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.

 

 

Recruiting Against the Odds

Without doubt and with much research to back this claim, the key to a successful school is excellent teaching and great leadership (in that order).  In 2009 the OECD concluded that ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals, since student learning is ultimately the product of what goes on in classrooms’, echoing the MacKinsey report’s findings from 2007.  It is hard to disagree.  Thus, it goes without saying then that schools should place huge emphasis on their recruitment processes.  In international schools where it is often difficult to find replacements quickly, plus the normal practice of contract lengths being 2-3 years (mostly two), it means that hiring the right person is all the more important.

John Tomsett (https://johntomsett.com/) claims that despite what Nick Gibb (Minister of State for Schools in UK) might say, finding great teachers is not so simple, and that the UK is in the middle of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis.  However, principals must aim to find the best of the best.  It is simply impossible to improve a school by hiring average people. Average is officially over.

Some claim that recruitment is mostly a matter of luck.  I disagree entirely and argue that it is largely scientific with a very small, possibly insignificant amount of luck.  Steps can be put into place, a well thought-out policy created and clear procedures followed.  If done properly and thoroughly, schools can maximise the chances of hiring the right person for their school.  It is pertinent here to highlight ‘their’, as all schools should be looking for the right ‘fit’ for their school and not just standalone excellent teachers.  An excellent teacher in a school that does not align with the teacher’s own philosophy will soon become demotivated, frustrated and even angry.

When conducting interviews, interviewers should keep questions simple and consistent.  Many studies have shown that interviews are generally conducted badly and some interviewers even make a subconscious judgement call within the first ten seconds of an interview!  The problem is, these predictions from the first 10 seconds are useless and worthless.  They create a situation where an interview is spent trying to confirm what we think of someone, rather than truly assessing them.  Psychologists call this confirmation bias, “the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritise information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.”  In other words, most interviews are a waste of time because 99.4 percent of the time is spent trying to confirm whatever impression the interviewer formed in the first ten seconds.  Why not rename the forum from interview to discussion?  After all, this is a meeting between two professional parties looking to find the right fit.

According to various studies (COBIS and ISC being a couple), the number of international schools opening worldwide is fast outpacing the number of teachers available.  The gulf between supply and demand of teachers is growing wider, quickly.  The consequences of this will be:

  • Schools recruiting teachers without following due diligence in line with a detailed policy, hoping for some ‘luck’ along the way instead.
  • Job openings advertised earlier and earlier.  A recent search showed many teaching positions being advertised twelve months in advance.  Do not be surprised if within the next five years, adverts for teaching positions are posted two years in advance of the actual start date.
  • Higher salaries for shortage subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences.
  • Higher salaries for teachers with excellent recommendations.  One prediction suggests the first $100,000 teacher by 2020.  This article suspects this will happen sooner than 2020.
  • Salary scales becoming less and less common, mainly related to the above two bullet points.
  • An increase in recruiting unqualified teachers.
  • An increase in Skype (or similar) interviews and big decrease in face to face interviews.
  • A multifaceted interview process (lessons observation, presentation, interview etc) will become less and less common.
  • An increase in the use of recruitment fairs (i.e. short interviews).
  • Schools suffering with respect to quality due to rushed recruitment processes.
  • Students will be affected negatively as a result of the demand for teachers and schools simply not following a thorough process.

So what can be done to ensure the right teachers are recruited, given the obvious challenges?  These challenges are tougher in countries going through difficult times.

Firstly, despite the challenges, no short-cuts should ever be taken.  If in doubt, just bear in mind that it is the students that will inevitably suffer.  Headteachers should follow develop complete policies, follow them to the tee and tick off every box.  I am also of the strong belief that the Head of School (Superintendent/Principal) should play a major part in recruiting and be the ultimate person responsible for hiring.  Yes it is very time consuming and yes it can be extremely mundane, but schools revolve around the right staff being recruited.  A success of a school depends on the quality of its staff.

In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter published a meta-analysis of 85 years of research on how well recruitment assessments predict job performance.  They found that the best predictor of how somebody will perform in the job were:

  1. Word of mouth recommendation from trusted sources.
  2. On the job test (e.g. observing applicants teaching a lesson).
  3. A written intelligence (cognitive) test.
  4. A structured interview.

Ideally, a mixture of all the above should be aimed for.  This allows for triangulation of data leading to a much better informed decision.

