Teach Listening today to avoid another 2016!

Sorry to be political for just a minute but I promise this post has a non-bias, positive and productive ending. 2016 was not the best year of my life. For people like me, the world seemed to shift in a frightening direction towards isolation and polarised societies.

2016 in three words – “Failure to Listen”

As an educator, I’ve spent the last 6 months considering what has gone wrong and is it a matter of failing education producing “post-truth” generations who fail to question such things as fake news. This is where a randomised suggestion from TED.com seemed to offer me a gentle, concise, but powerful solution to all my concerns – Listening. I’d summarise 2016 as the year people failed to listen to others. A year where locking out debate and the thoughts of others became legitimised. Even the idea of listening to experts was questioned on both sides of the Atlantic. So I’d like to introduce you to (or remind you of) Julian Treasure.

5 classroom exercises to heal a world

In this talk, Treasure addresses our society’s shift towards too much noise (think social media and the pace of life) and thus loss of skills in and desire to truely listen to people and our surroundings.

“We’re becoming impatient. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced — dangerously, I think — by personal broadcasting.” – Julian Treasure

If only we had  remembered Julian’s 2011 TED talk, we might not have has such an angry 2016. In this talk, he even predicted our current problems when he said:

“We’re becoming desensitized. Our media have to scream at us with these kinds of headlines [Sensation, Shock, Scandal, Reveal, Exposed, Fury] in order to get our attention. And that means it’s harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated … a world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed” – Julian Treasure (2011)

listening-eduwells

Teach Listening today!

Here is an edited summary of Julian’s 5 suggested exercises that I believe could transform your classroom, and possibly even improve grades, not to mention, save the world!

  1. Silence: “Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.”
  2. The Mixer: “listen in the [classroom] to how many channels of sound can I hear? How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to? … put names to those channels such as: pencil; tapping; pouring paint; bunsen burner.
  3. Savouring: “This exercise is about enjoying mundane sounds.” Next time you sharpen a pencil, really listen! It’s a great sound.
  4. Listening positions: “Remember I gave you those filters? It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.” This is where you focus on one of the environment’s sounds and consciously enhance it’s volume in your mind by focusing on it intently.
  5. RASA: Julian says “Finally, an acronym. You can use this in listening, in communication. RASA stands for “Receive,” which means pay attention to the person; “Appreciate,” making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “OK”; “Summarize” — the word “so” is very important in communication; and “Ask,” ask questions afterwards.”

I can see these skills apply to nay specialist area such a students using RASA to challenge each other on science analysis. Savouring as a dramatisation exercise, and Silence in ALL tasks – I already use it at the beginning of Design thinking tasks.

Teachers need to plan consciously for their use of listening and discuss / teach these skills specifically to improve levels of thinking and empathy practiced by their students. Let’s all start using the art of conscious listening throughout education and we help the next generations fight the noise that surrounds them and avoid another 2016.

P.S. 2016 as I saw it …

  1. The U.K. voted to ask foreigners to “leave” only to find out the next day they’d voted for the U.K. to “leave” Europe. “What is the EU” = most popular Google search on that day.  
  2. The U.S. voted to “drain the swamp” only to find that the “swamp” of bureaucrats and lobbyists were simply no longer needed because the the people who funded the lobbying were to be the new government cabinet.
  3. A horrible man in Syria officially asked a horrible man in Russia to help him sort out some people fighting for freedom, allowing the horrible Russian to perform bombing practice on civilians,. Then a tweeting 16-year-old U.S. president-elect called them both “great guys.”
  4. Nobody listened to anyone who didn’t already agree with them entirely.

[political bit over 😀]

 

 

Making your classroom an incubator for global citizens.

