Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Candles of the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Tough times don't last - tough people do

I want to write about this - but it's hard.  Readers of my blog know that my mother has dementia - and that this summer I've been staying with her and trying to support her as best I can.  I'm learning a lot about myself in the process - and it's not always good.  When I have answered the same question 25 times in the past 10 minutes I do get impatient.  I answer the question, but I'm also aware of an edge that creeps into my voice, and I hate myself for it.  I spend my days hunting for things that have got lost - and I find them in the most unexpected places.  Sometimes.  Sometimes I don't find them at all.  Mum has very little awareness of the time.  She can wake up at 2 am and get dressed and decide she wants to go out for lunch.  Or she can decide at 6pm that it's bedtime.  She draws all the curtains and I have to creep around the place in the dark.  But she's my mother, and I love her, and I want her to stay as long as possible in the home where she feels safe.

I know I'm losing her - a little bit more each day.  She remembers my son, but sometimes not my daughter.  She looks at photos of where we used to live, with my brother and I in the garden as children, and says she doesn't know who we are and that she's never lived there.  She can't remember how to cook or even how to make a cup of tea.  She often says hurtful things, and when I suggest she does something (have something to eat, wash, get dressed or whatever) she always replies angrily "Stop telling me what to do."  It's heartbreaking, but she's my mother and I love her.

She's with me every minute of the day, yet I miss her.  I miss the person she used to be.  I miss being her daughter.  I feel like I'm the mother now.  In the course of a day I go through every emotion there is:  sadness, anger, guilt, resentment, happiness, frustration.  One hundred times a day I say to myself "Stop, take a breath, carry on."  Above all else, I think I'm afraid:  afraid that in the future my memories of Mum will be of this time - not the previous 50 years when she was my mother.  That all my good memories will be wiped out by all the conflicting ones I feel now.  I want to remember her as she was - not as she is (or as she will be).  I feel I'm grieving for her - and yet she is still alive.

It's hard.  But I know it's going to get harder.  I know that I need to be happy for today, because this is as good as it's ever going to be, and it's all downhill from here.

I know that I'm not alone.  Millions of people are caring for elderly relatives with dementia.  The other day I was taking Mum for an appointment and the taxi driver opened up about how he was caring for his father.  People are kind and understanding and patient, and I draw strength from that.

I know I need to move closer.  India is so far away.  There's a huge heaviness in my heart as I write this because I have the perfect job at the perfect school.  But I need to be closer.  I need to see Mum more often than I can right now.  And I know that in years to come it will be my mother that I remember, not my job.  I know I will regret the time I don't spend with her - no matter how difficult that time might be.

I know I have a lot of readers in Europe.  I know the power of a network.  I know the recruitment season is coming up - and I suspect that with Brexit looming large that international schools in Europe will be expanding as companies relocate.  To those readers I would say - think of me and please reach out if you hear of a suitable opening.  Thank you.

Finally a poem - sent to me today by a friend.  Kind words are very much appreciated at this time. Thank you too.

Creating a culture of innovation

If you've been a regular reader you will know I'm thinking about teams. Next year I'll be coaching all the tech integration coaches, 5 in the elementary school, 3 in the middle and 3 in the high school.  We have 2 campuses - elementary and secondary - so the tech coaches almost never meet together - and I'm wondering how viable it is to consider them as a team.  I want to - but I don't want to force extra meetings on everyone.  One thing I am determined to do, however, is to run Cognitive Coaching sessions every Monday for all to attend, basically for practice and honing their skills as coaches, as well as perhaps sharing some new ideas, since all our coaches are at different stages of their training.  Anyway, with all this on my mind, it was great to get this week's Dialogic Learning newsletter from Tom Barrett, where he shared a link to an article about the 7 most important hires for creating a culture of innovation.  I like articles like this because it makes me reflect on what role I'm playing in the team - as well as what role I could potentially play.

