Book preview 01: A Learner’s paradise by Richard Wells

coverWow! I wrote and published a book! I was asked to write the book by edTechTeam after an online chat where I outlined what I had presented about NZ education at an event in Miami. My aim in writing the book is to inspire educators around the world to implement significant change based on the amazing initiatives that are forging adaptive, future-focused education in New Zealand. In this series of book previews, I’ll choose and blog my favourite examples from the book of how NZ systematically grows it’s educators and schools collaboratively as a nation. Thanks to those who’ve already bought it. BUY IT HERE!

Preview1: Teaching as Inquiry

The topic of professional development can spark conversations that go on for hours (Trust me, I’ve sat through hundreds of planning meetings). You can spend one meeting after the next discussing how to approach professional development as a school: Who needs what? Should there be elements of compulsory training? And the most frightening and misguided question: Which tech should we be using? In all the schools I worked in during the first decade of my teaching career, these marathon meetings led to minimal success.

Even today, many teachers’ vision for how learning should look is based on their own school experiences. Some see professional development as a sporadic series of (often – disappointing) events that they choose to or are asked to attend. What is most sad to me is when I meet student-centred teachers who, when providing training to other staff, do not use their normal classroom techniques because they know the audience of teachers are expecting and comfortable with the stand-and-deliver format. It is certainly not a bad thing that the number of education conferences continues to grow. But the attendees at these events tend to be from the minority of teachers who have developed some type of growth mindset. The majority of teachers I’ve worked with in schools, both in the UK and here in New Zealand, have yet to attend such an event and many wouldn’t see much need to.

Remember, the New Zealand system is fantastic, but Kiwi teachers are still coming to terms with it. The question for any education system, then, is this: How do we make having a growth mindset the norm amongst educators? In truth, it takes time to develop a culture where growth is the expectation, but including a systematic approach to developing this mindset as part of your national curriculum document is a good first step.

A National Growth Mindset

It is with great pleasure I can tell you that New Zealand is systematically solving the issue of nationwide, authentic professional development. The solution comes from making every teacher accountable for designing and reporting a personal inquiry into their own classroom practice. This is done through an action research model we call Teaching as Inquiry (TAI). Asking teachers to challenge and reflect upon their teaching automatically makes it more relevant and personal than if they were following a mandated lesson plan—or even simply following their own lesson plans from the previous year.

Teaching-as-inquiry_reference

This call for continual personal reflection and professional development is the opposite of any form of one-size-fits-all approach. The trick is to make teachers accountable for sharing their reflections with, at a minimum, others in their school and, more preferably, the world. The style of learning and area of growth targeted are chosen by each individual teacher and are expected to produce a measurable challenge to some aspect of their teaching. The purpose of TAI is to instil in teachers the belief that professional development is, and should be, instigated by the individual. It also promotes the idea that development and learning is continuous and not isolated to planned events.

Learning is personal

teacher chatThe best professional development comes from reflecting on one’s own practice and applying measurable challenges to one’s own teaching. It is a practice that empowers teachers to keep and improve the good stuff whilst throwing out the things that don’t make a measurable difference to learning in their classroom or school. Teachers are then encouraged to share those measurable challenges or inquiries with other educators, be it in one-to-one meetings with a “critical” friend or on a blog, as a growing number of Kiwi teachers now do.

TAI is a practice that is successfully developing a culture amongst teachers in New Zealand for collaborative reflection and shared growth. This culture, in turn, helps to build trust within the system as teachers are more accountable and transparent in what they are doing and trying to achieve. The sharing of TAIs also provides a library of ideas and resources to any educator willing to tap into the blogs and wikis created by their fellow educators. I created this diagram of the SITTI model to show how the TAI process fits with schools’ professional development goals and creates a vision for learning that includes everyone.

SITTI Model-EduWells

Want more great ideas and initiatives from New Zealand? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com

Is your classroom filled with students or learners?

In a connected world with Wikipedia and Youtube, and technology that deletes more and more workplace roles every week, what should schools be focused on? Many teachers simply feel they do a better job that the internet at tailoring material to ensure students pass assessments. Teachers still prepare resources to read, watch and complete. Students are given or access these resources and work through them over a set period of time. They are then assessed and conclude that they have either acquired (temporarily) the skills and knowledge or not. What’s missing from this experience? – Learners! One analogy question I have for schools:

Is your school serving fish on a plate or issuing fishing rods?