Be it a classroom, a chat room or a war room, when do people choose to contribute to a situation? When you think about it for a moment, it’s not hard to work this out from experience. My first thoughts are:

  • Trusting relationships with the other stakeholders
  • A sense that:
    • you have something to offer
    • your contribution might succeed
    • one learns from any failures
  • Confidence to:
    • present your ideas to others
    • communicate and relate to new people

student teams01Developing these attributes and skills takes time. If you want to empower your students to feel they can use their school time to develop as contributing global citizens, your class lessons and projects need to have the above list as a foundation. You must also allow time for this development and not expect to be able to ‘teach’ it in a week or so. The confidence to contribute is not some thing one learns but something one develops through experience and feedback. To achieve these attributes, your class activities need to regularly be student driven, where the learners work together under expectations that they, not the teacher, need to formulate the best approach. They also need to develop habits in seeking and making productive connections with the right people, wherever they are in the world. Here’s my previous post on “What is Student-centred learning?

A networked world

What Teacher am IAnother understanding (that can be taught) is how young individuals are currently connecting globally to instigate projects and create products that are making a real difference. The examples below will showcase how becoming an active global change-maker, or a member of a change-network, can become a real possibility for anyone willing to purposely connect with others. It’s your classroom’s job to develop that will in your learners.

YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE NEW EXPECTATIONS OF THEMSELVES:

Book banner.001
Highlight to students that being a global citizen is an awareness that one exists as a node on a network. How important one is as a node is up to the individual but every node has an important role to play.
I have found that showcasing how young people are connecting to online ‘tribes’, centred on a particular issue or topic, and how they learn from that tribe through feedback on their contributions, inspires my students. This is how much of today’s global citizens operate and how much of the significant positive change takes place.

lemon aid

What difference can I make?

The more you teach your class as one unit, the less your students feel like individual learners and more importantly, individuals who might impact on global issues and change. To truly become an incubator for global citizens, the teachers job in the 21st century is to cultivate an empowering learning environment where students expect to take charge of both prescribed content and global impact, through their own development of networks, projects and feedback loops. This, like anything, takes practice and from as early as possible, this is the primary role of a 21st century classroom.

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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Why Teachers should act like Rookies not Experts

RookieAs a teacher, I found Curious Minds episode 41 with Liz Wiseman on Why Learning Beats Knowing, sparked a number of ideas that connected with my recent posts emphasising the need for self-learning practice in schools over that of receiving teaching. Liz explains with numerous examples, why a ‘rookie’ approaches problems and projects from possibly a better starting point than an expert might. I thought I’d offer you my takeaways from this podcast (although I highly recommend listening to the whole thing). Liz’s book is available here.

Be Rookie smart not Expert smart

The most important role a teacher has theses days is to model learning and encourage curiosity. If we continue to base classroom practice around our expert status, we present ourselves as the endpoint of any expectation or debate. Teachers develop better learners when they model trial & error. Nurturing a classroom culture where everyone, including the teacher, is in a constant state of personal development means expectations and possibilities are left open-ended rather than fixed to the teacher’s ‘correct answers’.

Rookie Smart

 

Hide your inner expert to inspire your rookies

  • Learner plateRookies make for better learners than experts.
  • Ability to learn has more value than what you know in the 21st Century.
  • Rookies aren’t weighed down with prior assumptions and have a larger need to seek and build new knowledge. This leads to new ideas and approaches to problems.
  • A rookie has to make smaller but more regular development steps, constantly needing feedback and assurance. ‘Expert’ teachers often make giant leaps towards known answers. The rookie’s baby steps require a rapid feedback loop, which leads to a more agile learning process more suited to the 21st Century economy/society.
  • Acting as if no expert exists in the room, rookies need to connect with others, which encourages collaboration and participation.
  • Lacking knowledge resources leads to more adaptive and resourceful approaches to problem solving and knowledge acquisition.

It’s time for teachers to ask their students:

  • What makes a successful rookie?
  • What do we need and where might we get it?
  • Who can help us? etc.

It’s best teachers present the idea that no correct answers exist in the room and even if they secretly do, it’s the challenge for teachers to guide in such a way that students might arrive at their own answers but hopefully in new and inspiring ways that the teacher can learn from. This completes a rather neat circle of learning.

Here’s a great video (via @geomouldey, via @Dwenmoth) that outlines many of the reasons why we need rookie rather than expert approach to classroom practice.