The article is basically about workplace culture, which is something I was also mulling over this week.  A great culture is important for job satisfaction, and building a great culture depends on employing the right people - or more importantly the right combination of people.  Here are the roles that are important for creating this culture:
  1. The Gardener - this is the person who takes on the role of seeding, nurturing, inspiring and cultivating ideas.  At ASB I'm thinking this was largely the role of the members of the R&D department.
  2. The Sage - described as a wise veteran who has been through the trenches before.  In a school context I'm thinking this could be an administrator, for example an assistant principal, who is still very connected with the actual classroom experience that teachers are living every day.  It's the job of the sage to remind the rest of the admin to focus on the culture.
  3. The Empathizer - someone who understands and is in-tune with the (classroom) experience and  whose role is to help people to make it better.  I'm thinking this role is actually vital if you are a tech coach, and I'm guessing that in a school context this person would not be a member of the admin whose role it is to evaluate.
  4. The Talent Guru - this role is described as "reinventing the company’s policies to match the company’s cultural values and employees’ personal values. Most importantly, talent gurus create the narrative that defines how a company aligns its actions (the what) with its values (the how)."  I'm thinking about this role holistically, not just in terms of our tech team here, but more in terms of a school's mission and values - and how they are actually brought to life, recognised and celebrated within a school.  I think teachers are also be talent gurus within their own classrooms.
  5. The Dean - this is the person who is responsible for professional development to keep the talent within the school learning and growing.  I'd say this was a vital role that is taken on by our Teaching and Learning Coordinator, but also on a smaller scale by all of our tech integration coaches as they foster collaboration and creativity.
  6. The Storyteller - all of us can be storytellers, sharing what we do with the world.  There are many ways to do this, of course, such as through the school website, newsletters, publications and so on.  Many of the R&D team have published their stories in the various Future Forwards (see previous posts about our Future Forwards publications here).
  7. The Questioner - creativity and innovation are more likely to happen when a school or organisation values diversity.  Rather than hiring people who are similar to current employees, it's useful to seek out those who think differently or who have had different experiences.  In my opinion, a school that encourages people to ask questions about what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it, is likely to foster a culture of innovation.
I've written before about the projected growth of international schools worldwide, and how great schools need to attract, develop and retain excellent teachers.  Clearly one way to do this is to focus on the culture.  Some of these roles did resonate with me as being important in schools.  For myself I think I take on all these roles at various times, but the role of questioner really struck a chord:  I'm constantly asking myself and others "Is this the best way?  Can we do this better?"  Do any of these roles resonate with you as well?  Are there other roles that are equally important for fostering creativity and innovation at your school?

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Reducing teacher workload

Last week I had 2 reunions in London - the first one was with friends I started teaching with in the UK over 30 years ago, and the second one was with a group of friends I was a school with over 40 years ago - many of whom had gone into education.  With the first reunion, one of our "team" couldn't make it as it was a week day and she was still teaching - the others have all left teaching altogether or have stepped back to volunteering or working part-time.  With the second reunion, many friends are also reducing their days and saying "just one more year" and planning for retirement (though we are about 10 years short of retirement age).  And yet, on the BBC news yesterday I heard that the retirement age in the UK is going up again to 68, and a teacher who appeared to be in her late 30s or early 40s was interviewed and said she just did not think she could work as a full-time primary teacher until date where she could claim a pension.  Over and over again, both in the UK and from friends in international schools around the world, I hear that workload is an issue.

Digging a little deeper studies show that the number of hours teachers are working has increased significantly over the past 3 years, and that this is driving both teachers and school leaders to leave the profession.  I've read similar reports about young teachers leaving after only a few years too, also because of workload and mental health issues.  The UK government's teacher workload survey, published earlier this year, shows teachers work an average of 54.4 hours a week, and senior leaders work around 62 hours a week.  And yet still, during a taxi journey earlier this week, my driver was quipping about me being able to spend so much time with mum this summer (basically my whole summer has been spent supporting her as she has dementia) because of the short hours/long holidays that teachers enjoy!

