The culture of education

It is possible to examine and make judgments on the culture and climate of an organisation.   We can look at a macro view, looking at all companies within a particular employment sector or looking at similar organisations across a specified geographical area.   Equally we can take a micro view observing the specific culture and climate within departments or other sub-divisions within a particular organisation.

I have found myself repeatedly mentioning the importance of schools in general having an open culture and a positive climate.   My intention with such comments was specifically to address culture and climate at the organisational level, looking at each individual school as the whole unit however I have had cause to reflect on this and consider a more macro viewpoint.

What would the culture and climate of “schools” in general be?

What I mean by this, is that if we were to consider all the schools and all educational staff, including leaders, teachers and support staff, as the scope of analysis and as a single unit of study what would the culture and climate be.

The first issue I have with the above is the question is the evidence which is used in such a judgement.   Thinking about education and schools in general and the things which come to mind as possible evidence the various comments on social media including twitter, facebook and LinkedIn are first to stir in my conscious thoughts.    The television and printed news would also serve as evidence which is quick to present itself.     The issue I instantly have with this is that these are things which come easily to mind as they are most easily accessible in my memory, not that they are most representative of the truth, however my perception as directed by my memories is my truth.

As such my truth with regards how I perceive the culture and climate of schools in general could be shaped by the below:

Having read the above, how do you yourself feel about schools?

I don’t feel quite as negative as I possibly should based on the examples above and the many similar posts, articles and stories however this is due to being conscious of the fact that these items only way readily on my mind not due to be fact but due to just being readily available.    That they are readily available is partly related to the media and the need for a good story along with the tendency to report the extremes as opposed to the everyday, the more mundane and also the more representative.   This in turn leads to retweets and responses to articles which emphasise these reported extremes, in turn reinforcing stories like those mentioned above.

Could it be that we are in a cycle of negativity?

I hasten to add that I am not suggesting with the above question that all is perfect in the world of education and that we should stop moaning and get on with it, far from this.    Education the world over has many issues, with each individual country and education system with its own demons to wrestle.   Some countries are making better progress than others, and some other countries are suffering a quicker or lesser decline than their neighbours.   We need to address the issues in hand and this requires making them known and discussing them in a hope to find solutions.

But wouldn’t it be nice if in all of this teachers had at least a few thoughts which came easily to mind which were positive about the work we do.     Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a positive cycle of news relating to successes, ideas, etc.

As the 2015/16 year draws to a close wouldn’t it be nice to show the world that there is a culture of working to make things better, of positivity, of sharing, of openness………..hold on, would it be nice to show the world the face we show our students every day we are with them!

P.s. Following writing this I observed #teacher5aday and calls for tweachers to tweet thanks to other educators who have inspired them.

This and the resulting stream of thank you tweets flying around twitter is exactly the positivity that I was referring to above, and the kind of example which I would like to see come easily to mind among teachers and also the general public.   This is the culture and climate we want to seek to encourage.

 

 

Advertisements

“Computers in schools” – My thoughts

A recent BBC article cited an OECD report which seemed to indicate that the use of computers in schools did not have an impact on student outcomes.    The article cited PISA results, comparing the countries with reportedly high usage of computers to those will significantly lower usage of computers within classes.    The evidence as cited showed that the countries with high usage performed worse than those with low usage leading to the banner headline of “Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD”.    Now the first issue I have with this is the total disregard for the massive number of variables which may impact on the results of the study however were not mentioned or discussed within the article.    It may be that socio-economic differences may have influenced results or maybe difference in the prevalent teaching styles and techniques in given countries, or the national or educational culture or climate.      The overall sampling of the student is also of concern.      The study involved examination of results across a wide range of countries and as such only took account of a small number of schools within each country.    As such the chosen schools were considered as representative of the average school in each country however schools differ in such a multitude of different ways resulting from culture, climate, staffing, curriculum, location, local economics, local job market and available finance to name but a few.    Given the above the results are at best are suggestive and the articles headline nothing short of sensationalism.

The article also identified that countries in Asia were inclined to be reluctant adopters of computers use in classrooms while achieving excellent PISA results.    The fact that these specific schools exist within a given geographical location and that this may in fact be related to the high results as opposed to any specific reluctance to adopt technology should have been identified.   Sally Weale in her article suggested that the high PISA scores for schools within Asia may not just be related to specific teaching styles in the region but may relate to the prevalent culture in the region and in schools in the region.     Their study didn’t even make any mention of technology or the slow adoption of technology as a potential factor impacting on high PISA results.

Moving away from the research side of things there is also the issue of what computers are used for in the classroom.    Computers and technology in a wider sense are just tools to be used in the classroom by the teacher much in the same way as a whiteboard, pens and paper.   How they are used depends very much on the teacher.    Some may use it a way that adds value to teaching and learning while others may use it in a way which detracts from the potential learning experience.    So maybe the issue isn’t as simple as looking at technology in isolation but instead should focus more on how technology is used.   Other aspects worthy of consideration include technology professional development and sharing or collaboration among teachers with regards technology usage as each of these may have a significant impact on the success of technology usage.

