here's the first - we are intentionally internationally.  Enjoy!

Photo Credit:  Artwork by Kindergarten Students at ASB

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Staying in Day 1

Following our R&D Meeting today I searched for Jeff Bezos's letter, published a few days ago to Amazon shareholders, about keeping a company great.  He sums this up as a Day 1 approach, and writes that he's been reminding people that it's Day 1 for a couple of decades.  He writes:
Day 2 is stasis.  Followed by irrelevance, Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.  And that is why it is always Day 1.
I've been thinking about this in terms of schools.  Today I was talking to a colleague who told me the next move she makes will be to a "tier 2" school.  She talked about the pressure of being in a tier 1 school, and the toll it takes on her life and family.  However I disagreed.  Having once worked for a tier 2 school I realised how much it sapped my energy being mediocre.  I don't think I'd ever choose to work at a tier 2 school again.  But then I started to think about how schools change - some become much better and others stagnate.  And I started to make the connections between tier 1 schools and Bezos's ideas about staying on Day 1.

Bezos writes that when companies become Day 2 organizations, the decline happens in slow motion - it could take decades, but the final result (decline/death) would still come.  How does a school or a company keep the vitality of Day 1?  Bezos's answer to this is to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings and double down when you see customer (student) delight.  He also points out that the outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won't or can't embrace powerful trends quickly.  He writes, "If you fight them, you're probably fighting the future.  Embrace them and you have a tailwind."

Last week at ASB we hosted a showing of Most Likely To Succeed, a documentary about education and curriculum reform.  The movie explains that our school system was designed over a hundred years ago to produce a workforce for the industrial age, which prized conformity and standardization.  Today the same education system is crushing the creativity and initiative that young people will need to thrive in the 21st century - one where automation is likely to do away with many white-collar as well as blue-collar jobs.  Basically the message is that American schools are failing their students, leaving them without the ability to think critically, and unable to contribute to an innovation economy.  And to be honest American schools are not doing too well on standardized tests either:  the USA is ranked at 24th in the developed world for reading and 36th for maths (well behind countries such as Estonia, Vietnam and Poland) - in fact the maths scores in the USA are actually declining!  In Bezos's terms, American schools have already moved into Day 2 (or possibly Days 3 and 4 if these are associated with irrelevance and decline). And my question is, are international schools doing any better, or are we still pushing forward with an irrelevant curriculum, based on knowledge and skills that are no longer valuable?

For those who haven't seen it, here's the trailer for Most Likely to Succeed.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds Flickr via Compfight cc

People on the edge

In our R&D Meeting today we continued to discuss the diffusion of innovation, this time focusing on opinion leadership.  Last month I blogged about innovators and early adopters,   It's the early adopters who are often highly respected as opinion leaders.  When the early adopters endorse an innovation this is what gets the innovation out to the majority.  There could be many reasons for this, for example they could have greater exposure to mass media or social media.  Today we were talking about how these opinion leaders are often people on the edge - bringing new ideas from outside their social group to its members.  They are not the people at the top, not the leaders of groups, but instead they are the people who move between groups, as they have extensive interpersonal network links. The role of the innovation leader in a social system is to reduce uncertainly abut the innovation - therefore these people must be seen by others as having good judgement about adopting new ideas - and after the opinion leaders in a system adopt an innovation, it may be impossible to stop its further spread.  We talked about how school leaders will often want to get the opinion leaders onboard in order to role out a new initiative, and about the people in school who could be seen as early adopters.

Are you an opinion leader - someone on the edge?

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Developing my skills as a Cognitive Coach

Twice a week, every week, I meet with a colleague at ASB and we practice coaching.  Sometimes we coach each other, sometimes we talk about specific skills, and sometimes we watch videos we have made of us coaching other people and talk about ways we can improve our craft.  Chapter 3 of the book Cognitive Coaching is all about the mediator's skills, and about how both linguistic and non-verbals can foster cognitive development.  There are 5 types of verbal responses that a coach can give that help to mediate thinking:

  • Silence - wait time and listening
  • Acknowledging - both verbally and non-verbally
  • Paraphrasing
  • Clarifying
  • Providing data and resources
I remember when I did the training learning a little about status - I came back to this again in Chapter 3 where it states that the coach assumes teachers know more about their students, the content they teach and their own skills and strengths than the coach does.  They coach conveys this by listening empathetically and questioning rather than telling.  

Non-verbals are more important than verbal cues - nearly 2/3rds of meaning is conveyed non-verbally, for example with eye contact, nodding, matching voice tone and pace, using gestures and so on that contribute to building rapport.  It's also important to use the approachable voice when questioning, as the credible voice can feel to the coachee like an interrogation and can shut down his/her thinking.

Silence also indicates a productive conversation.  In fact when my colleague and I are reviewing our videos we are looking for the pauses which communicate respect for the time the other person is taking to think and reflect and which then results in higher cognitive processing.  Pausing also conveys the message that the coachee is valued and respected and that the coach has faith in the other person's ability to continue to think and then respond.  

One thing I'm working on at the moment is paraphrasing.  I know I need to work on this skill because in general when I look at the amount of time I spend talking compared with the colleagues that I am coaching, I find I'm doing a lot of talking!  I need to be more concise and to get to the heart of what they are saying.  Paraphrasing is important because it lets the other person know that you are trying to understand them and value what they are saying.  And just as using the "wrong" voice when asking questions can shut down thinking, questions that are preceded by a paraphrase can do the opposite - they can lay the ground for inquiry.  One thing I've tried over the past few days is writing down my paraphrases and then trying to cut them down in length - this is also helping me to consider the beliefs and values behind what a person is saying and this helps me to make more abstracting paraphrases.

So far as a coach I've rarely been called on to collect data (I'm thinking perhaps I need to offer this more during the planning conversations).  Data is often a very "neutral" way of giving feedback as, along with mediative questions, it's non-judgemental.   Other forms of feedback are not successful in encouraging the coachee to think - inferences, interpretations, personal opinions and evaluations may lead to mistrust or even fear.