This morning I read the Guardian online article about tips to help schools reduce teacher workload.  The article is obviously focused on the UK, with quotes from teachers, headteachers, consultants and union reps, however I thought it would be useful to summarise the main points.

  1. Ask teachers for feedback - for example through workload surveys
  2. Set reasonable expectations for what is expected outside of the school day
  3. Simplify processes such as planning, record keeping and feedback
  4. Take the admin out of lessons - in particular reduce the paperwork involved in lesson plans, marking and reporting
  5. Reflect on whether time is being used in the most effective way
  6. Track progress - plot the hours spent on work outside the classroom and plan for the busy times by cutting other things out
I can identify with many of these.  Certainly there is a lot of "busy work" expected, and I'm always concerned when time is spent on lengthy student assessments and reporting that doesn't then lead to a change in teaching to address the trends noticed in such assessments, or lengthy lesson plans and document writing that is never really looked at again.  

What other suggestions would you have to reduce teacher workload?

Photo Credit: jenni from the block Flickr via Compfight cc

Psychological safety and successful teams

I've been looking through my Twitter feed again today and saw a link to this article about successful teams.  As I'm also currently enrolled in The Role of Technology online course, and having just considered a growth mindset in terms of the IB Learner Profile (my decision was that risk-taker is probably the most important aspect for me in terms of my growth mindset), it was interesting to read that psychological safety is seen by Google as being the most important factor in successful teams.

Psychological safety means that everyone in the team can voice their options, ask questions and take risks.  What Google found was that teams with psychologically safe environments were able to harness the power of diversity, so to me this indicates that they would be more creative.  In addition the findings are that employees were less likely to leave these teams.  When I reflected on these points I concluded that the schools where I'd worked the longest did in fact have psychological safety, and those where I stayed a short time generally did not.

For those interested the other factors in building successful teams were:
  • Dependability - getting things done, meeting expectations
  • Structure and clarity - clear goals and well-defined roles
  • Meaning - personal significance for each member
  • Impact - the work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good
With just another 10 days before I return to school I'm going to have a think about these factors in the light of leading the technology integration coaches next year.  Are all of these factors in place in our team and which need to be strengthened?

Photo Credit: michael.heiss Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Digital Play

I’m really enjoying the online PYP course I’m doing this summer about the role of technology, mostly because I’m finding lots of new resources that I wasn’t aware of before. Today I read one participant’s post about the Digital Play Framework for the Early Years. Now this is an area that I know very little about. I’ve known some Early Years educators who have been very active in using technology with young learners, and some who have been totally opposed to it. I was hoping that by exploring the DPF that I would come to better understand the different viewpoints.
There have been various studies about digital play in recent years in children aged 0-6 in both the UK and the USA. Generally these show children engaged in a range of technologies including TV, computers and mobile devices. For this age group the average screen use time was less than 2 hours a day. I was interested to see that both YouTube and social media has become popular with children under the age of 8, which I must admit seems awfully young to me! The biggest factor in this appears to be the use of touch screen technology, allowing young children to use technology easily. Although some people are concerned that technology use leads to diminished play, studies seem to point to the opposite: digital technology provide rich opportunities for the promotion of play - opportunities that sit alongside more traditional play activities.

In the UK there have also been projects at the Universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh looking at the use of apps and how they promote play and creativity - for example producing new and original content such as drawings. These studies drew on play classifications developed by Hutt:
  • Epistemic play (exploratory play in which the knowledge of things is acquired)
  • Lucid play (drawing on past experiences, including symbolic and fantasy play)
  • Games with rules - including games of skill and chance.
In addition the studies considered Bird and Edward’s Digital Play Framework in which sets of behaviours relate to the 3 types of play identified above.
In studying play, it was observed that there were many examples evidence of children trying to get control of both the physical environment (for example building dens) as well as the virtual one (for example in Minecraft). Imaginative play was evident in augmented reality apps, for example when children treat digital pets as real animals and take care of them.

