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The Way It Needs To Be

From The Solutions Journal comes this quote from Peter Senge:

I believe that the Industrial Age system of education that has spread around the world in the past 150 years will change dramatically in the coming decades.

The assembly-line progression of grades (first, second, third, etc.) coordinated by a fixed curriculum and headed by teachers in charge of students’ learning has grown increasingly out of touch with the realities of today: the global interconnectedness of economics, politics, and culture; the Internet, which puts more and more information at students’ fingertips; and businesses that need people who can think for themselves and collaborate effectively in teams to solve complex problems.

While mainstream school systems are obsessed with standardized test scores and intense individual competition, education innovators are focused on higher-order skills like systems thinking and creativity in conjunction with basic skills in mathematics and language; personal maturation together with technical knowledge; and learning how to learn together in service of addressing problems that are real in students’ lives.

Do I hear an “Amen”?

Original article here

 

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Get Outside!

This image was posted on the Facebook page of a friend of mine. It struck a chord with me as both parent and headmaster. I am unashamedly a “gadget guy” and love the fact that my own children are very comfortable using the technology in our home. However, I also ensure that they have plenty of time to participate in sport, play games outside and enjoy the beauty of our surroundings.

It disturbs me that I have heard of schools in other countries who have removed playground equipment because they fear being sued by parents whose children have injured themselves on it! Good grief – let’s remove pencils from the classroom in case a child is pricked by a sharp lead point! Providing spaces and equipment for physical play is a responsibility for any school which takes the emotional and physical well-being of its pupils seriously. The benefits of exercise to learning and the development of cognitive function are also well-documented and so it is fitting that schools embrace initiatives such as the Discovery Vitality Schools program.

I encourage parents to restrict screen time and play with their children outside whenever possible. I urge school leaders to consider adding physical activities to their school day rather than remove them as inconveniences in the timetable. As for all the added value of sport in a young person’s life and the importance of this activity in school, that’s a topic for another blog post all of its own!

In the meantime, get outside with your kids!

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Transformation before technology!

Changing an outdated industrial-age paradigm of education to a relevant 21st century one will take more than simply adding technology. This piece by Will Richardson sums up my sentiments around this issue so well that I simply had to quote his blog post – I cannot say it better than this!

From the “I Know I Keep Saying This But I Just Can’t Stop Dept.” comes yet another example of how out of whack our language is when talking about what student learning should be. In this long,celebratory piece from the Las Vegas Sun today we learn that students at a Nevada charter school have had their learning “transformed” at the Explore Knowledge Academy, the state’s first iSchool. And the path to transformation? The iPad, of course.

“The world has changed; the expectations in the workforce have changed,” said Abbe Mattson, EKA’s executive director. “You can’t even work at a McDonald’s without using a touch screen. … If we don’t change how we teach, it’s a disservice to our kids.”

Grrrrr…

In the six months since its technology infusion, EKA has become a model of what the classrooms of the 21st century might look like in Clark County.  Although some students found learning to use the new technology challenging, most took to digital learning immediately, Mattson said.  “It’s like second nature for the students,” she said. “They’re open to trying this and they’re used to this multimedia access.”

Students use the iPads to access educational websites and applications as well as electronic textbooks. They use the iPad to take notes and the tablet’s camera to photograph whiteboards filled with teacher’s lessons and chemistry formulas. Some even record lectures using the iPad’s digital voice recorder or video camera, referring to them when they review for tests.

“I love them,” eighth-grader Alexa Freeman, 13, said of the iPads. “They’re super fast and easy to use.”

Wow…

And, finally…wait for it…

Educators say the potential payoff of this digital education is enormous, even though it’s still unproven if this nascent technology will increase student achievement. Educational games and visual applications attempt to make learning fun and keep students’ attention, which should translate to better test scores, teachers say.  “If you can get kids engaged, they’ll learn,” Mattson said. “These iPads will help get kids engaged.”

Learning = better test scores. And so it goes…

Look, I know that this here blog has not been all happy, happy lately. I know my cynicism is seeping through more that even I would like. I know I need to get focused on the good, seriously transformative things that some “bold” schools are doing, and I will, I promise. Really.

But I also know that if we keep allowing stories like these to set the bar for change, we’re shortchanging our kids. It’s yet another example of conflating teaching and learning, of not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support. Transformation in this sense means shifting the balance of power to the learner. And I know that starts way before we put a piece of technology in a kid’s hands. But with that power, the technology becomes a much richer, more valuable tool for learning.

I just feel like we have to keep calling this what it is: old wine in new bottles.

Original article

 

 

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The Value Of A Test Score

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What Happened To Professionalism?

Local school teacher to a pupil in her class: “Where did you go to school before you came to this school?”

Pupil: “I went to {insert name of another local school here}.”

Teacher: “You are so stupid to have wasted half your schooling at {insert name of another local school here}. Only idiots go to that school.”

This is unfortunately a true story…

It never ceases to amaze me that a teacher can be so small-minded and insecure in herself that she is forced to make this kind of comment in front of a class of 11 year olds. Not only is this a ridiculous thing to say, it also reveals an astonishing lack of professionalism. There is also a lack of judgement evident in what is appropriate to say to children and what is not.

Teachers such as this have no place in a classroom in a society in which we are striving to develop children who have the emotional intelligence to seek first to understand before judging others and who have the core value of respect for others. How many other teachers like this are in our schools today? Whatever happened to teachers being the pillar of society and those to whom our children turned for moral and ethical guidance in an often confusing world? Call me naive, but I believe its time to bring honour back into our profession.

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Learning to change – changing to learn (Video)

I love this video which challenges our perceptions of what true learning in the 21st century really looks like. I am challenged to take this message not only to my team of teachers at school but to our parents and wider education community.

