Digital Deficiency

The overall impact of technology in education has been well discussed and researched both in developing and developed countries, especially in the last decade.  There are many different opinions, but it is definitely unavoidable.  The pros and cons of technology in the classroom are widely debated, changed often, but regardless of everything, technology is part of  life, part of modern teaching and we as teachers must find a way to balance between traditional teaching and the technologically aided one.  Technology is not replacing the role of the teacher but it is redefining their roles in the classroom.  The first step is recognising the importance of technology within education and buy-in that it can improve teaching and learning.  It should be seen as an effective way to widen educational opportunities.

In this post, there is an argument that technology does enhance student learning despite some recent studies and comments stating otherwise.  Instead it is posited that the real problem is a lack of digital competence (i.e. a digital deficiency), and in turn a lack of quality technology training to effectively improve our students’ learning.  Whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, students are closely connected to technology and we cannot change that.  So why not embrace it and use it to our advantage as educators?

Most of the participants in a 2017 study by Lindita Sknderi, agree that technology increases student’s academic achievements.  Besides this, the teachers also also felt that technology enhances lifelong learning which is arguably a key goal in most schools, and understandably so.  However, the study also showed that teachers did not think the same regarding communication skills.  They disagreed strongly that technology has a positive impact in developing communication skills for young people.   The non-profit New Schools Venture Fund and Gallup group found that nearly nine in ten U.S. public school students say they use digital learning tools at least a few days a week and more than half questioned said they use digital technology to learn every day.  The survey found that classroom technology gets high marks from educators.  At least eight in 10 teachers and school leaders said they see great value in using classroom technology tools now and in the future.

When technology is used correctly and effectively, the benefits are clear.  Students no doubt are learning more when lessons are delivered by a more competent and confident user of technology.  However, when technology is used incorrectly as a teaching tool, the results are not positive, quite the opposite.  Technology presents a wonderful opportunity to re-shape education because it is popular in general, with both students and teachers.  One study in the US has shown that the introduction of technology makes 87% of students more likely to attend class and 72% of them more likely to participate.  Another study by Smoothwall found that 96% of teachers believe technology has had a positive impact on the way children participate and learn in lessons.  Another study in 2009 found that the benefits of technology exceed the costs, particularly when considering the enjoyment of students in class and developing an active learning environment .

Many schools have (correctly in my opinion) invested in technology; iPads, MacBooks, Chromebooks, desktops etc, but how many have invested properly in training their staff?  How many schools can honestly say that their teachers and users are confident in their usage?  How often do these devices simply become a fancy utility?  Often used simply to manage student behaviour? What can we do to make teachers more competent with the use of technology, more confident and buy-in to the use of technology to aid their teaching, thus impact positively on student learning?  How do we find the balance with the tried and tested methods and the new-age developments?

Firstly, it should not be a choice. Teachers must accept that they need to use devices and technology, agreeing to professional development, both in and outside school.  There is an immense need for professional development sessions and appropriate training which could make the best out of teachers and give the best possible to the students.  It is all about creating a harmony, a balance, between the traditional and basic forms of teaching integrated with technology.

School leaders should realise that it takes time for teachers to integrate technology in the classroom because it takes a long time to plan, learn and prepare.  It takes time to build up confidence and competence. Teachers need time freed up for training and familiarisation.  Of course, this is a common request and never easy to do, but many creative ways allow it (e.g. Teachers covering each other).  Within this time, ask staff to feed back something valuable, maybe in INSET, maybe in regular sharing good practice sessions.  Promote the use of taking a risk – ‘try it, it won’t break’ approach is required!  Time is vital. There are too many websites and resources to share. Pinpoint a few that will work and let staff play, teach each other and work with them. Give them the time to do this.  Time is key!  Use your best users of technology to train others, maybe with a schedule. You will be surprised with the uptake – teachers are professionals, professionals who wish to learn and develop, we all need structure and guidance. Why not get students to train staff?  For example, my own personal use of Prezi is entirely credited to Anina, a 15 year old student.

