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?

Advertisements

Get Connected

For some time now I have been suggesting to teachers the need to get connected.    Through the use of twitter we can access a pool of experience, skill, ideas and talents which bt (before twitter) would have been impossible, using this pool to improve or maybe evolve our own teaching practice.     As a teacher I can spend just a few minutes each day searching for ideas which I can use within my teaching practice, or I can spend a longer period of time when I have the time.   This is very much different from how it used to be where I had to wait for the next professional development ( or Professional Learning) session which was often held at the end of the day when I was at my most tired having spent all day teaching.   In addition these PD sessions were often expensive for the school as they involved paying someone to deliver the session.

Recently I read a blog post entitled “Why teacher should connect” which echoes my feelings.    I also saw the below post on twitter (surprise, surprise) which sums up the reasoning behind why teachers should make use of social media such as twitter:

Another post I saw referred to the need for communication.

We are preparing students for a a globalised world where more and more people are migrating to work away from where they were born and grew up.    As such do we not need to start considering a globalised approach to education?    If we are going to consider such a globalised approach there is a need for discussion across the world and surely social media such as twitter provides just the tool needed to facilitate such discussion.

So, if you haven’t already, Get Connected!!

 

It’s all about relationships!

Now you may be wondering what brings me to this statement with regards teaching.   Well the answer is a number of different posts I have recently read on Twitter.   One particular post talked about students being encouraged to be champions.

But in order to encourage students to become such champions we must embrace them as individuals and seek to understand and encourage such individuality.

Another posting talked about how education was being reduced from an art to a science through increasing focus on achievement data and standardised testing.    (Apologies for not including the link/reference however I appear to have misplaced it for now: Will hope to resolve and include the reference asap).   This posting suggested to me a move towards processes and systems at the expensive of relationships and away from the fuzzy arts of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.

Day in day out we walk into classes to work with our students, to learn with our students and importantly to interact with our students.    I remember back to some female staff who worked with me who had particularly good results in terms of student achievement.   When asked how they achieved this they explained that they “mothered” the students.    Now what they meant by this as far as I was concerned is that they spent a significant amount of time focused on relationships; on understanding their students and allowing their students to understand them.

So when we look at improving outcomes we look at more differentiation, assessment for learning, target setting with D grade students and the like.   We focus on processes.  Maybe we should first examine the relationships as without proper relationships any process we implement are likely to fail.

@mrbadura summed it up perfectly on twitter as below:

And just as an additional thought the relationships don’t stop with the teacher and student.   What are the relationships like between staff or between teacher and school leaders?    What is the organisational climate of the school like?   Also, what about the relationships between the staff and parents or other stakeholders?

Divergent Thinking: What is the purpose of education?

The development of 21st century skills has been stated for quite a while now ( a good thing given we are now 14 years into the 21st century, however it does make me wonder how long we are going to continue looking at skills for the now and when we actually start looking at 22nd century skills.   Remember that students are with us for 12 years so that means students starting school now will be coming out in 2026 with over a quarter of the century gone!).    These skills include communication, collaboration, critical thinking (or problem solving depending on where in the world you are) and creativity.   So how do we encourage students to problem solve, where due to the pace of technology we cannot predict the problems they are likely to face?    Also how do we encourage creativity?

De Bono suggests that lateral thinking was an important factor in addressing this issue while Ken Robinson agreed referring to the factor as divergent thinking.    So how do we encourage these approaches?

One method would be to introduce students to the concepts of lateral thinking or divergent thinking and to actively encourage students to make use of these approaches.   In terms of what this might look like in a classroom I saw an excellent video which was shared via twitter by  @thought_weavers which seemed very much in line with my thinking.   You can watch the video here.    Now this approach if successful would lead to students who are open to lateral thinking or thinking outside of the box.   As such this should help creativity and problem solving.    It would also result in students who may question the what and the why of their learning, which may initial be uncomfortable for some teachers due to the unpredictability of questioning however if teachers are facilitating learning as opposed to delivering learning, then this could open up new pathways in terms of learning.    As such any initial discomfort is well worth it.