Videoing myself is scary - sometimes I really dislike looking back at the videos because I feel I've done poorly or missed the mark.  But it is really valuable - and it is helping me to develop my skills and get better.

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Developing my identity as a Cognitive Coach

My aim is to read through all 15 chapters of Cognitive Coaching before Days 1-4 of the Cognitive Coaching seminar being held at ASB at the end of this month.  Chapter 2 is about identity and I'm going to start with a quote right from the beginning of the chapter:
Identity is the mental model each of us constructs of who we are as a unique self.  This is an important concept because identity informs decisions and behaviours.  The most sustainable way to change behaviours is to change identity ... The self is fluid.  It is not a thing; rather it is a process.  One's identity is in a constant and imperceptible gradual state of transformation.  We create meaning from our interactions with others and with the environment.  Identity emerges from the web of those interactions.
I was interested to read that there are actually 3 forms of identity.  Personal identity is a person's expression of his or her individuality.  Cognitive Coaching deals with how the personal identity shapes perceptions, values, beliefs and behaviours.  In other words, "identity is the story we tell ourselves of who we are".  Then there's the social identity - people have several of these such as ethnicity, nationality, age, gender and so on.  Social identities can also influence behaviour, especially when with a group that you identify with.  Finally there's role identity which is relational, for example husband, grandchild, boss, student.  These are temporary, situational personas.  The interesting thing is that what starts as role identity may grow into personal identity - and this has been found to be true for those who develop their sense of self as a mediator - the identity associated with Cognitive Coaching.
The Cognitive Coach, having an identity as a mediator, forms and applies values (fostering the intellectual development of others), beliefs (resources for growth lie within a person being coached), capabilities (mental maps to guide conversations and knowing when and how to use certain skills), and finally the application of coaching behaviours (developing rapport, pausing, paraphrasing, posing questions), the use of which is conditioned by environment.
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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Exploring the theory behind Cognitive Coaching

Almost 3 years ago I started on my journey to become a Cognitive Coach, and although I was initially skeptical about the transformative power of coaching, within the first day or so I was hooked. I could see that I could apply to all areas of my life, not just to my role as a tech coach, and I wanted to learn more.  I completed the 8 days of the foundation course, took the advanced course, went to the Presenter's Forum and started scribing days 1-8 with a view of starting to take on some of the co-teaching.  This time has now come!  So for the last few weeks I've been digging a little deeper into the theory.  I find I learn best when I write, as this enables me to clarify my thinking, so the next few blog posts will be about coaching as I get myself mentally prepared for the upcoming seminar.

The aim of cognitive coaching is to produce self-directed individuals, and so the coach develops his or her identity as a mediator to empower the cognitive functioning of others, allowing them to reflect on and solve their own problems.  A coach is not a teacher, and I'm discovering that a coach is also not a mentor which both imply superior knowledge or skills and therefore power.  A coach helps others to learn from situations - "from telling to inquiring, and from finding strength in holding on to finding strength in letting go."
It's a dialogue that provides space for self-reflection, for revising and refining positions and self-concepts, where a colleague is invited to see him/herself in a new light. (Costa and Garmston)
Cognitive coaching is built on the belief that growth is achieved through the development of intellectual functioning - the coach will question the coachee's thinking (perceptions, beliefs and assumptions) and so it's important to establish and build rapport and trust.  The reason a coach focuses on thinking rather than behaviour is because Cognitive Coaches believe behaviour is determined by a person's perceptions and so a change in perception is vital in order for there to be a change in behaviour. Because a coach is there to serve others, a coach has to set aside his or her own unproductive ways of listening, responding and inquiring.

At the mission of Cognitive Coaching is to produce self-directed persons who function well both individually and in groups, the concept of holonomy is a key one that is introduced early on Day 1 of the foundation course.   I'd never heard of this word before starting coaching (it's a combination of 2 Greek words), but basically it refers to the study of parts/whole relationships.  We are all unique individuals, yet are part of many groups such as families, friends, work colleagues.  Each of these groups and systems influences us as individuals, and in turn individuals can influence the systems.

In the first chapter of their book Cognitive Coaching, Costa and Garmston address why coaching can be so powerful in schools.  Teachers need and want support, and research shows that engagement in mentoring improves both teaching practices and student achievement.  Coaching enhances the intellectual capacities of teachers, leading to them becoming more adaptable and flexible and more able to tolerate stress.  They are more likely to empathize with their students, vary their instructional strategies, and give more feedback to students, and as a result these students are more cooperative and involved in their work.  Other studies have shown these teachers show greater commitment to the individual student and employ more generation and use of data.  There is also evidence that shows that high-concept teachers are more effective with a wider range of students, including students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

I was also interested to read that few educational innovations achieve their full impact without a coaching component.  This made me think more in terms of instructional coaches who are responsible for supporting the introduction and implementation of new programmes or standards.

This year I'm mentoring a new teacher and I'm learning how to navigate between coaching and other support functions.  I have come to see how important skillful feedback is - and that when in a coaching role judgements and advice can reduce the capacity of the coachee to reflect.  Studies in California showed that after 3-4 years of service, beginning teachers mentored with Cognitive Coaching gradually assumed significant teacher-leadership roles.

Perhaps one of the most powerful impacts of Cognitive coaching is on interpersonal relationships, for example working effectively on a team.  We know that adult interactions in a school influence the climate of the learning environment, and in turn the instructional outcomes for the students. Cognitive Coaching can promote the norms of honest and open communication that enable everyone to work together in respectful ways.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Creating the Optimal Conditions for Creativity to Flourish

I think I must have decided to focus on presentations on creativity at NESA as I went to another 4 hour workshop led by Garfield Gini-Newman from the University of Toronto and the Critical Thinking Consortium.  Garfield is the author of the book Creating Thinking Classrooms.