Book banner.001Want more ideas and initiatives like this one? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com

How I’ll be learning in 2016

2016 Learning-EduWellsIt’s that reflective time of year again. It’s now that educators like me consider what will define our approach to teaching and learning in the next 12 months. It’s made more reflective where I live, as the New Zealand school year runs February to December, so I’ll be starting with new classes in a few weeks.

So, here we go! Everyone else is producing target lists for 2016, so why not me. I don’t assume that my 5 personal focus points for next year are a definitive description of the perfect education, but it’s where I’ve got to and what I’ll be focused on with my students. I also want to highlight that none of the 5 explicitly mention technology. Our future-focused system in NZ has pushed many of us beyond the need to overtly talk about tech as an isolated topic.

I’m busy at the moment writing my book on teaching in New Zealand and why it’s the best system in the world. One of the many points I am raising in this book is how free I am, as an NZ teacher, to focus on these important issues and skills, having not been given a standardised list of content by the government that I must cover. Over here, it’s the teachers that maintain and develop what should be taught. Look out from my book next year if you want to know more.

Here are my 5 BIG things I’ll be focused on in 2016:

Collaborative learning

One of my big concerns is how most schools and classrooms operate in such a way that it forms habits amongst the students for depending on teachers and the school structures to move things forward. A strong emphasis on creating a collaborative learning environment means students will move away from asking teachers for everything and understand how much potential they have between them to sort problems and organise their own learning.

ITERATE

Learning has no finish line. All learning must have a context, expect students to look into all aspects involved, and propose and test solutions and/or new knowledge they’ve come up with. This new knowledge can then be peer evaluated to encourage feedback to highlight the iterative learning process.

Community

Schools often claim to be connected to the community but this does not always include the learning. Connections and perspectives from outside the school gates is crucial to making learning real and relevent. This might be local or from across the world and may involve visits, webcams, problems posed by outside agencies to be tackled by students, or simply publishing for real-world feedback as part of the learning. You might be using Design Thinking or Project-Based Learning but it should at some point connect to the outside world.

Connect

This is as close as I get to directly mentioning technology. Whether it’s other students, field experts, other educators, and whether you are blogging, tweeting, messaging or skyping, learning in 2016 must be connected and shared. Groups, hashtags and commenting can add more depth to the discussion.

Self & peer assessment

Involving students in the design of how their work and projects will be assessed must become a norm. Publishing the marking matrix is one thing but having the students develop it is quite another. I was amazed in 2015 how seriously my students took designing marking matrix for team projects. One class happily took 2.5 hours over it on a shared Google Doc! It makes them consider what to focus on and can be developed as an ongoing process throughout the work. This gives them far more ownership over the learning process, than the standard top-down judgement approach.

There you have it. These are what I’ll be working on in 2016. I hope it gives some people food for thought.

Challenged by Seductive Technology

Technology can still be so inviting to teachers, it can often damage the potential for learning. I recently trialled the app Floors by Pixelpress, planning it to be a fun and creative exercise in computer game design. After introducing the app and explaining the activity, I realised I had missed an opportunity to plan a much more thought provoking exercise. It made me realise that even now, I can succumb to the seductive ‘cool’ of an app and design a shallow learning experience. Here’s the trailer for the app:

The app is really impressive and scans pencil game designs immediately into real playable iPad games. This sounds so good, it was easy to consider it as a just a fantastic blend of tactile and tech learning. What I missed was an opportunity to raise the level of both thinking and collaboration. Like me, many teachers are falling for the modern teaching trap to think “the app does all the work.” On most occasions, if you think an app does the job for a lesson, you’re more likely just killing time rather than ensuring true learning is taking place.

IMG_0008 (1)The next lesson gave me a chance to reflect and act on this mistake. The type of game the activity produces is a platform game of 3 levels. Before they started, I reminded them of the Design Thinking process we’d used before and asked them to consider what makes games addictive and why their level design would be considered better than another design. This had groups discussing designs being too easy or too hard and what made them so. It also introduced situations where students challenged each other’s assumptions. This does not happen if you allow them to simply play with the app as presented in the trailer.

