There are some great minds out there in different circles. Leaders and teachers doing creative things to explore and examine Who we are and Who we want to become. You just have to look at the steady stream of books being published about the importance of people, relationships, community and culture development in schools, and for life in general.
It’s all great stuff!
For inquiring minds, it creates time and space for contemplation and introspection. However, this is only where the seed is planted. The real growth happens when the germination of ideas breaks through the soil to reveal one’s conscious effort and energy to put words into action. Not only to learn more about Who we are, but to understand why we are the way we are.
It all starts with the notion of ‘Working From Within.’ We need to work on ourselves before we expect our culture or community to change. The climate of our culture, environment and community is a direct reflection of who we are as individuals.
Challenge: Over the course of a week, when chatting with people about a concern or issue do an audit on whether the person you’re talking to is doing one of two things:
- Looking at external factors or forces to explain or make sense of how things could be better; or,
- Looking within to explain or make sense of how things could have been handled differently.
There are many ways you can view the above circles depending on the situation and context.
How can we increase the circle of “What I say to other people,” in the way of honest feedback or challenging negativity without placing pressure or straining the relationship?
While all these books tell us to have radical candor, give feedback, be open and honest…. it’s all great stuff, it really is. In theory. In practice, when feedback is given or there is challenge, the reality is, that after such an interaction, things shift. In the end, we are human.
How can we truly express the things we want to say or more importantly need to be said with grace and honesty, in a way where others understand and the relationship deepens?
We all know of people who are forward and have a steady stream of consciousnesses. We all know of people, who live in their heads and keep it locked there. And then there is everything in-between.
Right now, it feels like (it is like) we are always skimming the surface. We talk a big game, yet we’re constantly traversing and balancing our weight on a tight rope filtering through these circles.
Is it just in schools that it is like this? A lot of us have never left school in the way of a being a student and then coming back as a work place. I wonder what it is like in the police force, hospitals, business firms, law office, construction site……….
It’s not what we say to people, it’s how we say it. Easy to say, more difficult to do.
Developing a culture starts with you. Parts to the whole. What is one thing you’re going to do to be true to your inner thoughts?
The ebbs and flows of exciting new job prospects and recruitment is slowing down to rest dormant for another cycle in international schools. More on this later in the post. Let’s pause for a moment and wind back to August before going any further.
You’re in August, just returned after a relaxing break, time to ponder and consider if you are staying on or moving on, as your contract is a perishable item, just like long-life milk in aisle 4. Before you know it, you find yourself in October (some schools drop the ‘letter of intent’ much earlier than this). You have to resign before squaring away that next job.
What to do? Am I fulfilled? Have I outgrown this place? Am I happy? Do I offer something unique? The questions, the introspection, the game of romanticizing and flirting with the dozens of possibilities of potential schools begins to become real. Then the practicalities and gravity of moving sets in…. shipping, housing, Visas, notarization, friends, the comfortable life you’ve created, police checks….. here we go again.
So you’re now leaving and have a good 6 months left at the school which saw something special in you when they first took you on. They hired you on all the skills, knowledge and passion for learning that you were bringing with you. Life was good. The cycle turns and rolls effortlessly.
And this is where ‘the game’ becomes interesting….
Who are you once you have a foot out the door? You’ve signed and secured a new contract somewhere else. Good for you!
How are you going to spend your remaining 6 months? What is your legacy? How do you want to be remembered? I believe that the true colors of who one really is, shine through in the last 6 months of their contract. This is when you see someone in their full light. Their morals, their values, their ethics, their desire, their essence, their personality, their qualities, their core…..
Are you someone who begins to:
- arrive late to work?
- use all your sick days?
- say less? do less?
- leave at 4 on the dot?
- gossip and be more negative
- and on and on…..
Or are you someone who:
- gives their best and remains consistent?
- contributes at meetings?
- turns up to organized events and supports them?
- is positive and works hard?
- still cares about learning and growing?
- has the desire to ‘finish’ well, right up to the middle of June?
- and on and on…..
I believe that school leadership and administration needs to connect with the schools that teachers are going to and share some ‘home truths’ with how things have turned sour (or not) in the remaining 6 weeks of the year. More like a follow-up conversation, a hand over. Sharing an appraisal or goals. We do that with our students, why not educators….. Maybe this would work…. maybe not. There has to be a way to circle things back.
Sure, leaders can have conversations with those who flag and meander. I think there is a missing link from the beginning of August. The ‘sun setting stage’ of one’s time in a school says a lot about someone. The approach we need to take should go beyond the signing of a new contract and hoping they stay true and consistent to what they have shown and been like.
Let’s finish well, let’s finish how we started!
Why do we have to manage grown adults ‘out of’ and ‘in to’ schools?