Learning-to-Fish-EduWells

What’s the difference between a learner and a student? A student goes through the motions of learning for the sake of school structures and assessment, whereas a learner knows the context of the experience, can measure their own progress and makes decisions on next steps. The next steps might include consulting with an expert, such as the teacher, but it’s a learner who drives the experience. Well, that’s what I do when I’m learning something these days and it’s certainly not what I did at school.

Like the vast majority of current school leavers, It was after school that I spent years having to learn how to learn and look after myself. The school day had never given me any significant reason to look after myself beyond abstract grades and thus the teachers operated on the basis I never would show any genuine interest. They issued everything I needed in bite-sized chunks hoping I’d re-enact it in the assessment. Learning is exciting, being a student sucks, and as Chuck Berry said in 1957 – “Soon as 3 o’clock rolls around, I finally lay my burden down.” I remember thinking exactly the same thing and know that most students still feel the same.

“learning is exciting, being a student sucks”

So what should schools be doing? Developing learners. If from an early age the expectation is that one will learn how to look after one’s own learning and this expectation remains consistent, teachers wont find they have to do all the ‘learning‘ preparation on behalf of the students as is happening today, even with university students. No matter how much teachers would like it, the standard factory model school (still the vast majority) is not designed to and thus should never expect to develop true independence. Any school’s successful students who seem more independently driven, will be so due to expectations  for decision making and showing initiative during experiences outside the classroom somewhere – think scout leader, sports captain or orchestra member.

Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on.

Making decisions about what, how and who to work with so as to produce and evaluate outcomes, should be the norm in any classroom at any age. Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on. We need faith that by placing “how to learn and be productive” at the heart of classroom thinking, the average student will gain experience in driving situations just like our best students receive outside the classroom. 2 Posters I use to continue the learning conversation are below.

How to Learn.001

Design Thinking - EduWells

Cultivating boys that read

I’ll start with my own story to highlight a huge issue with reading that many boys struggle with. I find when people discuss whether they read or not, they tend to assume the discussion is based around fiction. In this sense I never read as a child. This will amaze many but due to a 1980s focus on self-discovery learning in UK elementary schools, I was permitted to not read if it suited me. I managed to avoid reading a whole book for my entire education. I read so little, I can tell you exactly what I managed before the age of eighteen:

  • at 6, I finished my last full ‘reader’ called “Roger red hat”
  • at 13, I fought through a third of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, before putting it down.
  • at 14 I confused myself on holiday with about 30 pages of an apocalyptic fantasy novel
  • at 16 I was forced to read scene from Macbeth to my English class

boysreading-eduwells

An unread college boy

At university (strange that I actually got there in the first place), I specifically chose an american literature elective to force myself to read a whole book. That’s right folks, I was 19 when I completed Catcher in the Rye, my first full book. The key reason for my trouble with reading was that, like many boys, I was always active, showing-off and inclined towards creative and/or physical activity. Books just required too much sitting down. I was never given a justification for dedicating serious time to someone else’s story. I may be nature or nurture, but boys struggle with empathy more than girls and I think it makes it harder for young boys to empathise with characters and really immerse themselves in the story. So what follows are the thoughts of a “non-reader.”

3 Ideas for encouraging boy readers

1. stick to the facts

Someone recently suggested to me that all men are somewhere on the autism spectrum, which from my experience, might be true. This is a more clever way of saying: all boys will obsess or get geeky about something. It might be sports, music, or Star Wars facts but details are everything to boys. A boy who lives near me discusses the facts of Star Wars far more than any narrative it might have. Parents and teachers can encourage this and arrange social groups around non-fiction interests to encourage boys to seek out more information, and thus read. Remember too, that websites and magazines also count as reading. Build a boys reading club around a magazine subscription in their topic of interest.

2. little and often works best

As a boy, I can tell you we like things simple. We’re not complicated animals. We like things to be quickly resolved and so books of short stories, that can be picked up knowing resolution with be arrived at quickly, seem more approachable than the thought of investing deeply in long complicated . Ensure boys have short story collections available so they can complete the narrative quickly but more often.

3. laugher satisfies

Comedy links to my previous idea. Funny situations and jokes are more immediately satisfying that other emotions, that can take longer to cultivate in a story. Comedy has the ability to entertain on each page and so keep a boy with shorter attention span hooked. Again, comedy also requires less deep empathy than love or pain. Find the funniest books you can.