There is no doubt that the future of the workplace will be heavily dependent on technology.  The ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ will see an increase in workforce automation. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that over the next 10 to 20 years, “14 percent of jobs are at high risk of being fully automated, while another 32 percent at risk of significant change”.  Hence, it seems imperative that education systems adapt to ensure students are equipped with the right skills to survive in our changing world.  While there are many different theories on what and how students should learn, there is no escaping the fact that students will need to be prepared to continuously learn and upskill – people will be learners for life (lifelong learners once more).  Technology is playing, and will continue to play, a key role in the way skills are acquired and developed for the future workspace.

Tej Samani, an advocate for more technology advances in education, is quoted as saying, “Our education system has needed significant progression to just keep up, let alone stay ahead of the leaps in technology we are experiencing. While technology will always struggle to replace an effective teacher, it can help develop effective teaching as well as deliver tailored, personalized education to learners of all standards, irrespective of how complex their barriers to learning are. The advancement in education technology can bring in areas such as grade prediction, performance tracking, and personalization – this will help to ensure that the most critical stage of a person’s life is delivered with accuracy, engagement, and foresight”

A word of caution:  There are many companies that are focusing on driving positive change in education through technology or are they?  Schools and leaders need to be extremely careful before utilising software and technology.  Hidden motives, often profit-driven do exist and are a clear conflict of interest.  School should conduct a proper and thorough research into all pieces of software and hardware.  It does not have to be so costly if done properly.

Finally, make the use of technology to enhance student learning an area of focus throughout the year.  Put it on all the developmental plans.  Don’t lose sight of this objective – try to make it work for all but also demand it as an expectation.  Finally, it is worth remembering that technology is not the answer to everything – we still need classroom leaders and students with an appetite for learning.  Schools that find the correct balance, will see the positive outcomes on their students.

Sources:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328492337_TEACHERS’_PERCEPTIONS_OF_TECHNOLOGY_USE_IN_THE_CLASSROOM

Lindita Skenderi

Teachers’ perception of use of technology in the classroom

https://www.forbes.com/sites/solrogers/2019/10/11/the-revolutionary-impact-of-immersive-technology-on-education/#3d2e9ff479c1

http://www.oecd.org/going-digital/summit/summit-issues-note-session-9.pdf

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1056904.pdf

International Teaching: Decisions, Decisions…

It is natural to feel anxious, even extreme anxiety when looking to work internationally. This can be the first time looking for a position abroad or even the fifth. After all, what do we really know about these schools and places? The online world only goes so far, inspection reports often give a snapshot at that particular inspection date, accreditation bodies are the same and leaders at schools no doubt paint a rosy picture.

This post proposes that there are simply three key factors to consider:

  1. Finances: Does it make sense for you on a financial level? What will your ‘take-home’ pay be? Take into consideration cost of living (various websites can help with this), benefit package (e.g. housing, flights home, insurance etc) and not just the salary. Does the currency of payment fluctuate with respect to your ‘home’ currency?
  2. School: Look at inspection reports, reviews online, speak with teachers and triangulate all that information to make an informed decision about whether you would ‘fit’ in that school.
  3. Location: What are your hobbies and will you be able to pursue them? Or pick up new ones? Is it safe? And if not, how secure will you be? Travel options, things to do, weather and safety are all considerations to be taken into account.

Finally, one strong, and probably the most important tip is to communicate with existing staff at the school. This will allow for a true opinion of the school, finances and location. Open (and quality?) schools would share all staff email addresses. Some would be selective but be very wary of the schools that do not share any. Why not? What is there to hide?

Communicating with staff currently at the school will give you a lot of information about the school, location and finances; The 3 key factors!

If anybody hits all three, please share!

Happy hunting!

