Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How can parents and teachers help each other?

This post will be featured in Cathy Rubin's The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Teacher Blogs.

Here are 4 understandings that help parents and teachers to educate children.

1. Teach the whole-child. Ask any parents what their long-term concerns and goals are for their children, and seldom will you hear about test scores and world rankings. Their concerns are compelling, existential and heartfelt. Parents want their kids to be happy, hard-working, motivated, responsible, honest, empathetic, intelligent, collaborative, creative and courageous. Of course we want our children to grow academically, but we also want them to grow emotionally, socially and physically, and this requires a well-rounded education.

2. Teaching and parenting is about relationships, relationships, relationshipsParents and teachers know that children do not care what you know until they know that you care about them. Good teaching and parenting is less about doing things to children and more about working with them. Because rewards and punishments are by definition manipulative and coercive, they undermine our relationships and therefore need to be tempered or even abandoned. This means teachers would not use token economies or classroom management schemes that treat children like pets and parents wouldn't use time-outs or bribes

3. Good parents and teachers are not born -- they are made. Parenting and teaching are the easiest jobs to get wrong and the hardest to get right. Regardless of experience and expertise, we are all human and are subject to impatience and ignorance.  The best parents and teachers don't waste their limited time, effort and resources on blaming and shaming -- instead, they see every problem as an opportunity to teach and learn.

4. Public education is not a private interest for an elite few -- it is a public good for all. Public education, like democracy, is reserved only for those who fight for it. First time parents don't realize how important sleep is until it is taken from them -- the same is true for our public schools.

The only thing that destructive education policies require to thrive is for good people to do nothing. Parents and teachers must work together as stewards for our public schools and demand that public education remain a public good for all. This requires parents and teachers to pay attention as much or more to their public schools as their favourite sports and celebrities.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rethinking School Leadership

"The role of the school principal in Canada is increasingly multifaceted and complex. Beyond the foundational administrative and managerial roles they are expected to master, principals are also expected to be innovators and agents of change -- all of this in a culture that increasingly challenges traditional conceptions of leadership."


In June I wrote a post on 5 ways teachers can demonstrate leadership in the classroom.

Here are 5 ways school administrators can exhibit and inspire leadership in their schools and school districts.

1. Good leaders stick around. We know that high principal turnover often leads to greater teacher turnover and initiative fatigue. Sometimes these moves are made by the choices of senior administrators from the school district, however, Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan reminds us that "regularized rotation of principals by their districts every 3-5 years has more a negative than positive effect on improvement efforts". Other times these moves are initiated by principals who "use schools with many poor or low-achieving students as stepping stones to what they view as more desirable assignments". When leaders come and go in search of their own self-promotion, it's hard to see them as allies with the community. This is no more evident than in New Orleans, a city that is 65 percent black, where the corporate education reform movement is almost entirely white led. In the US, average tenure for urban superintendents is just three years, while education secretaries in England and France tend to turnover after only two years. Albertans have had 4 Ministers of Education since 2011, and we know that Canadian principals are, "at risk of burnout in an increasingly ramped up culture of performativity".

This shouldn't be our society or our schools.
2. Good leaders distribute leadership without stepping on others. Most education systems, school districts and schools are built on hierarchal systems where well intentioned fidelity too often becomes code for do as you are told. Andy Hargreaves reminds us that the best leaders "uplift those they serve by uplifting those who serve them". The best leaders know that they don't know everything, so they reject cultures of compliance built on confirmation bias and instead seek dissent to liberate the conversation. The best leaders reject comforting lies and embrace unpleasant truths. The best leaders reject the seductiveness of efficiency via fear and conformity through standardization and fatalism. Good leaders don't merely accumulate and exercise power while reminding their inferiors to follow along. Good leaders share power to grow leadership among all.

The worst leaders are Decepticons.
3. Leaders don't enslave -- they support. Some leaders empower and inspire teachers to work with children in ways that leave life long impressions while others create instruments of control to separate the powerful from the powerless that makes compliance the gold standard. Teaching is a highly relational and complex job that cannot be reduced to a one-size-fits-all standardized approach. If teachers are to have any hope in accomplishing what many people admit to be an undesirable and impossible job, they require servant leadership that puts "the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible."