There are enough options within the app to make very complex game challenges but it’s the job of the teacher to plan how the opportunities presented by the app can enhance the type of activity in the classroom. We must remember that it’s what takes place in the mind of the student that is most important. I have mentioned before that in New Zealand we generally grade students on their ability to collaborate and generate new knowledge, rather than learn a fixed curriculum. This means, it’s my job to make students generate connections between elements and concepts they come across. The collaboration & communication is important as it adds depth to their understanding.

FloorsThe app encouraged me to focus on skill competency and open ended creativity:

“This app is fantastic! It will have them be creative with non-tech and the technology allows them test and reiterate the process to improve the outcome.”

I redesigned it as collaborative Design Thinking to ensure a more robust learning outcome:

“Before you open the app, collaborate in considering how this activity might be more successful in producing a game people will not want to put down. There are too many games in the App Store to only be producing yet another one. Every student in the class has the potential to create the best game in the room but what makes one better than another?”

The Floors app is a technology that allows for rapid testing of ideas but its ensuring the students take a considered approach that’s important rather than adding elements randomly without any particular reason. This teaching situation is common for many apps and I’m always keen to remind teachers to not underestimate children in their ability to handle more complex thinking.

App designers often consider the functional activity over the learning experience. It’s our job as teachers to not succumb to this and consider first what’s being developed in the minds of our students.

Here’s a presentation I did on this story fro #AppShareLive with Mark Anderson:

Five Things that Transform a School

5 things that change a school-EduWellsSo, maybe you’re on Twitter, your colleagues are on Twitter, you’re excited about ideas around new learning and your Principal might mention these themes in staff meetings. So why, to often, is no real change happening in your school?

All this 21st century learning talk is happening but you’re still performing standardised tests, teachers are still teaching from the front of class and most are still predominantly isolated in their own classrooms. There’s probably a small group of “new learning” types who you know are trying the “Project-based-design-thinking-SAMR” type stuff but the school as a whole isn’t following their lead.

I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I thought this would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which then led me to dig up 3 more TED talks which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combine to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels.

Here are the 5 videos:

  1. Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
  2. Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
  3. Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
  4. Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
  5. Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken

Inspired by these talks, here are my …

Five THINGS THAT TRANSFORM A SCHOOL

  1. Your Principal is seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning.
    This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave in New Zealand about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
    .
  2. The teachers are aware of the impact of 21C opportunities and challenges
    Eddie Obeng’s talk is both fun and powerful in explaining how so many people didn’t notice when all the rules changed regarding how success happens, how organisations are run, how work gets done and what skills & knowledge are required to survive in a world where the new scale people of all ages operate under is global. If we want to say we are preparing young people for the world, we need to wake up and take note that many of them are already making use of this new interconnected world that many schools are yet to accept exists.
    .
  3. The school now operates as a network not hierarchy 
    Manuel Lima indicates how one of the changes that’s taken place without most schools noticing is that, after 2000 years, we’ve moved from seeing everything as a hierarchy and now view and operate everything in networks. This is also backed up in the Fullan talk. Lima’s talk will make your school consider if it operates as a 20th century hierarchy or a 21st century network. This is key to preparing both staff and students for the next 50 years. It also connects with Fullan’s theme about “social capital” or the quality of the group work and connections used by the teachers and with Obeng’s thought on everything now operating at a global scale, due to new online networks.
    .
  4. Schools are doing more than just handing out grades
    Complementing Obeng’s need for a new look at learning, Barry Schwartz introduces his concept of Idea Technology. He explains that one simple assumption introduced by Industrial Revolution removed all non-material incentives to work on a premise all people were inherently lazy and you wouldn’t get them to work without incentivising with pay. It made me think that schools adopted the factory model and it seemed only natural that you would need grades as payment for work without considering what work environment might be created to have people genuinely satisfied at school. A wonderful quote is : “The very shape of the institution within which people work, creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and denies people from the kind of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.” If students work for tests and grades they are only prepared for exactly that environment. An environment that doesn’t exist outside academia.
    .
  5. School leaders have stopped ‘building visions’ and inspire people to follow it
    Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the the organisation.
    .
    This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they don’t think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period of time in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas.