My future? I now read more than ever, but sill not much in the way of fiction. My blogging keeps me reading, my Time magazine subscription keeps me reading, and the Curious Minds podcasts keep me reading.

boy reading

Image credit

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eduwells-profile-drawnAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Leader 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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Are teachers stealing problems from learners?

My school’s team of counsellors invited a speaker to provide professional development on the introduction of our student mediation program. Some students were going to receive training on how to become mediators of their peers’ problems. The training focused on the types of questions you ask as a mediator and the difficulties people found in not automatically trying to solve the problems they were listening to.

Owning Problems

The speaker asked the teachers to roleplay a mediation situation and discuss a problem that a teacher was having at the time. The aim was to become better listeners and through the example mediation questions, empower the problem-owner by letting them realise their own solution. In discussion afterwards, there seemed general agreement that it was:

  • Important to let the person work it through themselves as otherwise we might not truly solve the problem
  • Interrupting with suggested solutions would switch ownership of the problem from the victim to the mediator, disenfranchising the victim from the solution.

A parallel with teaching

My simple conclusion at the end of the session was that the relationship between teacher and learner should be exactly the same. Teachers should pullback from providing solutions in classrooms as this means that learners never own the challenge. This itself is a challenging proposition as I am suggesting that once students see a teacher trying to provide solutions, they understandably struggle to truly engage in the experience.

This does question:

  • Worksheets
  • Lecturing
  • Flipped Teaching
  • Lesson plans around content
  • Textbooks (The answers at the back!)
  • etc.

It’s time for teachers to build their practice around prompting questions and not guiding solutions. This makes for a better and more meaningful journey for the learners.

A matter of context?

The strange thing from me is that some teachers have their practice of teaching content and solutions so ingrained that the struggle or refuse to see this parallel. Where they have some faith that young people might be able to solve their own personal and social problems, they still maintain a notion that without a teacher, few learning solutions would ever eventuate. This of course is the common issue of relinquishing one’s power base and stepping down from one’s stage. It is as human to want a sense of power and especially an ego boosting ‘stage’ in the classroom, as it is for anyone to interrupt mediation with solutions to people’s personal problems.

It’s time for teachers to shift their practice to one of mediating learning. Plan and structure the learning environment and questioning, not the paths that learners must follow to arrive at predetermined solutions as this reduces the depth of the learning experience.

Does your classroom put the cart before the horse?

Most people assume formal education is a process of individual development from being heavily assisted at the age of 5, moving on to only requiring guidance and eventually achieving full independence and confidence to tackle one’s own learning and growth. The sad truth is that most teachers of 18-year-olds will tell you that their students remain heavily dependent on constant guidance and support. I produced the following graphic to sum up the three aforementioned stages and I wonder which one best depicts the average teenager in your education system.

Horse & Cart-EduWells

Whether, as a teacher, you are tackling a prescribed set of content, have the luxury of devising your own, or even better, are negotiating the tasks and content with your students, it is worth considering who is doing most of the work. You can’t develop a top footballer without allowing them to practice, try, fail, and try again. The same goes for what we want from our students. Most classrooms are so busy avoiding wrong answers they maintain and develop dependent learners who check with teacher before making any step forward.

Where do ‘good’ students come from?

The top students in any school, through family, sporting or performance experiences, are normally high achievers in spite of school and not because of it. They have arrived at the school having regularly experienced situations where their decision-making mattered, they were or remain responsible for for the success of activities, and the possibility of failure was common. This is exactly the conditions that the average school classroom avoids and thus does not develop the average student into a genuinely motivated, confident citizen. At school, I was very much an average student and can confirm that any motivation and responsible decision making was left until after university. I was kept safe from such matters by the education system I went through and spent my twenties working out how to perform effectively in teams and get projects completed on time. 

STAR_WARS2 _ EDUWELLS.017

“…But they get the grades”

Please don’t confuse success in exams and grade acquisition for genuine achievement. Many, if not most top grades around the world are achieved through targeted teacher coaching. Coaching only tuned for the specific prescribed challenges of the assessment at hand. This only results in what universities and employers report as school leavers lacking initiative, motivation and professional skills. This is not educational success by any stretch of the imagination. You will still get your grades if you devote time in early years to letting learners experience managing their own learning as a norm and not spoon feeding content to them. This will develop people who have their own coping mechanisms when it comes to exams later.