In conclusion it seems that contemporary play draws on both digital and non-digital forms and often moves across both. The studies certainly debunk the idea that digital play is not “real” play.
Jo Bird, researcher in early childhood technology and creator of the DPF, has shared observation tools for tracking children’s behaviors when using a variety of technology tools. Below are links to Bird’s DPF Handouts:
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Saturday, July 8, 2017

5 traits of successful leaders

The really interesting thing to me in the PYP online workshop The Role of Technology, is that quite a lot of the resources that have been shared are not directly related to technology, but about the conditions that need to be in place before technology can be successfully introduced and integrated. I'm following the leadership path through the workshop and the good news is that we can all learn to be better leaders.  Here's a video that appears on the MindTools website, and this is followed by a set of questions and resources, skills and techniques to help you become a better leader.  First of all I decided to do the quiz.

So how did I do?  Well overall I got a score of 67/90 and I was keen to read on to find out how I could do even better.  The analysis shows that two keys areas of personal growth and development are fundamental to leadership success: self-confidence and a positive attitude.  This is because self-confident people are usually inspiring, and people like to be around individuals who believe in themselves and in what they're doing. Likewise, if you're a positive and optimistic person who tries to make the best of any situation, it's much easier to motivate people to do their best.  In both self-confidence and positive attitude and outlook I scored 7 out of 10.  The recommendation here is to become aware of all the things you have already achieved and to make the most of your strengths.  In the case of a positive mindset, it's also important to develop a strong sense of balance, and recognise that setbacks and problems happen – it's how you deal with those problems that makes the difference.
Positive people approach situations realistically, prepared to make the changes necessary to overcome a problem. Negative people, on the other hand, often give in to the stress and pressure of the situation. This can lead to fear, worry, distress, anger and failure.

The next set of questions were about emotional intelligence, where again I scored 7/10.  This is basically assessing the "soft skills" that allow you to build strong relationships.  I felt good about this and think that over the past few years I've done my best to develop and practice more empathetic listening to try to understand another person's perspective.

Other questions were to assess transformational leadership - which involves creating an inspiring vision of the future and motivating others to achieve it.  It is key to managing the implementation of new initiatives successfully as well as developing other members of the team so that they in turn become more effective in the future too.  In providing a compelling vision of the future I scored 7/10, but in motivating people to deliver the vision I scored 9/10 which I was really pleased with.  Some of this, I believe, is because I also scored highly in being a good role model.  Good leaders lead by example. They do what they say, and say what they do. These types of leaders are trustworthy, and show integrity. They get involved in daily work where needed, and they stay in touch with what's happening throughout the organisation. Great leaders don't just sit in their offices and give orders; they demonstrate the actions and values that they expect from the team.

Successful leaders also manage performance effectively by setting their expectations clearly and concisely. When everyone knows what's expected, it's much easier to get high performance.  Above all, it's important to be fair and consistent.  In the category about providing support and stimulation my score was 14/20.  This deals with providing people with challenging and interesting work, allowing them to develop their skills and to feel supported in their efforts to do a good job.

The Mind Tools website is full of free resources, for example I have also explored the decision making section of the site today as well.  There are sections on team management, problem solving, project management, time management, stress management, communication skills and creativity tools among others.  There are Bite-Size trainings that you can access with membership, however there are a huge amount of resources on the website that can be accessed completely free.  It's a great resources and one that I'm so glad was shared as part of the Role of Technology PYP workshop.

A mindset for new initiatives

I'm currently participating in The Role of Technology PYP online course and today I've been thinking about mindsets.  When considering technology support and technology professional learning it can feel as if you are constantly trying to hit a moving target.  No sooner do teachers feel comfortable with one new tool or approach, then there is another one on the horizon ready to enhance or transform learning - this was the promise we were sold with IWBs, laptops and mobile devices and the one that we are now being told is about to happen with coding and STEAM.  So when thinking about introducing something new, it's important to think about the mindset of the teachers and administrators and to ask how open are they to change and new ideas.  There's no point in a technology teacher or leader being very gung-ho and setting off in one direction, only to find that the teachers are not ready to follow.