Adapt or lose your students

Schools lag further and further behind the pace of world change year-on-year and we need bold, aware, flexible leaders who know how to work with their community to collectively build a new culture of adapting to change to remain relevant. More children every year are finding alternative paths to early success and careers because their school was unable to adapt to their needs. Let’s stop wasting the potential of what might take place during a person’s school years and start operating the way the world does already.

P.S. This whole post and graphic were spun towards a positive rather than negative angle thanks to Lisa Donohue in Canada (@Lisa_Donohue). Thanks Lisa for your #Growth Mindset approach.

Here’s a rework of Michael Fullan’s model:

The Principals New Role-EduWells

There are more transformative ideas in my book A learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

The “WHY” Guide to #Edchat topics

Although many educational models and pedagogies can seem like a conveyer belt of fads sometimes, many of them at least focus on one or two key educational concerns. Regardless of whether you think it a passing fad, many of them have an aim that you should know about and be considering as a teacher in the 21st Century. I must admit though, as busy teachers, it is understandable that to fully implement a number of them is unrealistic. So here’s my summary of the key take-aways from each model that you should aim to implement in your teaching. (Click for larger version)

EduWells WHY Guide to edChat

WHY FLIPPED TEACHING?

OLD FLIPPEDIt’s not about lessons becoming homework. Flipped teaching solves all of the traditional complaints teachers have when teaching traditionally (Chalk & talk), such as:

  • I don’t have enough face-to-face and/or practical time in the classroom
  • I struggle to get through all the content
  • Students just don’t listen or are distracted by others or are away too often.
  • I wish I had time to stretch my more gifted students
    Here’s my post on Flipped Teaching.

WHY BLENDED LEARNING?

You might be against all this staring at screens but learning must involve digital if it is to prepare young people to be productive in the 21st Century. But digital does not allow students to practice all skills. Real-world collaboration and debate are also survival skills in a successful future. Don’t do the work for them! The students must practice balancing and selecting the appropriate tools, digital or not for a task. At the end of the day though, a good balance is the way of the world.

WHY SAMR?

i4S SAMR MindsetThere is some confusion over SAMR but it does make teachers reflect on the impact tech is having in their classroom. It encourages good conversations about pedagogy rather than being focused on tech for tech’s sake. My advice is allow the students to experiment and introduce you to new approaches. SAMR challenges teachers to push tech to do more for students. It also encourages tech use towards connecting and collaborating rather than just regurgitation and helps teachers to move forward with pedagogy.
Here’s my post on SAMR.

WHY UDL?

I am happy to raise my hand and admit my guilt about not planning well enough to consider individuals in my class who have specific extra learning challenges and obstacles. Anything from a sever disability to simple a lack of social confidence. Too many teachers plan whole units and lessons just for the “average” student Universal Design for learning asks you to start your planning with those with the greatest needs on the basis the others will cope. ensure your room has multiple options for accessing the learning and that you become aware of the extra aides available inside various technologies you have. Offer the required variety of media so all can access the learning.
Here’s more info on UDL.

WHY PROJECT-BASED LEARNING?

i4S PBL AppsThe world operates in teams whilst most students don’t. Project-based learning prepares students more for productive social interaction and team skills. An emphasis for presenting to external clients or experts adds a real edge and accountability to learning. PBL improves the scope for genuine community connections and authentic learning. It can also add a much needed purpose to schooling, often missing in the normal abstract content teacher delivery.
Here’s my post on PBL.

WHY CONNECTED LEARNING?

i4S-The Connected Class ChallengeThe internet and improved access through BYOD means that learning that encourages wider connections Inspires young people to make a real contribution to the world. They are not learning to be citizens, they are citizens NOW! Offers new perspectives & live learning, not available in an isolated classroom. Encourages peer-to-peer support & independence, creating more definite life-long learners. Oh, and Skype Classroom is free !
Here’s my post on a connected classroom structure for the students to practice with.

