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 known 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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