Yasir Patel

Followership: Quality Teachers

Followership refers to a role held by certain individuals in an organization, team, or group. Specifically, it is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader.  Followership is the reciprocal social process of leadership.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Followership).  A note here that Followership was the theme of my dissertation for my MSc in Educational Leadership.  A simple overview can be seen HERE. A previous post (https://yasirpatel.com/2017/01/28/followership-a-new-stream-of-leadership/) expands on the notion of Followership in more detail.   (For the full dissertation with references shown, please contact me.)

This is not a post about entirely about Followership, although it uses many of its key features.  The intention within this article is to focus on the concept of quality teachers within schools (in Followership, this could be referred to as Exemplary staff), in particular, measuring ‘quality‘.

Is it even possible to measure it?  What cannot be counted/measured?  Or how do we count what can be counted?  How much weight do we give to each factor?  This post is a culmination of thoughts, a mix of research, experience and intuition.  Any comments, questions, thoughts, doubts etc are more than welcome to enhance the dialogue.

Educators are aware that teaching staff are multifaceted and various aspects make up the ‘quality’ teacher or the teacher we wish to have in our schools.  What are these precise factors?  It is hard to argue against the fact that the quality of teaching and learning is the key trait.  However, think of that teacher who was (or is) brilliant in the classroom, yet something or many things just stopped him/her fitting in to that school.  Why is this so?

Quality Teachers:  It must be possible to structure our thinking into a more scientific and logical manner so that decisions to be taken have justification, beyond just ‘gut feeling’ or as often happens, a surface level discussion.

Proposition:  A Scientific and Measurable Approach

In order of importance, the five criteria listed below are proposed as the key factors when defining quality teaching staff, in order of importance with a suggested Scoring Key after each one.  The terms used within the Scoring Keys would need to be agreed upon as they can be subjective if not discussed and maybe they even need expanding further.

1. Quality of Teaching and Learning:  Without doubt, the vital ingredient.  Within this, a school must define what it means by Quality Teaching and Learning.  Some examples are:

  • ‘Sensibility and doing the hard intellectual yards are what makes a teacher great – and memorable’ (Pringle, 2002)
  • ‘Quality of teaching is its fitness for the purpose of promoting learning.’ (Ellis, 1993)
  • Quality teaching is doing whatever it takes, ethically and responsibly, to ensure that your students learn and that they leave your unit with a passion for learning.
  • Significant progress made by each student in every lesson‘ (TBSC)

Within these definitions and big-picture statements, schools may have rubrics that break down teaching into various areas (e.g. behaviour, assessment, instruction etc).  A clear, open, well understood (by everyone) definition and structure is key here.

Scoring Key:  Excellent = 10, Very Good = 7, Good = 4, Satisfactory = 1,  Poor = -2, Very Poor = -5, Unacceptable= -8.

2.  Impact on School Culture and Morale:   Organisational culture is defined as the collection of day-to-day habits.  This is the ‘feel’ of a school when you walk through it and a culture that all staff should fit into (in the ideal world).  Teachers that do not fit in, often affect the morale of the school negatively.  This can be difficult to manage and its effect on the teaching body could be irreversible, if not addressed.  However, often, listening and professional development does close the gap.

Think about the culture a school has or wishes to obtain.  Then reflect upon how particular teachers fit into this and thus, the impact on the general morale of the teaching body.  Are they positive to this culture or the worse-case scenario, are they toxic to staff morale and school culture?  This also includes professionalism outside school.

Scoring Key:  Exemplary Follower = 8, Positive = 5, Neutral = 2, Negative = -2, Toxic = -5.

3.  Input and effect upon School Improvement:  Initiatives rolled out should generally (and once again, ideally) be well-thought out, discussed with various teaching groups and implemented with a lot of time.  Often though, ideas need to be implemented quickly and without the desired checks and balances.  How does a particular teacher react to change and new initiatives?  “Yes let’s do it and give it a chance” is the answer you wish to hear.  “Here we go again, what a waste of time” is not what one wants to listen to.  Obstacles, constant rejection, argumentative, resistance to change etc result in a low score here.