At the start of this workshop I was introduced to a new word - creatical which means critical creativity.  Garfield pointed out that to  innovate you need a deep understanding - innovation requires that students use knowledge in new ways and in authentic contexts. You cannot innovate in an area you know nothing about. Creativity can also encourage social entrepreneurism - students can explore ways to solve problems or develop products that have value in their community (locally, internationally globally). It's good for students to explore challenges without limits or boundaries.

We were shown some diagrams (I tried to reproduce them below) and asked about our ideas of critical thinking and creativity - are they separate - overlapping - or is one a subset of the other (and if so which one)?

Barriers to creativity
  • A belief that standardized assessments do not align to creativity - teachers believe they have to teach content through transmission.
  • Creativity is seen at odds with the need to cover the curriculum.
  • Misunderstanding of what defines creativity - it is in fact profoundly purposeful as it is always driven by a goal or purpose.
  • Perception of creativity as the generation of novel ideas without judgement. However creativity always involves judgement and criteria is central to the creative process.
Creativity requires
  • Something is produced - a person cannot be creative if they have never created something
  • The creation is novel (it can do something in a different way)
  • The creation adds value, has significance or solves a problem
5 Keys to creating optimal conditions for creativity
  • Quality thinking - we must pay attention to the community of learners and thinkers, we have to creative opportunity for creativity, we have to teach intellectual tools for quality thinking. We must teach kids that there is not a “right” answer - there are different answers - we need to create the climate. You need to create a safe environment where students can take chances and know they can throw out ideas. Tools needed for quality thinking include:
    • Background knowledge - this is not prior knowledge - it’s the knowledge needed to engage with the challenge.  Students still need content.  Innovation builds upon this.
    • Criteria for judgement of what makes a good idea, what is useful and which ideas have the most merit.
    • Critical thinking vocabulary - this is not the language of the subject.  It’s words like assess, evaluate, appreciate etc.
    • Thinking strategies - information is not enough.  It needs to be organized, and managed to make sense.
    • Habits of mind - 19 habits - we don’t teach lessons on this, they are habitual.  Curiosity, open-minded, perseverance, risk taking.
  • Opportunity - how we frame our questions and the power of constraints. If there are no constraints or too many constraints both can cut off creativity. Try to find an authentic audience and an authentic task. Design thinking starts with empathy for audience.
  • Fluency - Generate lots of ideas. 
  • Verification - provide clear criteria for quality (success, qualitative not descriptive)
  • Time - you have to allow time for creativity

Photo: My daughter with Rodin's Thinker in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow

Teaching Creativity in a Standards-Based World

The title of this keynote at NESA by Douglas B Reeves intrigued me as on the surface it seems hard to encourage creativity when you then have to assess students according to rigid content standards.  Douglas started off asking us what we thought creativity is, and he gave us a definition - creativity is the process of experimentation, evaluation and follow through, which leads to a significant discovery, insight or contribution. He pointed out that this definition doesn’t say original or novel, however we do need to honour innovation as well.  Creativity is the result of hard work, many failures, lots of feedback, criticism and disciplinary mastery and the entire brain is involved in creative effort.

People may disagree on what is beautiful, original and useful. However, Douglas said that perhaps we can agree on certain teaching and leadership practices that either support or underline creativity, because for sure students need mentors and wise guides.  He also pointed out that constraints can lead to creativity, or as Howard Gardner said "You can't think outside the box until you first understand the box."

Assessing the creative environment in the classroom
Douglas talked about a study where K-12 schools and college evaluated themselves on an 8 dimension scale, with 4 levels on each scale.  The dimensions were research, multidisciplinary perspective, source material, clarity, product, process, collaboration, practice and error.  He elaborated on some of these:
  • Research - we want our colleagues to use latest and best research and to avoid anything unsupported by research 
  • Multidisciplinary perspective - we want students to expand the scope of their work to include different perspectives and disciplines, instead of work being narrowly focused on a single standard.
  • Collaboration - the scale distinguishes between those working together and alone as working together leads to more creativity
  • Practice and error - allowing multiple attempts - the evidence is that students learn from their mistakes so it's not ideal to try to get it right first time.
Practices that undermine creativity
  • Punishing mistakes and risk taking by using the ‘average”
  • Practice as perfection - when students get 20/20 is usually a waste of time - it shows students have already mastered something and have not moved on
  • The ‘good girl’ effect - elevating compliance over performance (girls don’t necessarily perform better but they get better grades). We need to encourage risk taking over compliance.
Teachers need to create the environment and opportunities that will foster creativity.
  • Evaluate students on their final performance, not their average
  • Feedback needs to be part of the process of learning and creativity.  Feedback is one of the most powerful things that teachers do. It needs to be fair, accurate, specific and timeless. It leads to immediate changes in student performance. Feedback needed in the class itself rather than afterwards.
  • We need time and space to explore something deeply. Students need to explore and have their passions fed.
  • Collaboration works best when it’s differentiated. It needs to be practiced so students get better at it. The result of a group effort should be better than doing it alone. However you need to ensure individual accountability together with group responsibility.
And here's an interesting (and sad) finding: the most creative students are often the least popular. How are we as teaching supporting these students?

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A great teacher by design - not by chance

Last weekend I was at the NESA Spring Educators Conference in Bangkok.  On the first day I attended the Keynote by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey.  During this Keynote, the following quotation was shared:

Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance but by design.

Douglas and Nancy commented that we leave a lot of education to chance - we need to focus on how to design really powerful learning for kids.  They talked about walkthroughs and instructional rounds which focus on the teacher, the students and the content students are learning. They also talked about what happens when these areas overlap.  For example teachers and students overlap as “relationship”. John Hattie's studies show that student and teacher relationships are very powerful. Students will take risks and grow when they are part of nurturing, growth producing relationships.