The Classroom is for developing people

The habits of many schools hand the responsibility of growing the person to extra-curricular activities and not the classroom where the students spend most of their time. The number of times I’ve heard the words ‘all-round education’ in discussion of sports or cultural events and at the same time the classroom is reduced to only a place in which information is passed from teacher to student. Many adults make the mistake of thinking “I went to school and turned out alright.” But when challenged they will conclude that any confidence or initiative they have has been developed post-school not during. This I feel is a massive missed opportunity that many non-high achievers miss out on.

It’s time to make the classroom as challenging as the sports field or theatre stage. Make the students more accountable for what takes place and whether or not it succeeds. Shift the responsibility from teacher to student for organising how the current challenges get tackled.  It may go wrong initially by like football players, they’ll get better and better until they are ready to face their final school challenges independently.

Play safe and start early

This does not happen overnight. What I propose here is a vision for your school in 5 years time, not tomorrow. Don’t dismiss this because you can’t picture your more senior students handling the responsibility of devising their own plans for learning. If they haven’t had the prior practice they’re not going to take charge tomorrow. You have to build the expectations and competencies over a 5 year process. Rethink the learning environments that your school’s youngest learners experience and let the current students live out the teacher-directed education they were introduced to as much as they need to. Focus on what your school will offer the next intake and how it will develop them to tackle the content without it being spoon fed from day 1.

What is Student-Centred Learning?

A recent job vacancy for a leading position in a New Zealand school asked for a focus on genuine student-centred learning. What fascinated me was their use of the word ‘genuine’. My experience shows me that confusion, misinterpretation, and a lack of exposure to relevant examples, means that too many educators do not understand true student-centric learning. Many schools feel under pressure to be implementing such models but often only change surface level elements whilst proclaiming they have achieved it.

What is student centred learning-eduwells

Why being student-centric matters

Let’s cut to the chase. This matters because we all know that young people (including ourselves many moons ago) would rather stay at home than go to school. If students tell people that they like school, what they’re often picturing as they say it are things such as hangin’ with friends, music productions or the sports events. When students are asked what their favourite part of school is, they rarely mention anything that takes place in a classroom. I recently asked 3 boys, who had moved from elementary to junior high, what was positive about the change. They actually agreed on “moving between rooms” as the first improvement that sprung to mind. That’s right folks, their best part of the daily school experience is the brief time spent in the corridors! All you have to do is endure an hour with one teacher and then you get a break for 5 minutes before the next.

The New Zealand education review office that runs quality assurance checks on schools’ practice recently reported on 68 schools that :

“Students in all schools were experiencing an assessment- driven curriculum and assessment anxiety. In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and the competing demands on them were the students.” – ERO “Success in secondary school

The constant amongst most schools that drives this pessimistic view held by students is that they rarely control any significant part of their day. As an example of how common this view is, I can even use teachers to prove my point. I’ve worked in four schools that have all held teacher training days. During a number of those days, sessions have been prearranged to showcase tools or pedagogies and staff have moved from one session to another. Many of these days have received feedback that they were not very useful. A recent example I experienced broke the trend and offered longer sessions of self-directed time for colleagues from the same department to work on their own material. The feedback included:

“Best staff training days so far, we got to work on our own stuff and had time to get things done. It was great to work with other departments” – Teachers

Many teachers agree that student-directed learning makes sense when it comes to their own learning but this rarely translates to their approach to teaching.  Releasing control is always difficult, so I thought I’d do my best to outline some practical questions and advice from my own experience that will hopefully make some teachers reconsider their need for absolute control of when, what and how learning takes place.

1. TIME(TABLE) TO LEARN

Timetabling the day has more impact than you think. As the teachers highlighted above, how the day is divided often shapes it’s potential to engage people in learning. A comment by a New Zealand principal has confused many educators I’ve shown it to:

“The timetabling I’ve grown to love is that which subjugates the timetable to its role of representing the vision and values of the school and bringing life to the curriculum design principles that emerge from the vision and values – a timetable that is flexible and responsive with the needs of the learner firmly at the centre.” – Mauri Abraham (NZ Principal)

The idea of a timetable representing the vision for the school confuses many. The way you allocate time indicates your school’s priorities and thus your values. This is because teachers who are used to a day centred on the their needs don’t view the timetable as an enabler for students to learn but as another mechanism for managing them.

One major requirement for learning is reflection. Hardly any schools timetable for it.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

Students are normally given no time to reflect on recent learning before they are thrown into another unrelated lesson (High school) or topic (elementary).