4. School leaders are teachers. In his book Finnish Lessons 2.0, Pasi Sahlberg reminds us that, "Some countries allow their schools to be led by non-educators, hoping that business-style management will raise efficiency and improve performance." Most Canadians wouldn't understand how an non-teacher could possibly lead a school or school district while our American neighbours have already embraced this as common practice.
 If you haven't taught, you can't give teachers the feedback they need to improve. If you haven't taught, you can't lead teachers. Period.

I found this written on my whiteboard
on the last day of school. 
5. The best leaders don't value what they measure -- they measure what they value. In their book Professional Capital: Transforming teaching in every school, Andy Hargreaves and Micheal Fullen layout how, "great schools are made up of three kinds of capital: human capital (the talent of individuals); social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgements about learners that are cultivated over many years".

At the end of this school year, my grade 6 students wrote Provincial Achievement Tests. Their multiple choice scantrons were promptly shipped off to our provincial capital to be counted.

At the end of this school year, I found this message on my whiteboard that counted formally and officially for nothing -- but meant everything to me and to that student. Good leaders would care about this emotionally intelligent piece of data at least as much, if not more, than spreadsheet-friendly test scores. Albert Einstein said it all, " Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts".

Such a nuanced approach requires us to temper, if not abandon, our mania for reducing learning and teaching to numbers. While so many forces work to sterilize and standardize our schools, Hargreaves and Fullen lead the way to humanize education.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Outcome vs. Process: Different Incarnations of Personalization

This was written by Yong Zhao who is the author writes and speaks about education reform. He blogs here and tweets here. This post was found here.


by Yong Zhao

There are different views of personalized learning. My advocacy for personalization has been occasionally misunderstood as supporting the narrow view of personalized learning driven by big data and learning analytics with technology or online learning in general. Below is an excerpt of a chapter from a book I coauthored with a group of teachers and school leaders: World Class Learners Bundle to be published by Corwin. Hope it helps clarify my take on personalized learning.–Yong

To personalize is to design or produce something to meet individual requirements. In education, personalization is often used in the forms of “personalized learning,” “personalized education,” or “personalized instruction.” The term personalization is often used interchangeably with individualization, and sometimes with customization. The general idea is to enable individual students to have an educational experience that meets their individual needs.

Although it is has long been recognized that individual students have different needs and high-quality education cannot be “one size fits all,” personalization in education has different meanings and realizations in practice because education has many components that can be personalized, individualized, or customized. For example, personalization can happen at the pace of learning by allowing students to learn at their own speed. Personalization can also be employed to enable students to choose when and where they learn. It can also be used in ways that allow students to have a choice of work assignments in the classroom. Furthermore, personalization is a strategy that enables students to demonstrate their learning by creating a product of their own choosing.

Generally speaking, personalization can be put into two categories: process personalization and outcome personalization. Process personalization enables students to enjoy choice in the learning process, whereas outcome personalization allows students to define the end results of their learning. Process personalization is by far the most prominent version in education today because the current education paradigm has a predetermined outcome for all students. That is, no matter how one gets there, we want everyone to get to the same place: mastery of the knowledge and skills prescribed in the authoritative curriculum or standards.

Personalization of the Learning Process

Although the outcome remains the same, the journey to the destination can be personalized to accommodate different needs, abilities, learning styles, and interests of students. Some of the most common aspects of individualization or personalization that have taken place (or should take place) include pace, content, product, learning environments, and assessment.

Personalization of pace: For all sorts of reasons, students come to school with different abilities and thus will acquire the same content at different speeds. To accommodate different abilities in students, schools have been encouraged to allow students to progress at their individual pace. One of the earliest experiments for self-paced learning is programmed instruction advocated by behaviorist psychologists such as B. F. Skinner in the 1960s (Skinner, 1968). Skinner and like-minded individuals relied on technology to enable students to pace their own learning and receive feedback. With the advent of modern computer technologies, individualization of learning pace became more prominent with computer-based learning. Today, the tradition continues in the form of personalized learning with the support of Big Data and learning analytics technology. Personalization of pace can also happen in the classroom by permitting students to work at their own speed. At the school level, one form of personalization is ability grouping or tracking, which puts students into different classes that move at different paces.