Now a key issue in all of this is teachers;   If we want students to develop 21st century skills and to be divergent thinkers then teachers need to model this, showing students what divergent thinking looks like.    So to that end I would like to ask a question: What is the purpose of education?    And if you are a teacher or school leader, when was the last time you sat and thought about what the purpose of your role was, or do league tables, inspection results and standardised test results take up a significant part of your thinking?

 

GESS/GEF, Dubai, 2014

IWB_smallOK so a year has passed and once again I find myself back at the GESS/GEF Conference in Dubai.    Again I have taken a wander around the event and the various hardware, software and service vendors with stands at the event.   My hope was that something would stand out or at least I would see progression from the stands available last year (You can see my post resulting from last years GESS/GEF conference here).

Walking around I saw some very interesting stands providing quite specialist engineering equipment such as pneumatics equipment for students studying technology, or robotics equipment.    There were also specialist stands for those seeking furniture, uniform or manipulatives for use with younger children.   Now I suspect last year these stands were at the conference however I myself failed to notice or pay much attention to them.    This year I paid a little more attention.

So, to the more common stands……..and yes, once again Interactive Whiteboards were very predominant.     There were a mixture of fixed boards and datashows, datashows with integrated IWB capabilities, as well as touch screen displays.      Vendors demonstrated the various “unique” features of their software;  One vendor showed how the display could be split into 4, so that 4 students could interact with the display at once, with each students contributions individually coloured.   Despite all the “unique” features of each vendors offering I could not help but see an IWB as being nothing more than an IWB; a technology created over 20 years ago, which is fixed in place almost always at the “front” (Why does a learning space have to have a front?    Does the teacher really need a desk as the centre of classroom attention?   Should an IWB be the focus of attention?   Or should the space be about learners and learning, changing as required?)  of the class and can be interacted with by only a small number of students at a time.   Also, after over 20 years, these devices still remain relatively expensive.    Why is this technology still so popular and why isn’t it seen as old technology?

The other thing that was quite common at the conference was media rich content.    A number of companies were providing their answer to where schools can find content to engage learners.   Now some of this seemed ok especially where the content was designed for younger students and as such was very graphical and simple in nature in order to appeal to younger children.    I could see this content working across most schools assuming it is multilingual or in the language of the school it is aimed at.   However I questioned the materials available for older age students;  Why would I pay for content when I can easily find content on the web through YouTube and a multitude of other websites.   I can have students develop their own content using a number of applications or can even develop my own materials as the teacher, such as where I intend to use the flipped classroom model.       How often am I going to use the content I purchase and is it worth the cost given this?

Now you may be reading this and thinking I have a very negative view of GESS/GEF; I don’t.    The conference had some very good presentations, and I only visited on day 1.    I am sure this will continue to be the case of days 2 and 3.   The fact that vendors at the show seem to focus on IWBs and also generic content meant to fit all schools, is a concern.     So what is the solution…….I am not sure at this point, although I suspect it will be different for each school.   I think it relies on dynamic content created by teachers and students to match the needs of students and learning, as they/it changes from day to day, week to week and year to year.

Maybe GESS/GEF 2015 will include a vendor with a solution.   We will need to wait and see!

Not the definition for Differentiation

Education is littered with technical terms and jargon with a few acronyms thrown in for good measure; differentiation, AfL, SEN, G & T, inclusion, PBL, personalization, EFL or ESL or EAL, to name but a few.   Most of these terms and their associated definitions come from the western educational world.   As such they rely on certain assumed background knowledge and experience plus on a certain cultural background.     What are the implications where these terms and their definitions are applied in other parts of the world?     Remember, in a different part of the world we have differing cultural and contextual backgrounds plus the added issue of translation.