2. RELEASE CONTROL

If your timetable is focused on the needs of the learners rather than teachers then you’ll be free to let the students shape a great deal of your teachers’ day. One issue that both restricts student experience and makes it less engaging  is that the whole day is often prearanged by the teachers for the teachers. Where to be, what to look at and what to aim for has been predicted and so actually demands less challenge. Learning happens when best when the learner is immersed in the experience. To truly immerse, a learner must have input into that experience.

Compliance is not learning, even if it results in good grades. Teachers should arrive at work wondering how they will be needed, not how students will conform to their pre-arrangements. I’ve always thought that the prescribed experience of school that teachers experienced in the 20th century is to blame for so many not taking ownership of their own professional development. Many are still waiting for the imaginary PD timetable and activities to be written for them. I wouldn’t want to think we were breeding another generation of people who wait for learning to be arranged.

3. allow technology to reach its potential

Technology is not essential, but it helps. A large number of schools are now using technology but teachers’ prearranged learning and goals restrict the experience for students in what potential there is to explore and discover with technology and the internet. Rather than learn, they are asked to use technology to achieve prearranged targets. This does not allow them to experience the same real learning process that people do outside classrooms.

Most young people are used to exploring and contributing to online discussion and events in their personal life. Many schools don’t make the most of this and create an abstract environment where study material has already been sorted and the path a discussion will follow is already well trodden by previous classes. Access to technology should be an empowering opportunity and I hope teachers ask students to surprise them with what the can achieve rather restrict expectations with rigidly structured tasks.

4. Students owning their assessment

Involving students in the design of assessment is both crucial to engagement and exactly what any learning involves when people outside schools undertake a challenge. If adults attempt to learn anything they start by setting criteria for how they will know they’ve reached their goal, be it piano or a google chrome extension. This is also something we generally deny students in schools. They are normally adhering to someone else’s idea of success. In doing this, teachers and schools remove an important personal connection to the learning experience.

I have experimented much in the last 3 years by challenging students to consider what marks success within each task they undertake. I have been surprised by how engaging this activity is for my students. It might be because it’s a novelty in relation to other learning they do but one group, for example, extended the assessment design to a full week of lessons without any encouragement from me!

Even if you are working in a high school and assessments set by high authorities. Ensure your students have time to review the course demands and construct their own list of requirements. To some teachers, this will seems like a waste of time, when they have already done it for them. But again, I stress that it is part of true learning and to remove this step only creates an environment of compliance and the skill of learning is not developed by the students.

Like reflection, considering one’s own success criteria is an important part of the learning process and schools should reintroduce this if learning is ever to be considered as authentic and meaningful.

Don’t just state your vision but be it

Many schools will state that they want students to be independent, responsible and confident. But if your students are walking into a school environment where every aspect is prearranged, you remove the need to be independent, responsible and confident about anything significant. We say practice makes progress, well let’s start allowing students to practice what we want them to become.

Can social media help manage a successful classroom?

Humans are all about relationships. This is why learning is all about relationships but that’s also why social media has both taken over the world and will have a huge impact on education and learning.

Social Media wallsNotice there, where I split the education and learning into two distinct topics. I do this because the term education implies the familiar formalisation of learning that we are all accustomed to. “Education” makes people think of buildings and classrooms, testing and grades and not necessarily learning. Just as social media has challenged and transformed the business world over the last decade, it will increasingly challenge the education institutions built on the 20th century’s model of one-size fits all and their view of what successful learning is.

Whether schools like it or not…

The tools and features within social media that allow individuals to make connections, build networks, share learning, receive feedback from peers and grow one’s own learning are already challenging the purpose and even need for a classroom, as we’ve known it in the past. Social media, be it school based, such as Edmodo, or public like Youtube, is itself teaching young people that networks that share a common goal often prove more powerful than the sum of their parts.

Connected generation

“I’m currently working with a group in Iran” – Grade 7 New Zealand student.

Clash-of-ClansYou might think that the quote above that came from one of my students this year is unusual but what was more unusual was that he didn’t think anything of the statement! It was me, his teacher, who had to point out how special his circumstance was. The context was that we were doing a project on world connections and he was an avid player of “Clash of clans” on his iPad.

Only when I ran through some comparisons and highlighted how the world had changed so quickly did he become inspired by his collaborations and how those very real experiences might impact on his perceptions and future interactions with people from other parts of the world. He went on to include in his project his meeting with an Iranian employee of his father who he’d made a special request to meet.