Other areas of intersection are teachers and content - in this model the overlap produces clarity. Teachers need deep knowledge and need to be able to communicate it clearly.  However Douglas and Nancy also made the statement 
We need to spend more time looking down at what students are doing and less at what teachers are doing.
When we look at the intersection of students and content we find challenge.  However, instead often what schools look at is what works at the surface level (skills and concepts) for example summarising, reading comprehension, vocabulary and so on.  Yet we also need to look at what works at the deep level - making connections, relationships and schema, for example  concept mapping, class discussion, student questions. To move learning from the surface to deep you have to change the instruction and change the task.

What we also want is the transfer of knowledge - this is the long-term aim of all education - to be able to use what you have learned in new contexts (Wiggins & McTighe).  Activities that promote transfer include socratic seminars, peer tutoring and problem solving, for example project and problem based learning.  At this point it's also worth considering complexity and rigour.  When we talk about difficulty in terms of learning, it's really just about the effort needed, whereas complexity is about thinking, action or knowledge necessary to complete a task.  You can also compare difficulty and rigour in assessment:  difficulty is about how many people can do the task, whereas rigour is to do with how many different ways it can be done.  All of these are important when considering the intersection of what teachers and students are doing with the content - this is where the learning happens.

Finally we were shown a grid comparing complexity and difficulty.  It looked like this:

Our aim is that students become fluent - that they move from finding things very difficult to finding them easy - the analogy here could be driving a car which in the beginning is very difficult and complex but with time it becomes something you can do easily and automatically.  Ideally we want students to experience learning in all 4 quadrants.  Low difficulty - low complexity builds fluency and automaticity (habits).  High difficulty - low complexity, for example research projects, build stamina.

What learning engagements are you designing for your students?  Which quadrant do these engagements mostly fall into?  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A house of straw?

It was my birthday on Sunday, and I went out for breakfast to a large hotel with some of my colleagues.  After breakfast, while I went down to the pool to relax, the other 3 went off to work on reports.  Several hours later, they re-emerged for an hour or so.  I thought about these dedicated colleagues, how they work from 7.40 am to 4 pm every day at school, then spend several hours preparing and marking student work in the evenings, and then at weekends they are still spending hours on work-related tasks.  When I got home I found that someone had shared a LinkedIn article with me entitled A Sustainable Future in Education.  It was written by Lesley Murrihy, a principal at a school in New Zealand, who was basically asking the same questions that I was thinking about that day - she was asking is it sustainable for education continue to rely on the goodwill of teachers?  At what point are teachers going to say "enough" and vote with their feet?

Lesley points out that it's not simply that the amount of "stuff" that teachers do that has increased, it's also that teachers are now called upon to function at higher cognitive levels.  She gives examples of having to spend hours collaborating with colleagues and differentiating the curriculum for students - and of course she agrees that these things are completely necessary because conscientious teachers want to ensure that they are meeting the needs of each and every student.  However she also writes about something that I recognise in myself:  that being so conscientious and sacrificing my personal life, health and wellbeing is in fact contributing to the problem we are now facing - and those entering the profession are simply not prepared to sacrifice in the same way.  They are demanding more of a work-life balance, and if they can't get it in teaching they are choosing other jobs.  Lesley writes:
Our current education system has been built on the goodwill and the sacrifice of educators like me; and what we have created is nothing but the illusion of change because what we have created is not sustainable in the long term.
Like Lesley, I realise that in a few years I will retire, and even though I recently read on the BBC website that there are plans to increase the retirement age to 70 in the UK, I'm thinking that even if I'm forced to work up to that age, I won't be able to do this as a primary school teacher.  Once our "baby boomer" generation of teachers retires, the new generation of teachers appear to be less willing that we were to live lives the way we did.  If we are told that young people today could have as many as 20 jobs before the age of 40 - then clearly they are not going to be sticking around very long in a profession that doesn't give them the opportunity for work-life balance.  Lesley writes:
We have built a house of straw that will fall down when it is no longer propped up by the goodwill and sacrifice of the workers .... teachers should be able to work a 45-hour week, and not feel duty-bound to work all the hours under the sun.
The last time I taught 12th Graders was in 2009 - those students are now all aged 26 which means many of them have been working for 4-5 years.  Interestingly many of these young people , who are still at the start of their careers, are earning as much as teachers get at the top of the pay scale.  And these Millennials are working 5-6 hours a day, often with large bonuses and other benefits.  One of my son's friends who left university with him and trained as a teacher, taught for 2 years and has already left the profession.  It doesn't meet his criteria for a "good job".  Lesley writes that education must reinvent itself as a "sustainable undertaking".  She asks, what are we going to do to keep Millennials in teaching?

Does this article resonate with you in the same way it does with me?  Drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Leadership and teacher churn

Last year on R&D I worked on recruitment, retention and development of teachers by schools.  I did lots of reading around this, and so I'm always interested to read more studies about these issues, and to try to put them into the international context in which I'm working.  While I think that there are many reasons why internationally people choose to leave a school - such as wanting to live in a different country, hardship postings, personal issues including family, wanting to move up the career ladder and so on, I think it is also true that the culture of a school has a lot to play in these decisions.

This week I was reading a blog post entitled "Teachers Quit Principals, Not Schools".  This was based on previous posts along the theme of people don't quit jobs, they quit bosses.  I wondered how true this was in the context of international education - or even what lessons international schools could draw from the experiences of retention of teachers in school districts.  Certainly it's true in all schools that the leaders of the schools help to set the culture, which in turn helps to retain teachers. The blog post directed me to a study done by Indianapolis Public Schools who looked at the reasons why teachers voluntarily left a school.  In this study,  49% cited school leadership, 44% personal reasons and 40% school culture.  Less than 20% mentioned salary and benefits.  The blog post quoted:
The principal is the one who steers the ship and when the principal cannot steer the ship in the right direction families and teachers look for a different school environment.
The Indianapolis study refers to teacher "churn" which implies teachers moving between schools in the city.  This isn't necessarily similar to teachers choosing to move internationally between schools. Reading the article it seems that many teachers were moved between schools involuntarily and at short notice.  That doesn't negate the previous statistics though, as these were all based on voluntary movements.  The impact of the movement remains the same - both locally and internationally.  A significant movement of teachers into and out of a school does impact the learning of students.  The study states "roughly half of new teachers leave urban classrooms within 3 years, just as they are beginning to have their strongest impact on student learning."  3 years also seems to be a fairly typical time to spend in many international schools - it implies a teacher has finished his/her initial contract which is usually 2 years, and has chosen to renew for one more contract.  For many teachers, even if they want to leave, it's worth staying the extra year for a better reference, and it's actually quite hard to move every 2 years as you spend the first year settling in and if you then have to resign at the start of your second year (many international schools are asking teachers to state their intent by September or October), you spend much of the final year "checked out" or embroiled in the recruitment process searching for a new job.