Scoring Key:  Positive and willing to help in order to move school forward = 8, Positive = 5, Neutral/Passive = 2, Negative = -2, Negative, not willing to try, resistant and can result in negative school improvement = -5

4. Relationship with Parents:  Maintaining a pleasant and positive relationship with parents is important.  However, it has to be within school policies and guidelines.  This is an important trait that can affect the day-to-day operations if not taken into account.

Scoring Key:  Excellent = 4, Very Good = 3, Good = 2, Satisfactory = 1,  Poor = -1, Very Poor = -2, Unacceptable= -3.

5. Time Served:  In line with professional development, the above should be worked upon before a tough decision is taken.  For example, it is different to obtain a low final total score in the first year of service than in the fifth year.  Leadership has a professional obligation to work and develop staff, give them the time to improve and help all teachers fit in to the school.

Scoring Key:  1st year at school = 10, 2nd year = 5, 3rd year onwards = 0.

Add up the points.  Suggested final score and interpretation of the results:

  • <6 (RED) = Not the right fit for the school/Time to move on/Do not renew contract.
  • 6-10 (PINK) = Serious consideration to be given not to renew contract/Advise to look elsewhere/Not a good fit for school.
  • 11-15 (YELLOW) =  Serious discussion as to whether the school is for them/Consider not renewing contract.
  • 16-20 (Dark Green) = Can develop further/Worth retaining for now.
  • 21-25 (Green) = Retain and renew/A good fit to the school.
  • >25 (Light Green) = Retain and renew at all costs/Perfect fit for the school.

Try the above with a fictional (or real) personality.

To make life slightly more difficult for school leaders, they also need to ensure their recruitment policy and procedures pick up greens at the point of hire (again this is idealistic!), or staff are hired that will be give the correct professional development to guide them towards green (of course, a strong Retention Policy also comes in to play).  Recruitment is tough, getting harder by the day and needs a lot of thought.  See the post on recruitment for further details (https://yasirpatel.com/2016/11/19/recruiting-against-the-odds/).

Comments?  Amendments?  Questions?  Will this approach work for other organisations, outside of education?  What tweaks would be needed?  What is missing?  Ideas and opinions welcome.

Yasir Patel

A day in the life of…Yasir Patel

A recent article from TES, pasted in its entirety below.

https://www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/a-day-life-ofyasir-patel

Running a high-quality school while managing the huge uncertainty that exists in Venezuela is extremely challenging. I have taught at The British School in Caracas for five years, and things have sadly deteriorated – for pupils and staff – since I started.

Caracas is the murder capital of Venezuela, and the school has had to increase security significantly in recent years: we provide any international visitors and our expat staff with transportation to and from the airport, a night-driver service and regular security advice. The dangerous environment has seen swarms of local people leave the country for a better life: pupil numbers have decreased and budgets are being used to increase admissions.

Funding can be a problem, especially when the income is the local currency, which is losing its value. What was once was a US$2,000 (£1,530) salary is now US$50. This, of course, reduces spending power and saving potential, and the school has to be creative when it comes to helping our local staff.

We provide them with lunches, increased health insurance, and pay them in foreign currencies wherever possible. Venezuela has the highest inflation in the world (estimated at 28,000 per cent): imagine a bottle of milk going from £1 to £2 to £10 all within a week. That’s a common occurrence here – all products normally have a 12- to 24-hour quotation period.

Such a turbulent culture leads to a lot of anger. In 2017, we had more than 100 days of protesting from April to July. We have policies to deal with such events, but it’s particularly tough to deal with during exam season.

Our dedication to ensuring that both pupils and staff have a safe and consistent environment to come to every day is reflected in our staff turnover. In the past two years, we have had an all-time low of 20 per cent, which is amazing given the difficult and challenging political, economic and social times facing all residents of Venezuela.

It is not a great education that is rare here, but any education at all, so teachers are really respected.