Authentic and relevant audience

I hear many frustrated teachers bemoan the lack of writing quality amongst even their senior students even after they’ve experienced over a decade of education. I like to highlight that developing an intrinsic desire to takes one’s writing seriously when your audience is one teacher and the reward is an abstract grade has always been hard for most students. This is where, I’ve always liked the concept of Quad-blogging founded by David Mitchell. A class of student bloggers, team up with 3 other classrooms elsewhere in the world (arranged by the website) . One format is that each week or month, one class’ blogs become the focus for the other 3 classes to feedback on. This system then rotates. For me, the ‘unknown’ audience of peers makes students take much more care over what and how they present their writing and projects. They now see their work as much more an extension of themselves exposed to the world outside the classroom.

The world is now layered with thousands of online networks and it’s time for classrooms to allow these networks to make learning a relational and authentic experience. It’s online networks that can stretch learning beyond the four walls that until now have only isolated young people from the world they might become a key players in.

David Mitchell explains his Quad-blogging story:

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EduWells Pofile Pic 2015Author: 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 :  @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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School Transitions – Kings and Queens reduced to Pawns

Leaders become followers: I spent last week visiting and discussing a range of schools in New Zealand from early childhood (ages 2-4) to high school. A theme arose around the expectations teachers had of their students in each school and how it seemed less dependent on age or ability and more on a year level’s seniority in the particular school.

School Transitions-EduWells

Let me explain …

In the final year of early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school the teachers’ expectations of students were always set high, often dealing with leadership & independent learning opportunities, even in early childhood centres! This is due to them being the most senior year in their current context. The problem was that when those same children switched to the next school they were treated in relation to their new context, as the babies, and had lower expectations placed on them. This was happening at each stage of school transition and expectations on the new arrivals were often set lower than in their previous year.

A major problem

This is a serious issue with the various divisions in education systems and that a lack of communication between the schools leads to damaging transitions. Students spend their education switching from treatment as leader to treatment as baby at least 3 times.

Just imagine if we were to build on the self-esteem of the previous schools expectations and allow the students to reach their true potential? At the moment, we are dragging them back on a number of occasions making it hard for more to succeed over the first two decades of their life

Examples from last week:

  • Leading 4 year-olds by the end of kindergarten discussing what leaders do and say. A design zone to improve the layouts of public buildings in the city.
  • Baby 5 year-olds as new entrants in elementary school sat in lines on the mat and asked to all follow teacher.
    • Leading 10 year-olds at end of elementary asked to man the reception for half a day every week and act as the face of the school and create a short documentary on a social issue in New Zealand for a national competition. Plan a 1 hour assembly from beginning to end.
  • Baby 11 year-olds at the beginning of middle school taught by a teacher who said “I don’t share class activity online because at only 11, what is there to share?”
  • Leading 14 year olds, pre-high school assessment, running community projects to look at developing new approaches to clean waterways and their impact on the local environment
  • Baby 15 year-olds starting high school exams told to listen to teacher and get ready for tests
  • Leading 18 year-olds told to aide the running of the school and organise school events.
  • Baby 19 year-olds jokingly told by college lecturers to “forget everything you learnt at schools!”

Request to all teachers

Make sure you have in-depth conversations with your new students regarding their previous experiences and have them consider their pre-existing strengths. As senior students in their last school, they might have been treated like adults. Let’s stop dragging them backwards and loosing out on the potential they might have achieved if they ever got to control their own learning programme.

It takes a village to educate a child

What are the best ways parents can help teachers and that teachers can help parents?

The key secret to education is building and maintaining relationships. Here I mean all relationships between students, teachers, parents, administration, and both the local and world communities. Strong relationships give all parties status and recognition. Being recognised for anything is what drives most people to aim higher and do more. (Here’s 3 people who agree: 1,  2, 3)

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iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: 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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In this context, I want to keep things simple and effective. What teachers must do for parents is instigate student learning logs (in any format) and raise the incentives for parents to be involved in them. Documenting learning allows parents and teachers to recognise it and this raises learning’s status in the mind of the child. Parents need to be made aware that becoming participants in this recognition they will raise the achievement of their own children with only small but regular gestures and comments.

The power of affirmation: “Facebook conquered the world with just a ‘Like’!”