Personalization of content: Content can also be personalized to meet individual needs. Although all students in the traditional educational paradigm need to master the same content as prescribed by curriculum standards, they can be exposed to different content that best suits them. For example, following the principles of differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2001), students can be given different tasks based on their level of understanding of the content to be covered using Bloom’s Taxonomy. To accommodate different interests and learning styles, students can also choose different genres of content. For instance, different kinds of texts, novels, or short stories can be used to meet the needs of individual students at different reading levels. The media used to present the content can also be individualized. Some may prefer reading, others listening. Some may learn best from audio, others visual, and still others physical manipulation.

Personalization of product: Students often need to produce some sort of product (e.g., papers, exhibits, or exams) to demonstrate their mastery of the intended content. To accommodate different levels and styles of learning, the type of products expected of students can be personalized. Some students may prefer to write a paper, others may choose to compose a song. Some may demonstrate their learning by constructing a product such as a poster, others may create a multimedia interactive book. Some students may choose to take a traditional test, while others may design a video game.

Personalization of the learning environment: Where and how learning occurs can also be individualized. Although the same standard and content is expected of all students in the traditional paradigm, students may choose to learn in different places, from different sources, and with different arrangements. With the wide accessibility to online resources, students do not need to learn the content from the classroom alone nor do they need to learn from the teacher only. They could also learn from field trips and extended trips. Moreover, students could choose to take courses online from other institutions. In terms of how students can learn, they could learn by themselves, or in collaboration with others. In the classroom, a teacher can create different learning environments to support personalized learning. Teachers may use different grouping strategies to accommodate student working styles and preferences or they can create different physical arrangements in the classroom for different learning purposes.

Personalization of Outcome

Personalization of the learning process has tremendous value in improving student learning. It is undoubtedly a major improvement over the traditional one-size-fits-all teaching practices. Thus, personalization has been advocated for decades as an effective approach in the traditional education paradigm to meet the needs of individual students, especially students who have disabilities or are judged to be less ready for certain school tasks. However, it is not enough for cultivating the creative and entrepreneurial talents we need in the new world, as discussed in World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (Zhao, 2012). A different level of personalization is needed: personalization of learning outcomes.

Personalization of learning outcomes takes personalization to a different level by allowing students to pursue their strengths and interests. It does not accept a prescribed curriculum or set of standards as common to all students, as in the traditional paradigm. Thus, the goal of education is not to fix students’ deficits measured by external standards. Rather, this level of personalization assumes that all talents, skills, and knowledge are of equal value and thus all learning outcomes are valuable. As a result, instead of forcing or luring all students to master the same knowledge and skills, this approach asks for personalized educational experiences that support the development of individual talent. Recent developments in technology also enable students to have access to global educational resources, hence providing opportunities for students to construct a learning environment that meets their diverse needs.

Strength-based personalization: Allowing students to personalize their outcomes is to enhance their strengths. Thus, strength-based personalization requires teachers to not focus on what the students cannot do. Instead, the teacher looks hard at what each student can do and uses that as a starting point to build an individualized pathway for the student. In other words, rather than having students follow a predetermined curriculum, schools follow students and work with them to co-create the curriculum, which is highly individualized. The curriculum emerges as student learning progresses. To do so, schools need to offer a broad range of courses or other learning activities for students to explore their strengths. In this model, the school becomes a museum of learning opportunities. Students can choose to take advantage of any of these opportunities, as museum visitors would any of the exhibits. Teachers become curators of learning opportunities and also “tour guides” for students. They do not impose but can certainly mentor, motivate, and challenge.

Passion-driven personalization: Personalization can also be driven by students’ passions, which can be different from their strengths. That is, what a student may be good at can be different what he or she is passionate about. Students’ interests should be considered as legitimate sources of motivation; what students are passionate about has intrinsic value, although it may or may not coincide with the prescribed curriculum. To support personalization driven by students’ interests and passions, schools need to develop mechanisms to identify students’ interests. Schools must treat these interests seriously once they are identified, and schools must develop courses and learning activities accordingly.