Local schools may be suffering with lack of funding, poor teacher training and little resources (some schools don’t have enough desks, chairs or books for all of the children), but education is truly seen positively and isn’t taken for granted.

I arrive for school at 6am. The students arrive an hour later; school starts at 7.30am and ends at 2.45pm. Our primary students have 25-minute lessons and secondary students have 45-minute lessons. We follow the English national curriculum throughout school, mixing it with the international primary curriculum for the younger students. We offer IGCSE in Years 10 and 11 and the International Baccalaureate diploma programme in Years 12 and 13.

I wish that I could ease the worries that my students, staff and parents face. The events that happen outside of our schools’ walls range from disturbing to absolutely horrifying, and the anxiety that this brings affects the day-to-day activities in school. If peace was established, I could see Venezuela once more becoming a powerful and attractive country for all.

Yasir Patel is the head of school at the British School Caracas

 

Blame the Teacher

Recently, England released its league tables for schools based on its new system of measuring ‘successful schools’. These focus on the results of a pupil’s best eight GCSE results including English and Mathematics alongside a raft of data from the Department for Education to evaluate how well pupils progress in a school. This is not unique to England with various countries (For example, USA, India) and organisations (PISA) now relying solely on exam results to measure success. A pertinent question to ask here is, is the data being used, valid (and reliable) evidence in order to judge the performance of a school (and even an individual teacher)? When one remembers that a school is much more than the exam results it produces and research consistently showing that various other factors play a role upon student results, a slight skepticism is only fair.

There is in fact little evidence to suggest we can link the performance of a teacher to exam results, and vice versa. However, there exists plenty of evidence to suggest hereditary and environmental factors have the dominant impact. Evidence that seems to be conveniently ignored. In a recent and extensive study by researchers at Kings College in London, they concluded that individual differences in educational achievement at the end of compulsory education are not primarily an index of the quality of teachers or schools: much more of the variance of GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment.  In a sample of 11,117 16-year-olds, they found that heritability was substantial for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects (58 per cent) as well as for each of them individually: English (52 per cent), mathematics (55 per cent) and science (58 per cent).

Research conducted by the American Statistical Association (2014) concluded that only 1-14 per cent of educational outcomes can be attributed to the “teacher factor”. Then even within that 1-14 per cent, there are plenty more factors outside of the individual teacher’s control to take into account, such as class size, available teaching resources and budgets. The Coleman study on educational equality found that the remaining 86 per cent can be put down to “out of school” factors. This explains the findings from Cambridge Assessment last year: “It is normal for schools’ results to change – even when teaching practices stay the same.” Yes, this is because, for the most part, results will vary depending on the children and parents, rather than the teachers.  The counter-argument, although arguably weak are the cases of schools, many in deprived areas, that achieve outstanding results.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, recently stated that the tables revealed only a limited amount about the true quality of a school. After all, how do we measure whether a child has become more polite? More respectful? More of a critical thinker?  The list is endless.  Furthermore, Professor Gorard from the University of Birmingham, stresses that attempts to measure pupil progress while at secondary school are doomed to failure due to a lack of reliable data.  Professor Gorard’s findings suggest that it does not matter what type of school a pupil attends – academy, grammar, private, specialist or faith school – as the institution itself will have little impact on student attainment.  Why then is there so much coverage on results? More cynicism could point to it being an easy political pawn for political parties. Some may say that is a simplistic viewpoint, but others may say it is entirely true. Unfortunately, the impact is felt strongly and most intensely with the students, and the teachers.  Students are unnecessarily stressed, resulting in demotivation and losing the love for many subjects, often learning itself. Many teachers are leaving the profession or moving abroad as a result of the unrealistic expectations with its inevitable stress-related consequences.

The current state of affairs has been foreseen and forewarned. In 1979, the psychologist Donald Campbell theorised that, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” He also wrote: “Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” Quite simply, when the measure becomes the objective/goal, and when people are punished or rewarded for meeting or not meeting this aim, the measure is corrupted.