There is also the issue of why we are educating students however I will only briefly mention that as I suspect it will be a post in itself in the not too distant future.   The BBC article looks at PISA results as the outcome, suggesting that education is all about student results however as a teacher education is about more.   It is about shaping students in adults prepared for the world with the skills and characteristics to survive and thrive in the world they find themselves in beyond school.   No we all know that the world they go to will be very much a technological world beyond the current already technological world we live in.     So how can anyone think that taking technology out of classrooms or banning it from classrooms is a good idea?

 

Sources:

Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD,   Sept 2015, BBC, Sean Coughlan

‘Culture, not just curriculum’, determines east Asian school success, Oct 2014, Guardian, Sally, Weale,

Obstacles and Learned Behaviour

I was in the process of planning a training session within which I planned to use Stephen coveys circles of concern and influence.   I was considering Coveys comments regarding the fact that as we work more in our circle of influence we grow the circle.    This growth is the result of others seeing our ability to bring about change and to have an impact.   We also build up trust in ourselves that we can succeed and have an impact.   So the impact is two fold changing the perception of other towards us and also changing our own self perception. I found myself considering if this self fulfilling prophecy might be applicable beyond Coveys circles and into the domain of overcoming obstacles.    Where we freeze or shy away from obstacles we may be seen by others as ineffectual.    We ourselves will also start to believe that we are incapable of overcoming the prevalent obstacles in our lives.  It is a negative self fulfilling prophecy.   It may also be considered as learned behaviour as each experience of being unable to overcome an obstacle reinforces the belief that we can’t overcome obstacles. Looking at the other side of things, if we see an obstacle as an opportunity and proceed to overcome it then we show others that we can succeed.  We also build our self confidence in our ability to overcome obstacles.   When the next obstacle makes it appearance we will be more likely to challenge it and to view it as an opportunity.   Again we have a self fulfilling prophecy and learned behaviour however here we have significantly better chances of a positive outcome. Now both the positive and the negative examples above show evidence of learned behaviour.    Such behaviour is often enacted with little conscious thought.  The challenge therefore is for us as individuals to remain aware of what we are doing and why and to rethinking those situations where the behaviour is negative in nature and to encourage those behaviours which are positive. AlarmClock_small It’s now been a few days since I started seeing the obstacle of being tired and having to get out of bed as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.   Each day I get up and out of bed rather than hitting snooze, the easier it is to repeat the task the following day.  Yesterday the extra time and motivation I gained from succeeding in getting up despite being tired resulted in very significant improvements in productivity.   So next time you hit snooze and roll over in bed give some thoughts to this fact as I promise the impact on your day is bigger than just the loss of 10 or 15 minutes from the available time in the day. As Ryan Holiday puts it in the title to his book, “The Obstacle is the way”.

Education: Time to consider the customer?

I have recently been listening to Sir Richard Branson’ s audio book, The Virgin Way, and it has got me thinking about a number of things.   In one particular chapter of the book a number of companies were discussed, where each had been highly successful however then went through a period of significant loss.   Sir Richard suggested that these companies lost significant amounts of money due to a mistaken focus on “challenging” financial targets as the key indicator and focal point for performance discussions, at the expense of the overall good of the company and its organisational culture.    Having recently done a study on culture within international schools operating in the UAE, this made me consider possible parallels between the business world and the world of education.   Deal and Peterson (2009) in their book suggested that schools could learn from the business world in terms of developing culture.

ID-100270709

In Sir Bransons book the focus on financial targets is identified as an error contributing to losses in the financial results which are being examined.   He suggested that the finances are a bi-product of the business as opposed to its sole aim, indicating that within his organisations the aim is to deliver excellent customer service and to look after the customers first.   He goes on to explain that if he looks after his customers, they will look after him and that positive financial outcomes will be a bi-product of this.

Drawing comparisons between Sir Branson’s comments with regards business and education I would suggest that the financial results examined to assess the success of businesses may be similar in nature to the standardised test results being examined to assess the success of schools.    Within education in recent times there has been a significant amount said and a significant focus put on standardised test scores.  Based on PISA results for example, Finland has been proclaimed by some to be the best education system in the world.

The question is whether education, like the businesses which suffered significant losses, is too focused on these specific standardised measures of educational performance at the expense of the culture of schools or the good of education in general.     Has education lost its focus on why education, schools and teachers exists;  Our purpose?

Now I know the above is very much general in nature and therefore does not apply to all schools or education systems.   My point is that in general I believe we need to step back and relook at what is important and our overall reason for teaching.     We need to look at the cultures of schools rather than standardised test results.    Sir Richard repeatedly discusses the importance of a focus on customer service.    Should we do the same and re-evaluate what we see as most important, maybe showing a little less attention to the standardised test results and a little more to our customers; The students!