Teachers do a lot of reflecting, but do we ever truly reflect?
The type of reflection I’m referring to is the type that drills down to the core and demands to explore and examine the inner workings of who we are, how best we teach and why things worked out the way they did in our practice, style and approach.
Do you venture outside of yourself and look to blame others when things didn’t work out or do you look within and accept the home truths that laid buried beneath the surface?
Who are you? What is your tendency?
As teachers, we expect our students to reflect all the time. “What could you do differently next time?” or “Write a piece on what you now know and understand because of this experience.”
Do we leave enough room for teachers to do the same? I’m leaning towards a ‘no’ here.
I guess this is where I have a problem with it all. We get our students to reflect, yet teachers are the worst at it. Yes, there are those 6 times in the year we skim over the reflection piece of a planner – agreed. But, it is more about getting through it, as opposed to that true excavation of how to be better, increase intrigue and insight for the next opportunity to improve. I believe that there needs to be a section (time allowed) where students give feedback to teachers on how we could have taught them better. Imagine that! An opportunity for us to learn from our students and see things through the eyes of a 6 or 10 year-old.
We would discover things about ourselves that we would normally ‘overlook’ and, therefore would ‘look over’ to seek ways to simplify, improve and learn from.
Give students a voice to build a real culture of honesty – that will lead us towards being and doing better for them and for ourselves too.
I also believe that (now I’m taking a side Sam) teachers need to not only reflect about the pedagogy, they also need to reflect about what they bring and don’t bring to each unit – not just as a teacher, but as a person. We are great at using terms like growth mindset and innovation for education, redefining, being a capacity builder…. what does all that mean if we leave out the biggest piece – how is your practice changing you?
A few days ago, the Dalai Lama tweeted this:
The Dalai Lama has hit the nail on the head. As educators, we are caught in an endless cycle of change as we perpetually seek to “make education better”. However, unless that is part of a higher purpose (or at least one that could have some visible manifestation for us to see the fruits of our labour) – being endlessly in the pursuit of the vague idea of “better” is pretty demoralizing and exhausting. It is also quite pointless as we never stop to think about why we are educating, what school is really for and what the long-term effects are of being educated.
We do need to “change our way of life”, lets face it. Take a good look around you… and beyond. Can we honestly say that humanity is doing a good job at the moment? Can we honestly say that we are part of something positive? Can we put our hands on our hearts and say we are creating a better world for our children, and their children?
Even more worryingly, can we honestly say we – in our schools – are creating better children for our world?
There are all sorts of positive stories out there about people doing wonderful things. But they are a tiny fraction compared to the stories of greed, destruction, waste, pollution, violence, hatred, racism, misogyny and stupidity. Those positive stories frequently come about despite how people are educated. They are often the result of those people who are challenging the systems that education is a part of. They are often perpetuated by the outliers, failures and rejects of formal education or the people who had to wait until their education was over before they could do something they really believed in.
In some cases, however, they are the direct result of education… a single school with a clear mission, a solitary teacher who makes a lasting impact, a student who emerges as a true leader, a project that gathers real momentum. We must start to gather these examples and commit ourselves to creating the conditions for them to happen more. Much more. So much so that they become our purpose – not creating employees, not getting kids into universities, not guaranteeing high incomes.
So… I call upon all teachers to ask yourselves…
“are you changing our way of life through education?”
If so, what are the conditions that allow you to do that?
If not, what holds you back?
Artwork by Igor Morsky. For more information about him and his work, click here.
Thankfully, there is much talk of change in education at the moment. Sir Ken Robinson’s provocation – nearly 10 years ago – has been simmering away and, in the last few years, genuine ideas have started to emerge. Sir Ken told us why education needs to change, but not how. Well. the how is happening…
But, a word of caution. When we are in the business of breaking moulds… we often create new moulds. When we are finding a new way of doing something, we may substitute it for something that is not that much better.
We need to use the SAMR model as a way of considering all of our pedagogy, all of our ideas and all of the systems in school. We need to make sure we’re not just substituting… and that we are aiming for a redefinition of the school experience. Anything less, really, and we’re not creating real change. Anything less than redefinition and we are just trying to improve things, to augment.
In the current climate of change, why should we aim any lower than redefinition?
- What has become normal in schools?
- What has become normal in life?
- How much of what is normal is acceptable?
- How much of what is normal is harmful or destructive?
- How much do we perpetuate the normal in schools?
- How do we challenge the normal in schools?
- How do we encourage our students to challenge the normal?
BIG questions. But, if we are not answering them in the world of education then where and when will they be answered? Can we afford not to answer them?
Thanks to Dominic Wilcox for challenging us to reinvent normal.
Thanks to Katherine Williams for sharing the video about Dominic.