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Ideas That Move

Spending time listening to those whose ideas change lives is never going to be a waste of time so I was bristling with eager anticipation at the TEDxCapeTown logostart of TEDxCapeTown last weekend. Having spent many hours being challenged, inspired, entertained and challenged by the many TED videos available online, I was anxious to experience something of the TED experience in-person. I was not disappointed.

Despite an opening by the organisers in which they apologised for what could go wrong before it had (note to conference MCs – never apologise for what has yet to happen; it doesn’t inspire confidence!), the day was extremely well-organised. I tend to be ultra-critical of the small details and there are some aspects of the day which irritated but on the whole, this was an excellent event. There was a tangible sense of excitement and energy in the air as some of Cape Town’s brightest young (and not so young!) minds gathered to share “ideas worth sharing”.

Videos of the talks will be available on the 5th on May so I am not going to expound on each speaker’s input. Rather I would like to share of my learning from a macro-perspective.

I have had almost a week to reflect on the TEDxCapeTown experience and to process the input from the day. There are three major themes which come through for me :

1) People with passion find opportunity to make a difference in their community.

2) People who believe they can, usually do!

3) Hope is alive when ideas are made real.

These three learnings challenged me to think about what I could do differently in both my professional and personal capacities to improve myself and the impact I am making in my sphere of influence.

As leader of a school, I need to apply these learnings to the leadership of my school. How then am I to do this? Here are my thoughts on the application of each “idea challenge” to our school context :

1) People with passion find opportunity to make a difference in their community

Passion is a powerful driving force. It keeps us focused on the task at hand and allows us to persevere through times of struggle. It is also the force which drives us to find solutions for seemingly impossible problems.

Many schools today face serious challenges which threaten their effectiveness and, in some cases, their very existence. These problems range from financial instability, unionised teachers who feel obliged to strike to make a political point, a lack of basic resources to the very real  socio-economic problems of pupils who arrive at school under-nourished or frightened by the violence in their home and community.

Passionate school leaders and teachers will not sit back and accept these realities. They will constantly strive to find solutions so that their pupils may have the best possible opportunities at school. They will work with the community to look for ways in which the people of the community can be engaged in improving the status quo. They will seek ideas to bring a new reality to their school and pupils.

The local school is an integral part of its community and a place where the future leaders and difference-makers of the world spend the vast majority of their hours each day. We owe it to our community and our country to be passionate in our leadership of our schools and to give our energies to finding solutions to those problems which threaten the effectiveness of our teaching and the process of learning.

2) People who believe they can, usually do!

The game-changers of society are those who are not distracted by the nay-sayers or those who choose to see the mountain ahead of them instead of the path leading to its summit.

It is true to say that anyone in a leadership position will be open to criticism by others. In a school context it is the school principal who is the embodiment of the school for parents, community member and education officials. It is he/she who has to spearhead the changes needed to move the school into new, exciting and relevant realities. Changes in curriculum, teaching practice, school policy or indeed any other changes will not always be accepted with open arms by those in the school. Armed with the confidence that his/her plans for change are well-researched and in the best interests of the school, the principal needs to have the courage of his/her convictions to press on. There is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance and the two are sometimes confused by those who choose to criticise instead of engaging in a positive way.

Many schools have for far too long been too comfortable with the status quo, scared of upsetting education boards, parent interest groups and various other factions. The truth is that if our schools are to be true to their mission of providing children with effective education which prepares them for relevancy in the world, they will need leaders who are prepared to swim upstream at times. They will need leaders who have such a strong belief in their mission that they will do whatever it takes to make their schools models of effective, relevant and dynamic education.

3) Hope is alive when ideas are made real

I remember reading a newspaper article some years ago about a rural high school principal in the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape Province of South Africa who walked several kilometers to school each day and transformed his school from one where hardly any pupils passed their school-leaving exams to one where they managed to achieve a 100% pass rate several years in a row. He inspired his teachers to go the extra mile with their pupils by planting an idea in the school that every pupil had the potential to succeed. His teachers brought in desks and chairs from their homes, photocopied (at their own expense) local newspaper articles for language lessons, came in on weekends and in school holidays and began each day on time. The idea that every child could succeed inspired both teachers and pupils and brought hope to a school where there was none before.

The above example is but one of many in the education sector where an individual (not necessarily the principal) has shared an idea which has kept the hopes and dreams of a school and/or community alive. School leaders are in  unique position to influence adults (parents, teachers, community members, education department officials) and children with ideas that can really “change the world”. This places a huge responsibility on those of us privilege to lead schools. We get to influence the decision makers of today and tomorrow. In how many other professions is that true?

It is our duty to bring to fruition ideas in our school which can change the present and future of  our community. In the midst of political, social and economic turmoil, we need school leaders who keep the hope of a brighter future alive and who inspire others to bring creative, thought-provoking, challenging and game-changing ideas to reality.

I left TEDxCapeTown with the sense that I could do and be so much more. I  have been challenged to focus my energy on the idea that our school can become a beacon in the community – a place where young minds are given the space to create and a community of learning which celebrates different modalities of learning in a far greater way than we have done in the past. I am encouraged to develop our staff to think even more deeply about how we teach and how we can further develop the natural curiosity of the young minds we are privileged to work with. I am inspired to develop in our pupils, staff and parents a knowledge of the phenomenal talent present in our country and to celebrate with them the wonderful place we call home.

The next local TED event is in Stellenbosch – I intend to be there and would love to take some of our staff along for the experience! If you are going to be there, please send a tweet to @artpreston so that we can meet up and share our “ideas worth sharing”!