A great video about growth -v- fixed mindsets was shared as part of our online workshop and I'm sharing it again here.  The part for me that I find most interesting is that those with growth mindsets find inspiration from the success of others whereas those with fixed mindsets feel threatened by others' successes.  Today I'm thinking how to encourage a growth mindset and how best to support those teachers with more of a fixed mindset to become a little more open to the opportunities that technology can bring to them and their students.

Photo Credit: Kris Krug Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Digital Intelligence

As my regular readers will know, I'm spending the summer with my mother who has dementia.  As I knew I would be spending many weeks out in the countryside with very little to do, and because I also know that much as I love my mum it is incredibly frustrating to spend hours each day having the same conversations over and over again, I decided I needed a bit of intellectual stimulation and so signed up to take the Role of Technology online PYP workshop.  It's fascinating - and although I consider I'm somewhat of an "expert" on technology integration, there are many resources that I've not come across before and which I'm exploring.  One of these that I've been looking at today is the DQ Institute website.  According to the World Economic Forum, Digital Intelligence (DQ) is the sum of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges and adapt to the demands of digital life.  These abilities can be broken down into 8 areas:

Digital identity: The ability to create and manage one’s online identity and reputation. This includes an awareness of one's online persona and management of the short-term and long-term impact of one's online presence.
Digital use: The ability to use digital devices and media, including the mastery of control in order to achieve a healthy balance between life online and offline.
Digital safety: The ability to manage risks online (e.g. cyberbullying, grooming, radicalization) as well as problematic content (e.g. violence and obscenity), and to avoid and limit these risks.
Digital security: The ability to detect cyber threats (e.g. hacking, scams, malware), to understand best practices and to use suitable security tools for data protection.
Digital emotional intelligence: The ability to be empathetic and build good relationships with others online.
Digital communication: The ability to communicate and collaborate with others using digital technologies and media.
Digital literacy: The ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share and create content as well as competency in computational thinking.
Digital rights: The ability to understand and uphold personal and legal rights, including the rights to privacy, intellectual property, freedom of speech and protection from hate speech.

As I read through these they immediately reminded me of the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship.

I started to put these 2 side by side to see where the overlap is.  This is how far I have got at the moment.  

As I'm not very familiar with the DQ model, I'd love some comments about this.  Is there an advantage to using one approach over another?  The DQ model seems a bit more fleshed out than the 9 Elements one, and as I explored it further it seems as if there are different levels - as you can see digital citizenship is Level 1:
  • Level 1: Digital citizenship - The ability to use digital technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways
  • Level 2: Digital creativity - The ability to become a part of the digital ecosystem by co-creating new content and turning ideas into reality by using digital tools
  • Level 3: Digital entrepreneurship - The ability to use digital media and technologies to solve global challenges or to create new opportunities
The DQ website also addresses very directly the 8 skills that students should be taught as part of digital citizenship.  You can see these on the diagram below:

The DQ website contains lots of information and resources for educators and parents and in addition there is the facility to sign students up for a self-learning programme.  The DQ World website for students seems very interactive and engaging, the activities are gamified with the option of earning points and getting yourself and your school onto a Leader Board. Once a student signs up, parents get an email activation code which they need to approve.  They also get a personalised DQ report showing the strengths and weaknesses of their child'd digital intelligence, the extent of exposure to various online risks, and some practical recommendations to improve your child’s DQ™ based on their profile.  The website claims that results of this programme have been tested and proven, leading to a 30% reduction in risky online behaviour and an increase in personal strengths such as critical thinking, empathy and global citizenship.   I'm interested to know if anyone reading this blog has experience of this programme.  I'm about to sign myself up as a student to experience it myself, but would love to hear from any teacher who has actually used this with a class.