Wednesday, May 31, 2017

An epidemic of overwhelm

My summer read arrived today.  Each year we get the option of a professional learning book to read over the summer, and the one I chose this year was Your Brain at Work by David Rock.  As this is a hardback book, and since I have limited space and weight for my summer in Europe, my aim is to try to read the book (or most of it) before I go next week.  Today I read the first 2 chapters.

It's the end of our school year, and everywhere I turn at school I see people who are stressed because they feel they have too much to do before the end of term.  A couple of weeks ago I realized that I also had a huge "to do" list, which I wrote up on a whiteboard in my office, and have spent the last few weeks crossing off the things as they get done:  update all the IT integration documents - done, meet all the teachers I've been coaching to reflect on their goals for the year - done, meet all the TAs to reflect - all done except 2, complete the tech audit - done, meet with the tech coaches - planned for next week.  Today I wiped the board clean and put just 4 items back onto it.  I know I'll get to do these before the end of next week, however what I'm seeing is that many of us are simply managing a larger and larger to-do list and inevitably this gets overwhelming.

In Chapter 1 of Your Brain at Work, David Rock tells us to "prioritize prioritizing".  The recommendation is that this is done at the start of every day, before you start any other attention-rich activity such as reading and replying to emails. Rock also tells us that we spend more time thinking about problems (things we have seen) than solutions (things we have not seen), because thinking about the unknown takes a lot of time an effort.  This is the opposite of what we've been taught to do in our Cognitive Coaching - where we acknowledge the present state but them quickly move to the desired state.  One good way of prioritizing is to write things down - I'm a great fan of making a list because this gets the task out of the brain, saving it to work on comparing the tasks rather than just remembering them.  The other piece of advice in Chapter 1 is to do the hardest tasks when you have a fresh and alert mind - either early in the day or after a break.  He tells us to "plan to do your deep thinking in one block" which allows us to shift around the work we are doing to let our brains recover.  The analogy here is a sports one:  it's best to do some heavy lifting, then some cardio and then some stretching.  This way, as you change exercise, muscles get used in new ways, with some resting while others are working.  At the same time we need to develop the capacity to not pay attention to non-urgent tasks - in fact we need to say no to them (possibly to delegate them to others).

Another analogy used throughout the book is that your brain is like a stage and the tasks you need to remember and do are like the actors on the stage.  You don't have all the actors on the stage at once - if there are too many then some get pushed off.  Studies have been done on how many things your brain can work on at one time.  Fifty years ago it was thought that you could hold about 7 items in your mind at once, however 15 years ago this was revised down to 4, and even that depends on how complex the tasks are.  Your brain works well on tasks that are made up of elements that are already in your long-term memory, but it's usually hard to think about new ideas unless they connect to existing ones.  Rock writes, "While you can obviously remember more than one thing at a time, your memory degrades for each item when you hold a lot in mind."  Basically the fewer things that are on your mind, the better you are at making decisions:  the most efficient number of variables for making decisions is 2, and you should always try to limit ideas to just 3 or 4 at once.

A lot of what Rock writes about I really relate to.  I know there have been times this year when I've forgotten to do something, and at those times I've actually said "I have so much in my mind that something dropped out",  and yet I'm still juggling all those balls and most of the time I don't drop any.  Juggling is the subject of Chapter 3 in the book.  I'll be reading this tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Bust it Away Photography Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How society kills our creativity

This short 7 minute animation was shared by a friend of mine today - and I simply had to share it along further.  Madrid based animators, Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Mendez created this film to demonstrate what happens when we let external influences dim our inner light.  Enjoy!


Moving from best practice to next practice

Last week I was in The Hague at the IB office, meeting about PD.  On our first day there we spent some time discussing "background" issues such as forecasts of the number of international schools, and research into the reasons why people attend PD.  One of the studies quoted was by Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School who characterises PD into functional, emotional and social.  We were asked to consider these questions:
  • Functional - what is the need that it met?  Often times teachers will reply that they attended PD because they wanted to become a better teacher, they wanted to improve student learning or they wanted to get a better job.
  • Emotional - how did you feel about doing the PD?  Here important marker words were things like commitment and reputation, and teachers said they felt valued and recognised by their school when they were sent to PD.
  • Social - what was the social purpose of attending PD?  Often teachers talked about building a PLN, being able to "keep up", becoming a leader, and enhanced status as a professional especially if they subsequently felt they were able to contribute to the profession.  
Sifting through all the responses to the IB questionnaires following PD, similar trends emerge:  teachers write that they want to learn new things, improve as a teacher, help other teachers, advance in their career, and in some cases that the PD was required by the school.  They noted many benefits such as greater course knowledge, career advancement, networking and being certified for new responsibilities.  I have to say this last one is important - especially in countries where the number of IB or PYP schools is growing fast - being trained in the PYP has frequently led to teachers being "poached" by other local schools and given positions of responsibility, simply because of their experience and professional development in another PYP school.