Here are some of the impacts of teacher "churn" stated in the study:
  • School culture - difficulties in forging trust and being invested in a school community, difficulties in building relationships with students parents and colleagues as relationships, trust and investment generally deepen with time.
  • Collegial relationships - when colleagues work together over several years, advances can be made in curriculum, mentoring, teaching and learning techniques.  If teachers are continually shifting, it's difficult to do these things.
  • Continuity for staff and students - a large turnover leads to school communities and culture being built on thin foundations.
This is especially important in the light of research which shows that the classroom teacher is the single most important factor in determining student success.  Improving educational outcomes depends on developing teachers - and a high turnover hampers this.

The conclusion is that schools need to invest more into developing their leaders - of course they need good teachers, yet a great teacher under a poor leader is likely to leave, and that school is then less likely to succeed.  Principals do need to be passionate about what they are doing - and they also need to build the right structures and relationships for schools to be successful.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The media and young minds: advice for parents

I was sent an article today by one of our Pre-Kindergarten teachers.  This article, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, shares important information for parents about the impact of media use with young children under the age of 5.  Research in this area is still limited, and clearly there are health concerns for children using technology, though these should be balanced with the potential of technology for educational benefit.

Today young children are using technology, in particular interactive and mobile media, on a daily basis.  This use happens at the same time as critical brain development, the establishment of healthy behaviours and relationship building in young children.   Up to the age of 2, all children need hands-on exploration and social interaction to develop cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills.  Evidence shows that 2 year olds can learn words from using technology for things like live video-chatting with adults (for example grandparents), and from interactive touchscreen interfaces.  However it is also crucial that parents are involved with their children while they are using digital media.

With older children aged 3-5, well designed TV programmes and apps can improve cognitive, literacy and social outcomes for students.  The real issue here is that many apps labelled "educational" are not designed by educators and have very little impact on development.  In particular  interactive digital books may be distracting and can actually decrease child comprehension of content, or parent interaction while reading.

There are also some health concerns - for example heavy media use during pre-school is associated with increases in BMI - much of this connected to watching TV while eating and being exposed to food advertising.  The presence of a TV, computer or mobile device in the bedroom is associated with less sleep at night, and even the exposure to screens in the evening leads to shorter night-time sleep. The excessive viewing of TV in early childhood can lead to cognitive, language and social/emotional delays.  It was observed that when a TV is on there is decreased parent-child interaction.  Parents are advised that switching from violent content to educational content results in significant improvement in behaviour - particularly for low-income boys.  Sadly, the data shows that excessive TV viewing is more likely in infants and toddlers with difficult temperaments - and these are the children who are most likely to be given mobile devices to "calm them down".

Parents also need to be aware that their TV viewing distracts from parent-child interactions and child play.  Also parental use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and non-verbal interactions between parents and children.

Advice for families
  • Avoid using digital media, except video chatting, with children younger than 18-24 months and for children aged 2-5, limit screen time to 1 hour per day.
  • Use media together with your child.
  • Turn off TVs and other devices when not in use.
  • Avoid using media as a way to calm children - this can lead to problems with limit-setting or with the inability of children to develop their own emotional regulation.
  • Monitor the media content of the apps - test them before your child uses them.  Play together and talk to your child about the app.
  • Keep bedrooms, meal-times and parent-child playtimes screen free.
  • No screens for 1 hour before bedtime.
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Friday, March 10, 2017

Flipped Learning 3.0

Next week I'm about to start facilitating another IB Continuum online workshop on flipped learning. Flipped learning is a relatively "new" idea and it's evolving rapidly.  As I'm continually wanting to learn more about this approach to teaching, I decided to enrol in a series of webinars hosted by Jon Bergmann, one of the pioneers of flipping (find out more about these webinars here).  Living in India, the webinars take place in the middle of the night, but the good thing is that if you register for the webinars you are sent a link to the recording of them - so I was able to view this today.   This webinar was about Flipped Learning 3.0 and was based on a year of data gathering by Jon about flipped learning.

First of all, though, it's important to understand the beginnings of the flip.  Version 1.0 was all about making the videos and having students watch the lessons at home and then do the "homework" in school where the teacher was able to support students more effectively.  This was known as the flipped classroom.  The flipped classroom evolved into version 2.0 where it became known as flipped learning.  In 2.0 the idea is still to move direct instruction out of the "group learning space" (classroom) and into the individual learning space, but now the emphasis has shifted to what happens in the classroom after the content has been delivered elsewhere.  The premise behind the 2 versions was the same - that instruction to a whole group in class is not the best use of a teacher's time - but whereas version 1.0 was still focused on teaching (the instructional videos), version 2.0 has been focused on the learning that is now possible to do in class.