Now when I suggest learning log, I do mean ALL learning. Be it in a book or online, students should be encouraged to reflect on any significant learning they encounter, in on out of school. The new dance routine, the new Minecraft features, the local news event. This personalises the journey and makes these small daily achievements visible and available for further recognition. This also feeds more information to the teacher from both the posting and the parent comments. This regular two-way information is vital in building deeper relationships and providing yet further affirmation.

Why I suggest digital blogs?

We’re all busy people. It seems that prioritising time to genuinely recognise others in this fast paced world is becoming more and more difficult. Let’s not worry about how we might change the world and look at how we might benefit from the the tools to recognise even the smallest of achievements. Blogs allow students to auto-organise by ticking categories and using tags. Teachers can subscribe and only need show recognition once a week. The key is to have the parents and the wider family subscribe to the updates and use the “Like” and comment features to affirm the child’s learning. The subscription does all the hard work in keeping the family informed and the power of these small gestures should not be underestimated.

“Even for teenagers, don’t underestimate the power of a thumbs-up from grandma!”

The big benefit of digital is that many people in the life a child can provide these small gestures of recognition from their phone anywhere and at anytime. Schools need to harness the power of having a child’s learning widely affirmed by their own community, including peers, and move beyond the reliance on just their teacher as learning provider.

…oh and Edmodo’s a good place to start!

Who needs teachers when you have students?

Last week, myself and four of my students attended New Zealand’s Google Education Group ‘s NZ Student Summit. An event by students for students. My 9th graders were running a workshop on coding with MIT’s Scratch programme and they did a great job but what fascinated me more on the day was the workshops being organised and run by students from grades 1 to 4! 

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It wasn’t that these children from ages 6 to 10 could code, collaborate inthe cloud, animate, blog and create radio advertisements, or that they were already running online reflection learning logs and explaining levels of thinking through the SOLO taxonomy!! What struck me was that even at the age of 6, tens of students had volunteered to attend a strange place to confidently run workshops for hundreds of strangers. 

When I was at elementary school, everything was devised, organised and delivered by the teachers and the idea that children might have something to suggest in what took place at school was not up for consideration. I, as an average student, therefore had to wait until I was 25 before I had the confidence to take charge of any situation!

The rules have changed

IMG_1366It is so exciting to see that so many elementary schools work on the principle that the children are there to take charge of their own learning (in fact that was the theme of a session). For these 350 students, the understanding is that one takes any opportunity one is given and sharing the experience is the norm. In this context, putting your hand up to run a workshop at a large event seems like common behaviour and so much less threatening than it would have been for my generation.

One session I saw was on collaborative development of animations in Google Slides. They were presenting from a TV with examples and demonstrating the tool, whilst the 30 attendees used their own devices to give it a go. They presented and assisted people so positively and confidently that if I’d closed my eyes it would only have been the chipmunk style voices that would not have me assuming they were already qualified teachers!

But it wasn’t just tech. There were children running workshops on writing, thinking and publishing. In these sessions, the audience engagement was visibly higher than I’ve seen in a number of classrooms possibly because they related more directly to learning from their own generation. One thing that struck me was how prepared most attendees were to ask questions and for assistance. I know this would not have been the case if learning from adults.

A challenge to High schools

One reflection that wasn’t so positive, was that high schools did not feature at the summit. My 4 students were the only ones of high school age. Now I’m not going to suppose a definite reason for this but here are some possible questions that need asking:

  1. Google Summit Students04Was it because it was hosted at a newly built elementary school and this was enough for the average high school teacher to assume it wouldn’t be appropriate?
  2. Is it that the culture in elementary schools is “let’s see what you can do” where as in high school it’s generally “you are here to receive my wisdom.” Does this leave high school students perceived as having less to offer in the process of learning?
  3. Have High schools been slower to make the shift to empowering the individual to take charge of learning? Would this summit not make sense to many high school teachers?
  4. Connected with the above, is it professional connections? The event promotion on social media would NOT have been seen by most high school teachers who also have been slower to connect with the profession through these networks. (Last years biggest NZ education conference (ULearn) attendance was 85% elementary teachers and less than 15% high school teachers)

Just a thought

The big question is what will high schools do in the near future with students who have already run conference workshops at the age of six and have higher expectations of themselves than to expect to slow down and accept the predetermined wisdom of self-important high school experts? 

Dear high school teacher, is your teaching closing doors on the potential of your students?

P.S. The keynote speaker was a 16 year old from west Auckland who, from the classroom, both passes his school courses and runs 2 companies collectively worth NZ$1.5 million !