In summary, personalization of learning outcomes is not mutually exclusive with personalization of process. In fact, it requires all of the different strategies of process personalization. But it goes beyond process personalization by extending personalization beyond a predefined curriculum. Curriculum standards may still be valuable as a guide for specific subjects and domains, should students choose to master that subject or domain. However, students are not forced to learn what has been prescribed, particularly at a prescribed time, location, and pace.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The State of Inclusion in Alberta Schools

This was written by Avis Glaze as the Forward in The State of Inclusion in Alberta Schools by the Alberta Teachers' Association.

by Avis Glaze

So often, as teachers, we reiterate the statement that “all children can learn and achieve given time and proper supports.” I have no doubt that we believe this statement. But I would like to encourage deep reflection on what this statement means, and, more importantly, what we will do differently to enable students to be more successful. 

Permit me to congratulate the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) for its attention to inclusive education here. The State of Inclusion in Alberta Schools is an outstanding study that will serve as a model internationally. I commend the Association for carrying on its rich tradition of excellence and leadership in education through its creation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education in Alberta Schools. The Blue Ribbon Panel’s findings, outlined in this report, are very important and the focus on inclusion is timely. 

All across the globe, teachers, politicians, community members and parents are striving to ensure that education lives up to its promise of creating a more just and harmonious society. They recognize the complexities associated with inclusion, but want more inclusive practices to prevent their children and grandchildren from falling through the cracks. In the same vein, Albertans want the best for the province’s children and youth, but will not be able to confidently say that the education system is successful until the bar is raised and achievement gaps are closed. A commitment to inclusive practices will greatly enhance the quality of education in the province. 

Education is the ultimate tool of empowerment. It requires both will and skill to help students fulfill their potential. Alberta teachers fully realize this. They know that they must continue in their relentless quest to achieve excellence through equity. They want the best for their students. But there is also a broader goal. We live in one of the greatest countries in the world—one that promotes democracy, fairness and justice. We cannot afford to forget that democracy and education are inextricably intertwined: democracy is strongest where education is strongest, and publicly-funded education is the hallmark of democracy. 

To my mind, this study’s focus on inclusion and its findings represent a clarion call to action. Reaching the goals and successfully implementing the strategies outlined here require a shared purpose and mission. Alberta teachers—who work with students every day and are committed to student success—have the will, skills and attitude to make it happen. 

The children deserve no less.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Teacher Leadership

The best schools have both a strong and healthy administration and teaching staff. Weak administration can leave even the most qualified teaching staff anemic -- and a strong administration with a weak teaching staff leaves a school with a lot of talk and no walk.

I often think about how it is a systemic flaw that teachers have to leave the classroom in order to make more money or advance their careers.

In some school districts, being a troublemaker is one of the best ways to become an outcast and get fired, while in other districts it is one of the best ways to make a difference and become influential.

The best schools and school districts understand that the most innovative and inspiring teachers are first labelled as troublemakers until they become popular, then they are called leaders.

What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?

1. Idealism is not a character flaw. Teacher leaders inspire others to see students and school for what they could be and might be. They find the perfect balance between preparing students for the world the way it is, and preparing students to make the world a better place.

2. Healthy and interesting people make the best teachers. Teacher leaders know that the school year is a marathon not a race. Slow, steady and sustainable effort are what schools and students need -- teachers who burn out before the weekend or the summer don't do anyone any good. It is unsustainable for teachers to take better care of other people's children than their own children or themselves. Teacher leaders balance work, family and play so that their colleagues and their students are inspired to also balance work, family and play.

3. Teachers help teachers. Teacher leaders know that too many teachers quit and that inexperienced teachers are too often preyed upon to do too much too soon. Teacher leaders don't simply close their door and teach, nor do they use the staffroom as a complaint box. Teacher leaders make themselves available for their students and teacher colleagues alike.

4. Reject the blame game. Teacher leaders understand that the blame game is as seductive as it is destructive. Schools that are marinated in cultures of failure are often plagued with blame -- teacher leaders reject this culture by seeing success and failure not as time to reward and punish but as teachable moments.

5. Education is political. Ultimately, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society. Teacher leaders are active participants in our democracy and work inside and outside of their classroom for equity and equality.


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