The quote above is from one of Jon's slides.  He talked about how flipped learning is a dynamic movement that is changing rapidly, and that thinking that we know all there is to know about it based on our experience of versions 1.0 and 2.0 mean we are missing out on the opportunities of version 3.0.  In essence there are new things he has learned over the past year that show new trends are emerging:
  1. Flipped learning is not static because of 3 factors:  research, innovation and technology.  In the flipped classroom version 1.0 many studies focused on the satisfaction of the teachers and learners and on test scores.  Now we have moved onto flipped learning 3.0, research is more on things like the impact of drawing in the videos, the role of questions, the time between the individual and group work, and on gamification of flipped learning.  Today many researchers are asking the question "How do we improve the flipped learning model?"  At the same time innovations are taking place in making the videos including having students create them, teacher collaboration and expanding the group space. 
  2. Flipped learning has moved beyond the stage of the innovators and early adopters and is now at the early maturity stage of innovation diffusion.  The recent SpeakUp survey of 403,000 educators shows that around 17% of US teachers are flipping, and around 20% want to learn how to do this.  Around 75% of middle and high school students think flipped learning is a good way for them to learn.  As a result of this technology/publishing companies are starting to partner with teachers to build flipped learning initiatives.
  3. Flipped learning is a global movement.  Jon highlighted some global "hot spots" such as Spain, Italy, Iceland, Taiwan and China, Australia, and Argentina.  He explained that the global market is growing at a little over 37% a year.
  4. Flipped learning is a "meta-teaching strategy" that supports all others.  Jon described this as the "operating system" upon which "apps" such as PBL, inquiry and so on are plugged in.  He spoke about the educational problems that flipped learning can solve, from student disengagement through to time, autonomy, student comprehension, discipline and support for ESL students.  He also talked about how teachers who use flipped learning report increases in job satisfaction.  Pre-class preparation has led to increased test scores, in particular for struggling students and for girls.
  5. Flipped learning has created new opportunities for trained and experienced teachers who use flipped learning.  There is now a greater demand for flipped administrators, trainers and tech coaches to support teachers in getting the most out of the flip.  He remarked that some teachers have flipped in poor ways and that it's "easy to get it wrong".

There is another webinar in the series next week.  Once again I won't be able to attend it live, but I'm looking forward to getting my next recording.  In the upcoming webinar Jon is joined by Robert Talbert, an Associate Professor in maths at Grand Valley Sate University, Michigan, to talk about the paradigm shift that changes the way most people think about flipped learning.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Endless hours performing menial tasks

Two of my colleagues at ASB shared a post this week by Colin Harris on TES.  Colin writes about the situation in UK schools, and the interesting thing is that neither of my colleagues who shared this article have ever worked in schools in the UK - both are international teachers.  I was interested, therefore, to see how the situation in England resonated with those teaching elsewhere.   Colin addresses the issue of teachers working longer and longer hours, and yet much of this appears to be "busy work" that has little impact on student learning.  His post shows that the huge amount of time spent marking, planning and meeting is having a negative impact on teacher job satisfaction and retention. Colin writes about the 4 areas that influence workload:
  • Poor communication leading to confusion about the direction the school is moving in.
  • Planning and assessment is often a waste of time.
  • Marking student work - it should be done WITH student FOR students, not at home for school admin or parents.
  • Pointless meetings - in particular those immediately after school.
What do you think?  Would reducing meetings, marking and assessments lead to more time devoted to authentic planning?  Would a reduction in the "busy work" that teachers are being forced to do lead to an improvement in student learning?

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

The diffusion of innovation

Last month I made a presentation to the Vietnam Technology Conference about sustainable innovation.  I shared the YouTube video below and asked those who were in my session where their school as a whole (not individual teachers) would fall on the innovation curve.

At our last R&D meeting last month we also did some reading about the diffusion of innovation.  We talked about how some innovations such as smartphones take only a few years to reach widespread diffusion, whereas others take so much longer.  Examples I can think of from my daily life include the fact that almost nobody in India travelling in the rear seat of a car uses a seatbelt (I have a daily fight with my Uber drivers about how I want to use it and make them push the clip through the back seat where they have "hidden" it), and using imperial measurements which still crop up in our maths teaching despite the fact that there are only 3 countries worldwide that have not adopted the metric system.

Here are some other factors that affect the rate at which an innovation is adopted:

  • Relative advantage - the innovation is seen as being better.  This perception may be in terms of economics, social prestige, convenience or satisfaction, which are important factors even when the innovation isn't really that much better than what it is replacing.  The greater the perceived relative advantage, the quicker the adoption will be.
  • Compatibility with existing values, past experiences and needs.
  • Complexity - anything that is difficult to understand or that involves developing new skills will be adopted more slowly.
  • Trialability - if an innovation can be trialled then there will be more willingness to adopt it.
  • Observability - now visible the results of the innovation are visible to others.  The easier it is for people to see this, the more likely they will be to adopt it.
I'm thinking about how these factors relate to schools and to new ideas that get adopted there too.  This ranges from the idea of BYOD, mobile devices, MakerSpaces and so on, all the way through to things like new forms of assessment and reporting, or what tool to use for ePortfolios.  What other examples can you think of?  Do you agree that the 5 factors listed above are the ones most important when considering innovation in schools?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Teaching time

Some time ago, maybe last week, I saved an article onto my iPad from the Christensen Institute about why teachers should free up their time.  As I'm in the UK this week looking after my mum, I have finally found the time away from school to read it.  Here are my thoughts.

The article basically asks what is the best use to a teacher's time.  The conclusion is that is it not best spent on delivering instruction, but on giving individual and small group feedback - and the way to enable this is to help students become more self-directed and responsible for their own learning.

In this article there was a link to another one, also by Heather Staker, entitled How to create higher performing, happier classrooms in 7 moves:  A playbook for teachers.  This study looked at what teachers can learn from organisations such as Google about happiness and performance.  Again the findings were that the best managers empower their teams and do not micromanage - and the question was whether or not the same principles could be applied to classrooms (and also whether this approach would then prepare students better for future workplaces).  Here are the 7 moves identified by the study:
  1. Teach mindsets - especially agency, creativity, growth mindset and a passion for learning.
  2. Release control - provide resources that students can access without direct instruction.
  3. Encourage teaming - peer-to-peer learning and team-based collaboration.
  4. Give feedback - give personal, frequent and actionable feedback in small groups and one-on-ones.
  5. Build relationships of truth - be concerned with the students as individuals and trust their ability to drive their own learning.
  6. Help students hold themselves accountable - for example to set goals and track their progress.
  7. Hold yourself accountable - track yourself through reflection, surveys, peers and self-assessment.
Even more interesting to me, the research shows that teachers can use technology for freeing up their time so that they have have more interaction with their students.  All these 7 moves are explained in detail in a downloadable PDF.