 

Image courtesy of cooldesign at freedigitalphotos.net

Educational Conferences – Another assortment of EdTech presentations.

Dubai has been host to another of the many worldwide education conferences in EdInvestMena which has been taking place during this week.   Like so many other conferences, if EdTech is not a central feature, it makes a prominent appearance throughout as it has done at EdInvestMena.  Now sadly although I presented a short piece at the conference on Monday with regards social media, I did not get the opportunity to see the main bulk of the event which occurred from Tuesday onwards.   As such my comments here are largely based on the programme for EdInvestMena and on my previous attendance at similar events in the UAE, Kuwait and UK.

The EdTech presenters at these events often present some very good examples of approaches they are using within classrooms or schools.   The use of iPads has been a central theme across a number of presentations I have seen over the last year or so.   The discussion of EdTech as a disruptive force operating on education to bring about change has also been discussed on numerous occasions.     The issue is that these presentations although sometimes excellent are not mirrored in the average practice I see within schools even where schools have the equipment.    Added to this is the issue that not all schools have the equipment as evidenced by one attendee at a session I ran recently who pointed out all my web app ideas were great however wouldn’t work in his school as there was no Wifi capabilities in classrooms.     As such should we be spending so much time discussing EdTech and how it can improve learning?

by digitalart - from FreeDigital_small

I suggest that the answer is that we shouldn’t be spending quite so much time on EdTech and that we should re-examine the balance of our educational discussing.    For me the answer might lie in those schools where EdTech is being used very successfully to encourage and support collaboration, communication, etc.   The successful use of EdTech did not come about because of the introduction of the Tech.  A school culture which encourages creativity, collaboration and the valuing of ideas within a supportive environment plays a large part in making successful use of EdTech.   Teachers need to feel they can try new things, even where they fail, that they can seek support from others and that they can share ideas.    This is all to do with an open or healthy school culture.   So a school effectively using EdTech is likely to have an open and healthy culture.

Considering a school with an open or healthy school culture but without the EdTech resources or with limited EdTech resources again we would expect sharing and collaboration.   Again this would be expected to lead to positive learning experiences for students as teachers discuss and share ideas to ensure students receive the best experience possible.   Where a limited amount of Tech was available it should also lead to the creative and effective use of this tech to leverage the maximum impact possible from it. So an effective school, whether not it is using EdTech effectively, is likely to have an open and healthy culture.

So if the culture of a school is so important to schools in general as well as to schools engaged in using EdTech why is so very much of the educational conference time spent on discussing EdTech?     Should we not be spending less time discussing EdTech and much more time on discussing creating open, positive and healthy school cultures?   Now it may be that culture, as a very intangible trait of schools, may be more difficult to discuss and therefore we are choosing the easy option in the tangible EdTech or it could be related to the many vendors trying to sell us the latest tech?    Either way I think we need to relook at the balance of our educational discussions.

 

Image courtesy of digitalart at freedigitalphotos.net

Culture

Am currently doing some research into organisational culture within schools and as such am reading around the subject.    Deal and Peterson (2009) cited a number of research studies of both businesses and also schools where evidence suggested that the culture of the organisation impacting on the outcomes of the organisation.    As such it hit me that culture is a critical part of a successful school

In an earlier post I mentioned about the importance of relationships; well these relationships and how people interact, share, discuss and even argue provides us some insight into the culture within a school.   If all interactions are open, positive and focussed on continual improvement and on learning, then the culture is likely to be of the positive open type.    If discussions and interactions are undermined with selfish motivations or if staff discussions are polarised by individual points of views then the likelihood is that the culture will be closed and negative, assuming such motivations and opinionated points of view permeate the whole organisation.

So the next time I am having a conversation I need to be wary of how my interaction paints the organisational culture to others who are watching.    Now this suggests the self fulfilling nature of organisational culture.    A closed negative culture will result in negative interactions between staff and even students.   These negative interactions will result in negativity growing within the school which will result in further negative interactions and so on and so forth.    If a positive open culture exists then the positive interactions between staff will create a positive open environment which will result in more positive interactions.    Now here I am looking very much at the overall school culture as it is possible that a school with an overall negative culture may have positive sub-cultures existing within it, and vice versa.

Culture therefore is a powerful feature of an organisation in its ability to encourage positivity which in turn will increase motivation and ultimately student outcomes.    The issue is that we very seldom look at the culture of a school instead choosing to look at the measurable aspects of school performance such as standardised test results.    Seldom do we stop and look at the traditions symbols, history, stories and routines which go to establishing, as well as providing us a window on, a schools culture.

Now the issue of stories strikes a cord with me after a recent training session.   At the end of the session the attendees stated that they had very much enjoyed the session, stating that they particularly enjoyed the stories and anecdotes I had used throughout the session.  So my question to school leaders at the moment would be:  What are the stories of your school and what do they tell people about the school and its culture?