Our understanding of something new is grounded in what we know already, in our experiences, etc.   As such explanation of something new requires concrete examples, so in the case of differentiation the concrete examples might include providing challenging extension tasks for the more able, or providing additional teacher or other staff support for students who are less able.    So to the teacher experiencing the term of differentiation for the first time, they might come to think of differentiation as meaning they should provide extension tasks to the more able and additional time and support to the less able, as these were the concrete examples provided.    Now I know this is quite a simplistic view, and that if we were introducing differentiation to teachers we would include a variety of techniques for challenging the more able and supporting the less able, however does this truly get to the heart of what differentiation or any other term for that matter, truly is?

Another approach is to look at what a term is not.    Here we can ground the ‘NOT’ version of a new term in things teachers already know and have experience of.    So continuing the differentiation example we might discuss teaching all students the same content at the same pace and at the same time.    We can then ask “why is this not appropriate?”.     The answer which teachers, and even those who have never encountered differentiation, should reply with will be the fact that students have differing needs, abilities, interests, etc.     So differentiation is the opposite of teaching students the same content at the same pace and at the same time.    From this, discussion can be generated into how this can be done practically in the classrooms of a particular school, with particular students within a particular context.   I would suggest that this approach would generate a “better” understanding of what differentiation or any other term is, as opposed to the explain and model approach.

So next time you need to explain something new, to teachers or students, give some consideration to NOT explaining it.

 

Simply assessment….

ID-100205967-small

Yesterday I introduced some teachers to the five minute lesson plan (http://teachertoolkit.me/the-5-minute-lesson-plan) while discussing lesson planning and it got me thinking about my earlier post on simplicity (http://educationandtechnology.me/?p=97 ).   This time however rather than thinking about lesson planning, it got me thinking about assessment or the different types of assessment; formative assessment, summative assessment and assessment for learning, baseline assessment (You may normally refer to it as baseline testing however testing, in my eyes, is just another word for assessment) or standardised assessment.  I suspect there are others although as I write this they do not immediately jump to mind.  

As De Bono (1998) points out, “things evolve to become ever more complex – not more simple.”    He goes on to say that “those who have got used to the complexity no longer notice it and even add more elements, so increasing the complexity even further.”     So are these different types of assessment the product of this evolution and does this added complexity actually help us as teachers or the students we teach?   Can we truly differentiate between each different type of assessment?   Do the supposed distinctions between each actually exist?   Do we really need to have these different types of assessment?

Thinking about it, the first question which I find myself asking is: What is the purpose of assessment or what is assessment as a whole?  A quick look at the definition via Google gives use the following

assessmentthe action of assessing someone or something.(https://www.google.ae/#q=definition+assessment)

 assess; evaluate or estimate the nature, ability, or quality of.(https://www.google.ae/#q=definition+assessing)

 So assessment in educational terms could be considered as evaluating or estimating a students ability, nature, skills, knowledge, etc.    This definition sounds very much in line with the concept of teachers “knowing” their individual students.    As such I think it might be fair to say that assessment is a process which allows teachers to “know” their students whether it be to find out about students at the start of their time in a school, at the start of the year, as they make progress during the year or during a lesson, or to find out where they are at the end of a topic or at the end of the year.    Basically a good teacher needs to “know” their students in order to best facilitate them with the most appropriate learning opportunities.    Assessment is the process for doing this and regular assessment is needed to cope with the fact that students are constantly developing and changing as they progress through their time within education.

So do the distinctions of formative, summative and assessment for learning, which are designed to make the concept easier to understand, actually help.   Personally I would say, no.   It doesn’t matter whether your assessment is formative, summative or AfL.   All that truly matters is do you as a teacher “know” your students and are you using assessment to inform you about them, and the progress they make as they change and develop during their time within education.   We need to look at assessment in a broader sense in order to “free ourselves from the constraints of what is being done” and find a simpler and possibly better way.

 

References:

De Bono. E. – 1998, Simplicity, Penguin Books

Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Answer Sheet” by nongpimmy