Thinking about these 7 moves in terms of building student agency, brings me to another great blog post this week by Christopher Frost from Tokyo International School about the skills that students need to be independent life-long learners..  As  TIS is a PYP school, these skills are knows as Approaches to Learning.  The really interesting thing for me, having just spent 2 days in workshops with Mark Church about making thinking visible, was how Christopher uses the Understanding Map (see my previous blog post on this here) to propose a new way to categorise thinking skills and to tie them in with the various visible thinking routines.  

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

From good to great to exceptional

At the close of our weekend PD at ASB, Head of School Craig Johnson shared an article with us about what makes an employee not just great but exceptional.  These 8 signs are interesting (and I need to think whether or not I agree with all of them) but in any case here they are:
  1. They think beyond job descriptions.  I was especially interested in this sign, as I've been applying for jobs recently in the hope of being able to move back to Europe to give more support to my family.  I have to say most job descriptions I've read have been pretty bland.  At one point I even suggested changing the job title to bring it more in line with the school's mission statement (needless to say I was not offered that job!)  The reason that this was included on the list was that people need to do whatever it takes to get things done, regardless of their actual title or job.
  2. They're quirky.  I liked this one as it also speaks a lot about the company/school.  I definitely want to work in a place where being different or unusual is something that is celebrated not beaten out of you.  Quirky people not only challenge the status quo with their ideas, they are also a lot of fun to work with.  Throughout my children's schooling they were both lucky to have a few quirky teachers - and they are the ones who really made an impact on them and who they remember to this day.
  3. They know when to rein in their individuality.  There are times when you need to pull back a bit to fit into a team i.e. there's a time and a place for being quirky and a time and a place for conforming - and exceptional employees know when this is.
  4. They praise others in public.  They recognize the contributions of others.
  5. They disagree in private.  This is the difference between being great and exceptional.  Great people often do bring up controversial subjects in group meetings, however exceptional employees discuss sensitive issues in private.
  6. They ask questions when others won't.  They speak up at meetings and often ask the questions that others are afraid to ask, and often raise important issues on behalf of others.
  7. They like to prove other people wrong.  When people doubt them or their abilities, they are determined to show everyone that they can do a good job.
  8. They are constantly exploring, and rarely satisfied.  They always want to be reworking, reworking or tweaking something.
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Monday, February 27, 2017

Using thinking routines purposefully and powerfully

This is my final post based on the Visible Thinking sessions I did with Mark Church at the weekend.

In schools there is a lot to get through but we must never lose sight of the fact that teachers are using language and putting structures into place that give messages about what is valuable.  Of course every teacher is likely to say that she or he values thinking - but what thinking is worth valuing?  As teachers, Mark asked us to reflect on the following:

What - what idea from making thinking visible and creating a culture of thinking has resonated with you most - considering your work with students at this school?

So what - so what about this idea strikes you as particularly important? Why is this so significant for you?

Now what - now what are you thinking a next step could be for you? (in the near term or more broadly and beyond)

Mark talked about turning the traditional view of teaching on its head.  For centuries teaching has been about talking, and students have been expected to listen.  He asked, what if we flip this?  If teaching becomes listening and learning becomes talking?  How can we be sure that the thinking routines that we are using in the classroom are purposeful?  Here are his 3 key learnings:
  1. Initially thinking routines often start off as activities, but in order to work over time they have to be seen as integrated and purposeful by the students.
  2. Thinking routines become routines only once the edges are soften and both teachers and students can work flexibly with the routine.
  3. In the classroom, it’s not just the routines themselves but the interactions that take place around routines that makes them powerful.
We need to avoid using thinking routines to illustrate the content (like a visual aid) or to decorate, enhance or jazz up the content or lesson plan. Thinking routines are not the baubles on the Christmas tree:  Content being decorated with thinking is different from content leveraging thinking opportunities and thinking opportunities leveraging content.  Of course it's important to consider the content - because it's hard to think and wonder when there are no big ideas or when there is not much in the content to think and wonder about. Our content and the thinking that we want our students to be engaged in needs to be dynamic and connected, not one-way and static.  

Final thoughts:  much of the content shared by Mark in his presentations was familiar to me from my time in the International School of Amsterdam.  However being able to engage with it again at a deeper level, and with my colleagues at ASB, was truly amazing - and hopefully transformational.

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Recognizing purpose, exploring practices

Lots of teachers have heard about the visible thinking routines and lots of teachers use them, but these routines and practices are only as powerful as they are connected to their purposes.  Making students' thinking visible is a stance - not a programme - to put thinking onto the front burner.

So while there are different ways that schools are using visible thinking, there are also some commonalities:
  • Core goal is to develop students’ thinking dispositions - their thinking habits - while deepening their subject matter understanding
  • Core belief - dispositions are developed through enculturation in thoughtful settings over time - dispositions cannot be taught, they have to be grown. 
  • Core question - how do we influence and shape classroom culture to make thinking a more central aspect of classroom life? Content elicits thinking opportunities. The content becomes accessible via the thinking.
  • Core practice - developing thinking routines and documenting them. The practices are NOT the goal - they are in service of developing thinking habits/dispositions. Just doing the routines are not the end goal - they are mechanisms towards the goal. They are practical things to do but must be connected to purpose.
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What thinking is worth making visible?

Last weekend I spent the whole of our Plugged-In PD in the Visible Thinking sessions facilitated by Mark Church.  This is the 4th post about our learning.