Thanks to Twitter for connecting people’s minds.
I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.
There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:
- that success = money
- that waste is OK
- that pollution is inevitable
- that destruction = progress
- that new is best
- that media = truth
- that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
- that school = work
- that education is the key
- that its OK for technology to lead the way
- that we have no control over the future
I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.
In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.
I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?
Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?
These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.
Schools have come a long way when it comes to reporting/assessing student learning. There are so many good things about what we do in this profession, writing report cards are not one of them. Why is that?
It is time? Is it timing? Is it the amount of in-put vs out-put? Is it the fact that report cards say so much, but really say nothing at the same time?
I personally have not seen a school get this right yet. I am very interested in what other schools do out there. Can we share some examples? It is time to simplify the report card process. Not only for teachers, but for parents and students too.
What do your report cards say about your school?
Are you really valuing real learning? Do they reflect the 5 essential elements of the PYP? Are they truly representing who they are as learners and as people? Do you review the report card process? Is reporting just a formality?
What does your report card say about you?
A lot of us copy and paste comments. We know it, administration knows it, parents know it, and even kids know it. If this is what we do then should we just not do them? Or do you write 100% personalized comments that truly reveal who each kids are? How can we get it right when we think about the time it takes to write them, proofread, edit and revise them?
There seems to be a shift from writing long narratives (full of teacher jargon) to more concise and pointed comments focusing on strengths and learning targets. I actually find it more challenging to write a specific comment than a long-winded one.
This got me thinking…. do we actually need reports? Why can’t we just write them for students who are leaving the school? Don’t we have enough assessments already that speak so much louder than a written report? Something to consider and think about. A move like that would take a lot of guts. There would have to be a very supportive school community that gets it. There are parents out there that do get it. Let’s educate the others.
Our school wants to inquire into report cards. What does good look like and sound like? Please let us know if you would like to share what you do. Add to this conversation. This is an SOS call to look at different approaches. Together, I am sure we can adapt and change what we currently do to reflect what we want our reports to say about student learning.
It has taken me a long time to work out what schools really want, what they really stand for, and who the people really are that work in them. I have always believed in school mission statements and platitudes (why I choose certain schools over others) of heavy bold print that have flowery language, such as inspire and empower or whatever seems to be the rage at the time of writing.
No matter which way you look at it, schools are all the same. They talk BIG! They promise the best education on offer to enrich and prepare for tomorrow’s world. Really?! Are we really that ignorant or stupid to pretend to be something we are not?
I am not trying to sound whiny in any way, what I do want to do is stir up a conversation. I intend on making some some waves, invite a bit of chaos to the mix. This is the only way there is ever going to be any positive change.
So where is all this frustration coming from?
When I talk with teachers, I feel as if they want to learn new things and they are open for new ideas and ways of teaching and learning. All this conversation really excites me as it should for anyone that enjoys teaching like I do. But, when it comes down to actually doing something with all the talk, I am realizing more and more that it is rather hollow. No one wants to get better. No one wants to change. Teaching is transactional and the currency is convenience. People are teaching just the way they were taught at school. It is what they know, it is what they are comfortable with, it is safe. Hence, the blog title. My confusion and frustration has set in because I thought the PYP was going to challenge those traditional ideologies and open the profession up to be creative, provoke new thinking, promote natural and authentic learning, you get what I mean.
How are we ever going to move with the times if people refuse to change themselves and move beyond their comfort zone? I have observed classes seated in rows, heads down and teacher up-front talking at 7 year olds for an hour with no interaction…. No, this is not ok.
Which person are you? Be honest….
Well, my hope is and always has been that mission statements are written as guiding lights to aspire to. Would I like to be a child in my own class? Am I really living up to what the school is selling to parents? The answer is yes. Why, because everyday I am changing and offering students a different learning experience that requires time, effort and energy. If your gut reaction to the above question is no, then please do the kids and us a favor and try another profession.
Let’s say what we mean and mean what we say.
I promise the next post will be a more positive one….
Bonnie Campbell-Hill’s Writing Continuum is a fantastic resource for informing teaching and learning. When used on a regular basis it is extremely powerful. It is a part of NISTs language assessment methods.
I would like to achieve two things with this posting:
- Get a sense of who is using the Writing Continuum on a regular basis in their classroom.
- Encourage all of us to start being honest about what we are doing and not doing in our teaching.
So, I will start. I have been using the Writing Continuum for four years prior to coming to NIST… but have not used it since I have been teaching here as I have been caught up in doing other things.
What about you?
Are you using the Writing Continuum? If so, how do you use it? If not, why is that?
Conceptual understandings from IB Language Arts Scope and Sequence Document
Image from hatta affendy on Flickr