WHY DESIGN THINKING? (My new Favourite)

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsDesign thinking can present a little like PBL but offers specific structure that has:

  • a bias towards action (How might we …)
  • a easy structured process for the classroom
  • a Focus on thinking, empathy and prototyping ideas immediately.
  • it also encourages input from all, on the basis that any suggestion might form part of the solution.
    Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

WHY SOLO TAXONOMY?

In New Zealand, our national high school assessment is based around SOLO. We grade our students on their depth of thinking more that their ability to regurgitate the ‘right’ answer. Solo helps student consider their depth of understanding on any topic. It has a focus on the relationships between topics and themes to enhance learning rather than just the isolated topics themselves. Solo aims for students to show understandings by moving content into other contexts or from other perspectives.

Here’s my Star Wars Solo taxonomy Poster:

 

HAN SOLO Taxonomy vs RON-Eduwells

Redesign your teaching year with just the key take-aways

I do hope this has helped some busy teachers, who haven’t had the time to look into these models. I also hope it might have some teachers reconsider elements in their teaching that require a little more attention.

Demonstrating leadership in the classroom

Technology and new societal hierarchies are changing the demands on teachers and thus the opportunities for and style in which teachers should demonstrate leadership. Expectations on young people have also developed as the world evolves increasingly quickly. I wonder how many CEOs are now below the age of 25? It’s now less about displaying mastery over content and skills and more about demonstrating successful leadership by nurturing a creative and challenging classroom environment.

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Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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I have just read an excellent article in Time magazine by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she summarises her book about the growing dependency children have on their parents. She explains how middle-class parenting, in particular, has developed in such a way it helps foster this dependency. Julie highlights that children increasingly expect to be fully catered for in any event or situation. To quote Julie: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids’ way.” This problem often gets discussed at my school in regard to students’ lack of initiative in the classroom but I can’t help but argue that the traditional classroom fosters just the same level of dependency.

Demonstrating leadership whilst not fostering dependency

student teams02In a classroom where every child carries out the same task for the same outcome, the temptation is to lead by command and control. After all, everyone has to tow the same line. The underlying issue in this context is that every student is dependent on the teacher for every step of the task. “Turn to page 52,” “Answer questions 5 to 10,” “Draw a mind-map of …” In these situations, a student’s need for initiative and decision-making is limited to the tight confines of the page, question or requested specific output.

Like anything, humans learn best through experience and this includes leadership. To demonstrate the more modern requirements for transformative leadership, teachers need to show mastery for adapting, evaluating learning goals and building productive working structures. These need to be open enough to let the students take control over the environment where true experience is gained in managing time, information, decision-making and social interactions. This has had very positive outcomes in my school where it seems self-respect has developed and the extra ownership over the work improves attitude and productivity.

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsSince opening up my classroom to structures like Project-based learning or Design Thinking exercises, I have seen what student leadership looks like. When it’s normal for students to be dealing with self-expression, task management and working relationships, it will amaze teachers as to what young people are capable of. Regardless of teaching model, the basics of: set negotiated goals, offer working structures; expect collaboration and let the students drive, are much more likely to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

This is important as the problems these young people will face are likely to require a more collaborative and global style of leadership. In my classroom, the quality of output but more importantly, the level of understanding and ability to lead a scenario have never been better.

Combating teacher’s stress in a classroom

Students-postitMy general rule for stress relief is to orchestrate classrooms that rely more on the students than the teacher to lead the learning and contribute. Short-term, quick fix solutions will only work so many times with a class. I would recommend developing long term strategies that relate to overall classroom environment and relationships. When discussing stress with my colleagues, I start by suggesting moves to slow down and dedicate more time to see what the students can bring to the table in classroom activities. Here in New Zealand, our future focused national curriculum states 5 key competencies for young people to be focused on. These are aimed at reducing the demand on the teacher to ‘deliver’ education and at building habits amongst the students to manage and take the lead over their own learning. Here they are summarised that every learner should:

  1. set and monitor personal goals, manage time frames, arrange activities;
  2. interact, share ideas, and negotiate with a range of people;
  3. call on a range of communities for information;
  4. analyse and consider a variety of possible approaches;
  5. create texts to record and communicate ideas, using language and symbols.