On Day 1 of the conference we spent the sessions talking about building a culture of thinking and sending a message to students that thinking matters.  On Day 2 our sessions focused on thinking.   Learning is a product or consequence of thinking, and yet as teachers we put a huge amount of effort into planning all the things we are going to do with our students - the learning engagements - but much less time planning for thinking.  Mark pointed out that thinking needs to be planned for and added into the planners and engagements.  Yet this is hard to do because thinking is invisible, and it's hard to plan things with the invisible - hence the need to make thinking visible, and notice and name the thinking we want done.  Because it's so hard to notice and name the thinking we want students to engage in, it's hard for us as teachers to activate it and to influence it - and this is where the Understanding Map comes in.

The Understanding Map contains the thinking moves that may be useful for developing understanding:
Mark pointed out that these routines do not form a taxonomy.  When you look at your subject, at what you want students to understand, you can make a decision about which of these routines will best help students develop a deep understanding.  It's also good to explain to students why you have made these choices - you should use the terms of the routines (for example " I want you to reason with evidence") instead of the simple word "think".  Make sure that you don't simply use the thinking routines as "activities".

Here is a video about the Project Zero Thinking Routines:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Establishing patterns of thinking in the classroom

After lunch I attended another session with Mark Church where we looked at thinking routines and how they differ from strategies or activities.  We asked the questions:
  • How do teachers work with, make use of, and develop thinking routines over time? 
  • What happens for students when they work with thinking routines over time?
First we needed to make sure we were all on the same page about what a thinking routine is:
Thinking - use of the mind to form thoughts, to reason, to make connections, to consider perspectives, to observe closely
Routine - a pattern of behaviour adopted for a particular circumstance, a rehearsed set of movements or actions that make up a performance.

Routines are in place for all sorts of things in schools - classroom management, evacuation of the building in an emergency etc. Why wouldn’t we expect to put a routine in place when a certain type of thinking is called for?  Students need to be familiar with thinking routines that can be applied to different content.

Thinking Routines are tools that can be used over and over again to support specific thinking and structures through which students explore, document and discuss and manage thinking.  They are patterns of behaviour adopted to help one use the mind to form thoughts, reason and reflect.

Throughout the day we explored a number of visible thinking routines - and saw videos of them in action in the classroom.  I'm excited to be going back again tomorrow - even though it is a Saturday - to dive deeper into thinking.

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What is the story of learning in this place?

In the second session with Mark Church today, we asked the question how do we use students' thinking to navigate their learning forward? We first of all considered our own experience and thought of a time when we've been part of a group that did really good thinking together that really advanced our learning. We thought about what made it that way - what were the factors, influences or practices that made that group such a good thinking group? As we shared out, we noticed many similarities: our groups had a common goal, all voices were heard, we could learn from our mistakes, there was an outcome we cared about, everyone brought strengths, we could be flexible, and our collaborative thinking was valued. This led us to the following conclusion about cultures of thinking:
Cultures of thinking are places in which a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day to day experience of all group members.
We applied this to our schools to ask how we could move away from simply using thinking routines, and move towards "thinking that's routine".  We thought about how a classroom's story gets told - what are we doing to foster this culture?  Again we considered the forces that shape a culture in the classroom: routines and structures, time, opportunities, modeling, interactions and language.  And we came away with a question: If I want to encourage thinking - what I am doing to get the culture into place?

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What might we dream of for our learners?

Today and tomorrow we are hosting ASB Plugged-in at school.  We have lots of presenters, but for me I decided to take a deep dive into just one area - to work with Mark Church (an old colleague of mine from the International School of Amsterdam) to really focus in on visible thinking.  We started with some questions:
  • What messages are we sending students about what learning is and how learning happens? What do students think learning is? As teachers, do we know what we mean when we ask children to learn? 
  • What are kids learning about what learning is when they are with us? What is their conceptual understanding of learning?
  • How can we take more notice of the culture of our classrooms - and what it communicates to learners about the value and importance of thinking?
  • How might we make students’ thinking more visible, give it more value, and use it to navigate learning?
  • How can we send a message to students that thinking matters?
Individually and then in pairs, we discussed the 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions and habits that we wished students came to your classroom with that would serve their learning well? We came up with 3 broad categories:
  1. Social dispositions - attitudes and habits that relate to how groups and people function eg: cooperativeness, humour, empathy
  2. Work dispositions - attitudes and habits related to work and school performance eg: persistence, concern for quality, willingness to do one’s best, reviewing one’s work, putting forth best effort
  3. Thinking dispositions - attitudes and habits that facilitate and promote effective thinking, eg: open-mindedness, curiosity, skepticism, looking at both sides of the issue (perspective seeking)
We reflected on how early childhood educators tend to value social dispositions more than the others - the others matter but are not as prominent. With high school all 3 categories show up but work dispositions are more prominent. We talked about what a pre-school through high school continuum looks like? Time is given to social dispositions early on - leading to work dispositions later.  But what about the thinking dispositions?  Where do we take a stance to not lose sight of these - how do we get them on the front burner just as much as the other dispositions?

An observation that Mark made was that If the social dispositions and work dispositions are a mess, you would be hard pressed to find thinking going on in a school/classroom. But the converse is not true. Just because social and work dispositions are in place it doesn’t automatically follow that there is a culture of thinking.

So how can we shift a school or classroom culture? We can do this through the use of routines that foster our disposition wishlist (e.g. curiosity and wondering) and through time (which signifies what is most important in our classroom). We can offer opportunities to engage in the routine and use the interactions around these opportunities to explore the dispositions (e.g. reasoning with evidence). The routine is a model for thinking dispositions, something we can do that signifies the teacher’s wishlist. The environment also needs to allow for the routines. The interactions and expectations afford students the opportunities to engage with these dispositions.

Or as Mark put it - the culture is the co-teacher in the classroom.

And perhaps instead of asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions or habits we want students to come into to our classroom with, we should instead be asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions, habits do we wish that our students left our classrooms with that would serve their learning well - long after they’ve left us?

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