In a 2008 research paper, Holding Accountability to Account, Richard Rothstein points out that accountability and performance incentive plans in education are compromised by goal distortion, gaming, and corruption.  Tying high stakes to measurable goals affects behaviour in negative ways in every field, not just education.  Education policy makers who design such plans have paid insufficient attention to similar experiences in other fields.  He does feel accountability measures work but not the current ones in place as they are prone to corruption.  Instead, he advises more open-ended and subjective measures to be implemented.  The lesson of Campbell’s law: Do not attach high stakes to evaluations, or both the measure and the outcome will become fraudulent.  Daniel Koretz, author of The Testing Charade: Pretending to make schools better concluded that the reform movement in USA failed badly because of its devotion to high-stakes testing as the one and only measure of educational quality.

Despite the clear failure of test-based accountability, which Koretz amply documents, policymakers cling stubbornly to this corrosive doctrine.  Testing taps into peoples’ love of competition, incentives, and scores.  It makes perfect sense to rank football players and sports teams by their wins and losses, but it does not transfer to children or schools. Children may be talented in the drama or sports or other areas, and it will not show on the tests.  Education is a developmental process, a deliberate cultivation of knowledge and skills, a recognition of each child’s unique talents, not a race.

Sadly and finally, it seems that Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”, has not been heeded by the various governments and organisations.  Instead, we seem to have a system whereby gaining immediate and quick approval, via so-called tangible results, is the norm.  A perfect example here is George Bush Junior’s educational reform in 2002 based on so-called success in his method in Texas.  It is quite baffling how our educated and high-profile leaders resort to leaning towards such weak ‘evidence’ and worryingly allow it to dictate wholesale policies.  The result is what we see now – overemphasis on testing, teachers fired (or leaving) based on this measure and no real educational improvement.  This rash, uneducated and ill-informed approach appeals to the masses but is affecting our children.  It must stop, but who will be brave enough to say enough is enough?

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/thousands-teachers-are-long-term-stress-leave-new-figures-reveal

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/teachers-can-only-ever-have-a-small-impact-their-students-results

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42366024

https://newrepublic.com/article/145935/settling-scores

https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/

https://www.teachingtimes.com/articles/league-tables-flawed-ignored.htm

Be Nice and Care

The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

– IBO Mission Statement –

In an increasingly uncertain world, we should aim to connect, not divide.  We should be promoting love, not hate.  Different cultures and traditions should be celebrated, not criticised (also not simply tolerated).  Our differences and personal identities should unite us.  At the recent Dr. Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, civil rights activist and the Representative of Georgia, John Lewis gave a speech where he emphasised that, ‘love is a better way, the way of peace is a better way.’  Recent events have seen people of different backgrounds, religions, races and nationalities uniting with each other against injustice, and maybe that shows that we should never lose faith, that there is always hope in humanity.

The president of Harvard University pointed out a few weeks ago that ‘internationalism is a paramount source of our university’s strength.’  Drew Faust also highlighted the fact that half of their deans are immigrants and thousands attend their university every year.  “In times of unsettling change, we look toward our deepest values and ideals,” Faust wrote. “Among them is the recognition that drawing people together from across the nation and around the world is a paramount source of our university’s strength.”

A recent article by Headteacher Neil Bunting emphasises the need to embrace global citizenship and internationalism, now, more than ever.  Despite much education, he points out it is unfathomable that in the 21st century we continue to see events that shock and distress us.  We teach our young people to be tolerant, forward-thinking and lifelong learners, yet it seems to contradict with the global trend.  Without meaning to go political, Neil writes clearly and concisely.  Many may disagree with aspects of his writing but the overall message is hard to argue against;  many barbaric and uneducated choices are being made by world leaders, both in the so-called developed world as well as developing world, that seem to be catering to xenophobia, prejudice, stupidity and cultural intolerance and in turn, also promoting them.