Given these prompts, teachers must consider a pedagogical approach that will allow students to practice and develop these competencies. In most cases, designing the sort of environment that encourages this behaviour will reduce demand for teacher attention and thus reduce stress in general. Personal thinking space leads the better outcomes and happier teachers I have been doing a lot of work recently with Design Thinking. Beyond being an excellent framework for projects, it has an important and obvious first step that few classrooms utilise: personal thinking time. During my teaching career, many high school teachers have complained about the stress caused by students who just don’t engage or the supposed inability of students to discuss topics meaningfully. In both cases, the lack of time given to allow each student to think, process and prepare thoughts for the class inhibits successful contribution. Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

Typical scenario: A teacher asks the class to form groups of 4 and discuss topic X. After 5 minutes, the teacher expresses disappointment in the results of the discussions. When activities launch immediately into group or class discussion, more confident individuals dominate or if little is known about the topic, they disengage and wait for input from the teacher due to having had no real time to think about what they might contribute.

 Three to five minutes of silent thinking time for every student on a topic to consider their own existing knowledge or questions they have, before embarking on a discussion or project means each individual will bring more to the activity. Then comparing thoughts and lists of ideas they’ve had time to compile leads to more engagement from every student and less need for prompting from the teacher. It took me many years to realise this but I now enjoy working with classes of active students who display more confidence to contribute. Rather than worrying about small quick-fix tools and activities to reduce stress, teachers need to have a long-term view and look at developing a learning environment that encourages confidence in students to take charge of the learning and rely less on teacher input. This way, teachers will discover they can focus more on facilitating conversations and dynamics in the room and less on the fear of content delivery failure.

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.

Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

Mistakes when integrating Technology into classrooms

Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

What’s the biggest mistake teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?

During a recent conversation I had regarding a new tech tool, a colleague told me, “it would probably go wrong and mess his lesson up.” The root of much fear around integrating technology derives from teachers wondering, “what do I do if it goes wrong?” In working with teachers in multiple schools, I have found this is due to a traditional mindset that the teacher must be the master of content and activity in the room. Fear of losing that control and sense of respectability is what still leads many teachers to avoid introducing technology and limiting the scope of what might be achieved with it.

Classroom Design Thinking

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.

Teachers often prescribe which apps, websites and gadgets are allowed in “their classroom” to ensure nothing goes wrong. Notice here that the priority is on teacher comfort over that of the students. This can lead to learner frustration, scope limitations and restrictions to creativity and many learners not realizing their potential. Creating an environment like this, can foster disconnect between teacher and learner, and for me is the most common mistake I come across when working with schools introducing technologies. Young people live in a world where technology offers them much personal control over when, where, and, how they do things. If school does not reflect this world, it will seem to become ever more irrelevant.

In all my teaching, writing, research and presenting, the central theme in education at the moment is the empowerment of students over their own learning. As this becomes more understood by teachers, it redefines the classroom as a space of shared ownership, relaxing the need for absolute control and freeing them up to work with the students, whilst learning alongside them. Most technology these days has to be designed to be user friendly or it doesn’t survive in the marketplace and young people have become accustomed to quickly mastering gadgets, apps and other technologies. If the classroom is a flexible and collaborative space, my students help each other apply their own choice of technology to the task at hand. The focus is on the learning goals and/or problems, not the technology itself.

Operating a more democratic classroom environment has led to my own use of technology being enhanced by student suggestion. The Iinternet has increased the speed at which young people discover new tools and examples of them being used. Allowing them to experiment with their new discoveries gives them ownership over how they learn and in my experience and observations of others, it increases engagement in the tasks and content in nearly all casesclassroom.

The issue is not about faith in technology but more faith in the students to showcase their own mastery and adoption of a rapidly advancing world. The trick is to harness this potential and use the keenness shown by young people to enrich the learning experience for themselves the students.

Read the other excellent posts here: Top 12 Bloggers