The international school landscape is shifting - and what we mean by an international school isn't just a local private school teaching in English.  It involves having an international mix of students, international governance, internationally minded teachers and an international curriculum.  Generally these schools are promoting themselves as a different quality of education from that you could get at local schools, in particular some schools emphasis that they are a route to "good" universities.  The biggest growth for new international schools is in Asia and the Middle East.

Here are the figures we were given:
2015 number of schools - 7500,  number of international teachers - 350,000.
2025 predicted numbers of schools - 15,000, and predicted numbers of international teachers - 734,000.  
This is a huge growth and of course has a big impact on the provision of PD.

As well as this, the growth is going to change how international schools differentiate themselves from each other. For example in Mumbai we have more than 40 international schools - each is looking for what its unique selling points will be. Many have characterised these as things like engaged and optimistic students (optimism, for example, appears in our mission statement at ASB). Many international schools also stress their global connections - in fact some are parts of global "groups" like the GEMS schools, or United World Colleges. For many of these schools their selling point is that the learning environment supports personalised learning and that the students from these schools emerge as self-directed learners both today and in the future.  Others stress that their students are multilingual and culturally intelligent.

The European Council of International Schools (ECIS) engaged the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) to study the role of international schools in the future. This study showed that it will be international schools who will lead a new global education system, setting educational agendas and addressing the disconnect between schooling and learning. Our international schools could be a creative catalyst bringing about change and implementing what we know about learning. There should be intelligent communities - to focus on reflection both within the institution and with others - a movement away from competition and a realisation that schools are stronger together.

As the role of international schools changes, this should really affect curriculum - moving from best practice to “next practice” that combines the best of local, national and global. New pedagogies will involve strong learning partnerships among students and teachers and of course 21st century skills.  The idea is that there will be a shift from teacher centred learning (with an emphasis on product - which involves lots of plans and interventions, assessments and giving students choice only through electives) to student centred learning which focuses on process, social and life skills, and where student choice is more important than "learning activities".  And of course as this shift happens there will be tension between those teachers who are subject centred and those who are learner centred. This is an exciting time for the PYP that has placed itself in the gap between the two - and how excited I am to be a part of this change!

Photo Credit: jaci XIII Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Teaching and Learning with Technology

About two and a half years ago I wrote several blog posts about the IBO's pre-publication of The Role of Technology in the IB Programmes.  Following my week at the IB office the The Hague, I've now come back to read through the publication of Teaching and learning with technology:  A guide of basic principles, that was eventually published a year later in December 2015.  I wanted to dig into this publication again in the light of the changes coming to the PYP from Principles into Practice (PiP). As we transition and upskill our educators I wanted to reflect on the role of technology in this process.

Back in the pre-publication days, I wrote a blog post about whether technology was a language, a literacy or a concept.  I like the way this is now explained:  "things and concepts work together as "technologies" to make the world easier to live in and understand:  technologies are anything that aids or extends you" (the you here refers to the entire school learning community).  Technology supports the curriculum and does not dominate it.  It is:

  • evident but seamless in the curriculum
  • accessible to all learners, creating classrooms that are inclusive and diverse
  • adaptive to many contexts
  • Supportive of intercultural understanding, global engagement and multilingualism (the things that really define what an IB school is - the things that set these schools apart from other "good" schools)
  • helpful in fostering the collection, creation, design and analysis of significant content.
Of course technology is also a literacy - it needs knowledge to be acquired, applied and reflected on, and it is cognitive, being demonstrated more through thinking than simply mastering a variety of tools.  However technology literacy does encourage the development of different skills, and the ability to understand and communicate in many forms (multimodal).  As the emphasis is on the connections to the real world, technology can broaden students' experiences and prepare them for their futures in a multicultural world.  And literacy is developed by actively choosing and using multiple technologies in the classroom.

Back in the day, I also wrote a blog post about integration -v- implementation.  I've been thinking about this again today too.  One part of the document that really spoke to me was this:
Integration means developing approaches to learning that technology supports, or that are only possible by using particular technologies ... the popular definition of technology integration involves learning to use "things", but the academic definition involves learning concepts that these particular "things" support or make possible.
And in my mind this is how it relates to PD: "in order for technology use to be better connected to both pedagogy and instruction, professional development must demonstrate to educators both how and why they need to use new technologies."  Right now I'm facilitating a workshop on digital citizenship and I know that some of the new technologies introduced might be challenging to some of the participants, but hopefully we can explore these hows and whys, so that they will feel comfortable using them with their own students and sharing with others in their learning communities.

Photo credit:  I took this photo last week in Den Haag