Education is key; both in and outside schools, to help people understand the benefits of internationalism, connecting with others from different faiths and religions, and in order to separate fact from fiction (fake news is something we should debate in all classrooms, not just theory of knowledge).  History has a tendency to repeat itself – the use of propaganda for ill-intentions, manipulation of information and selfishly looking after number one.  More integration, not less, is a major part of the solution.  We all have a responsibility to help in this.  Connecting all the various and different parts of societies is another major factor.  The infamous 1%-99% divide must be bridged, bringing people together and understanding each other’s situation.  We should intensify the teaching of global citizenship, of being responsible, balanced and wise decision-making.

Let us promote sympathy and empathy, and condemn hate and terror.  Students (in fact, everybody) should have the opportunity to practise activities that foster respect, responsibility, compassion, courage, trust, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, self-discipline and citizenship.  Students should also be given the chance to show kindness and develop their character, serving others whenever possible.  The importance of character, kindness and working as a team for an agreed shared goal, cannot be stated enough.  Schools should continue to work together with communities in order to enhance all childrens’ learning experience.

Nel Noddings, author of various books and articles that call for all schools to focus on ethic of care, argues that caring should be a foundation for ethical decision-making.  How does one become a caring person?   Noddings states that a caring person ‘is one who fairly regularly establishes caring relations and, when appropriate maintains them over time’.  Noddings identifies education (both in the traditional sense and the not so traditional, including at home) as central to a culture and creation of caring in society.  In fact, she views the home as the primary educator and argues for an adjustment of social policy to this end. This is not to sideline the role of schools but simply to recognise just what the home contributes to the development of children and young people.

We must encourage civil, harmonious and peaceful attitudes towards each other.  A critical mind is required in times like these; ask the Why? What? Maybe? questions, which may be tough and initially not seem harmonious and peaceful.  But honesty in asking them, with love for each other, seems a positive and genuine way forward.  We are fortunate that we now live in a world where many people have worked hard to allow people to travel freely, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality.  Do we really want to go back to the narrow-minded mindsets where people are judges on their passport or worst still, on their religion?  Do we really want our young people to have obstacles when travelling as opposed to the freedom many of us have experienced, and the amazing benefits gained from sharing what we have seen and learned?

‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime’

– Mark Twain –

A final word of warning; it is worth bearing in mind that the distinction between “us” and “them” is often just a step or two away from bigotry and chavinism.  It may seem that we are going backwards and reverting to stereotypes and prejudices we thought were long left in the past.  Yes it is depressing, but the answer is not to bury our heads in the sand, to give up or become apathetic.  We need to champion the values of global citizenship, intercultural understanding, cultural intelligence and open mindedness.  At the end of the day, we are one being on one planet.  Let’s work together and put our faith in humanity.

Yasir Patel

Followership: A new stream of leadership

Followership refers to a role held by certain individuals in an organization, team, or group. Specifically, it is the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader.  Followership is the reciprocal social process of leadership.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Followership)

A recent Google search threw out millions of hits for ‘leadership’ yet significantly less for ‘followership’.  Considering the majority of employees (and one can effectively argue leaders too) are followers, you would expect it to be the other way around.  Furthermore, one could argue that in order to be an excellent leader and understand leadership, one must fully understand followership.  Some authors have gone further by stating that followership is as important as leadership, with a handful even claiming it is more important.  The concept came into the mainstream business community in 1960 and into educational research in 1984.

Before more is written, it is pertinent to point out that although the word itself, ‘followership’, may sound patronising, it is not intended to be at all.  For this article, it simply means somebody in a non-management position.  Other terms that have been used instead of followership are non-leaders, non-managers, subordinates, members, less-expert peers, observers, contributors, stewards, partners and servant-leaders (by Robert Greenleaf).

Robert Kelley breaks followers down into 5 typologies and dependent on two key areas; independent thinking and active engagement:

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  1. Exemplary (and Effective): Thinking independently, using their initiative and questioning professionally, exemplary followers are actively engaged in the group and for the organisation’s best interests.  How they engage in their tasks make them stand out from the others and their work adds value to the organisation.
  2. Alienated: They tend to think independently and critically but are not really engaged with the bigger picture.  The alienated follower will normally be disengaged from the group and will often see themselves as a victim and treated unfairly.
  3. Conformist: Staff that often say yes when they want to say no.  They like to take orders and please others.  An automatic belief exists that the leader’s position deserves obedience and questioning should be minimal.
  4. Pragmatist:  They stay in the middle of the road.  Although they question leaders’ decisions, it happens infrequently and not openly.  Rarely do more than needed but the tasks they do complete, are often well done.  “Better safe than sorry” describes them best.
  5. Passive:  Little independent thinking and would like the leader to tell them what to do.  Carry out their work with little enthusiasm, little responsibility and will need constant direction.

Robert Kelley’s questionnaire can identify each follower’s typology.  School leaders should want to minimise passive and alienated followers and maximise exemplary followers.  A healthy balance will also include conformist and pragmatist followers.  Staff can be developed and trained, but would need to firstly believe in the theory and secondly, want to change.  Furthermore, traits can be taught and developed within the correct environment.  This includes the aforementioned organisational culture and also the following leadership styles:

a) Transformational Leadership:   leadership that occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of morality.  This connects Followership Culture, with Learner-Centred schools (see below) and being aware of pathways (see below also) and follower types.

b) Distributed Leadership:  the expansion of leadership roles in schools, beyond those formal leadership or administrative posts.  These range from simple tasks (e.g. maintaining the kitchen) to complex (e.g. filtering CVs for recruitment).  This also requires leaders to ‘let go’ and have the confidence that the tasks can be done to an acceptable quality.

Both leadership styles promote positive relationships between staff within a listening culture.  Teachers are given trust and autonomy, with the responsibility to involve others when required.  Managers are open to feedback from staff (upward appraisal) and engage in constructive discussions.  Managers must also identify the pathways that their followers are on and be aware that they could very likely be on more than one.  These largely affect the staff member’s motivation levels.  These can be broken down into seven categories:

  1.  The Apprentice:  Staff who want to move up the ladder
  2. The Disciple: Staff who carry the school message, culture and vision.  They also promote the leader’s ideas.
  3. The Mentee: Staff who are looking to learn and improve.
  4. The Comrade: Staff who enjoy working together and forming relationships with others.
  5. The Loyalist:  Staff who are supportive and always loyal to the leader.
  6. The Dreamer:  Staff who ‘do their own thing’ and are ‘outside the box.’
  7. The Lifeway:  Staff who believe the route of service and helping others is the best and most satisfying way of living.  This links into servant-leadership.

The diagram below explains the connections between each one.

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Finally, the organisational culture of a school (defined as the collection of habits) is a vital component in attracting and developing exemplary followers.  One could argue it is the most important component.  Thus, this cannot be understated and takes time, effort and constant pushing.  The creation of a Followership Culture involves staff being able to take the initiative, act immediately when a situation arises, use their imagination (creativity), ask questions and disagree professionally, keeps others involved and informed and last but not least, integrity plays a key part.  These values can be explicit or implicit, depending on context but must be revisited constantly.

Linked to the culture is the idea of a learner-centred school.  Within our schools, all decisions taken should consider the student at the core.  This enables a learner-centred school to be cultivated.  It should be bottom-up in terms of decision making, taking into account all opinions and listening.  Leaders should steer away from controlling behaviours and connect with staff.  They should also realise that they too are on a spectrum that goes from leadership to followership on a daily basis.

Leaders must find a way to connect the various dots in order to create the Followership Culture.  It can be done by on the job training, followership education, implict and explicit training, shadowing and links to appraisal systems.  However, buy-in to learn from all is important, as is accountability.

Yasir Patel

Note:  Followership was the theme of my dissertation for my MSc in Educational Leadership.  A simple overview can be seen HERE.  For the full dissertation with references shown, please contact me.