In addition to the above, the following is a set of procedures that could (and arguably should) form a school recruitment policy:

  1. Intention Survey: Conducted early in the academic year.  This is not a formal resignation but should give the school an idea of who is staying and who is leaving.
  2. Follow up on Survey:  Staff leaning towards leaving should be given the opportunity to state their reasons.  The possibility of retaining this member of staff increases as a result of this conversation.
  3. Advertise:  Adverts can be pulled if any staff member decides not to leave the school.  Within the advert, describe your school, teacher profile and ask for a specific point within letters of application (e.g. describe your ideal school).  The latter point will allow you to separate generic applications from individualised ones.  Recruitment companies and agencies are expensive and this is a big hindrance for many schools.  An alternative opened recently is YKBEducation (www.ykbeducation.com) who allow schools to post job openings for free.
  4. Resignations:  Between the survey and actual job offers for new staff, a date must be set for resignation letters to come in.  This will avoid any confusion.
  5. Review applications:  In the ideal world, the letter of application should be personalised to your school and the cv/resume is concise.
  6. Reply to all applicants:  Although tedious, this can increase the school’s reputation in an industry which is small in reality and where word of mouth is vital.
  7. Set up interviews:  This should include a small lesson observation that can be uploaded online, a small task (e.g. a presentation about what the applicant likes about education or does not like!), structured interview (set generic questions for all – both behavioural and situational) and a clear success criteria linked to a school’s teacher profile and philosophy.
    • Note that a structured interview means the same questions for everybody.  Although tedious, this allows for a fair comparison between candidates.
    • Case interviews and brainteasers used by many firms are worthless.
    • Laszlo Bock writes that questions such as, “how many golf balls fit inside a 747?” are useless and performance on such questions are at best a discrete skill that can be improved upon through practice.  They do not assess the candidate’s suitability for the job.
  8. Interviewing:  Face to face is by far the best method.  Skype is increasingly common and will become more as demand increases.  Recruitment fairs are not ideal but again, schools are being left with little choice.  Interview in pairs (at least).  Although increasingly difficult, if possible, allow a student team to speak with the applicant also.
  9. School contacts:  Allow applicants you are interested in to contact any member of your staff body.  This may seem scary at first but it shows a level of transparency and trust that will benefit your school.  This will also allow potential new teachers to gauge their ability to fit into the school and location.
  10. Child protection:  All possible checks must be taken.  There are no excuses whatsoever for not doing so.
  11. References:  At least two references required and one from current (or most recent) Head of School.  Do not accept pre-written references, i.e. they must come from the school to you.  Call the current (or most recent) Head of School too.  There is an increasing reluctance to put things in black and white, thus the last step is important.
  12. Google the candidate:  Yes it matters!  Search the candidate online.  If you don’t, you can be guaranteed students and parents will.  Avoid an unpleasant surprise.  Can your social media postings also damage your chances of landing that dream job elsewhere?  Well, yes. Social media is now an integral part of the vetting process, whether companies admit it or not (BBC).   A study by recruiter, Robert Walters, found half of employers are prepared to research candidates using social media, whilst 63% have viewed a job seeker’s professional social network profile, e.g. social network LinkedIn.
  13. Decision time:  Take the decision to hire or not with at least one other colleague’s opinion.
  14. Feedback:  Do not let the process end with the decision.  Give feedback to unsuccessful candidates.  It is well worth personalising your feedback to applicants that you would be considering in the future.  This will maintain a positive professional relationship.

It is worth noting here that not all teachers need to fit one box.  Indeed, the theory of followership (a post will be written soon) allows for five different types of followers/staff (exemplary, pragmatic, passive, alienated, conformist) and a requirement for a balance between the five is needed.

Furthermore, and although beyond this post’s intention, schools should set up a Retention Policy.  Some key points could be:

  1. Feedback questions and discussions taking place early in the academic year.
  2. Head of School meets all staff informally for 5-10 minutes in Term/Semester 1.
  3. Head of School meets informally and voluntarily with all staff early in the academic year through Staff Reps system (or similar).
  4. Head of School discusses situation further with any staff member who may be indicating to leave, with the aim of honing in on any reasons, with the aim of holding on to key staff members.
  5. Traffic Light system for staff (red = leaving, yellow = maybe, green = staying).
  6. Intentions Survey as described above.

A word of caution for candidates.  If you are a candidate interviewing for a teaching position, this is what you are up against (or should be).  Schools conducting such thorough processes should augur well and be a school one would like to work in.  Great schools have principals who are looking for a candidate, who demonstrates a love for kids; who articulates a clear picture of what their classroom will look, sound, and feel like; who reveals incredible content knowledge; who takes ownership in their own professional learning; and the most important obstacle you are up against is this internal question, “Would I want my own child in this teacher’s classroom?” (Anonymous Headteacher).  Furthermore, Lyn Hilt states that teachers should possess passion:  “Passion is necessary.  Don’t make me request your emotions – provide them, in every word, every response, every example of why you want to teach in my school.”

Finally, a lot of the above is easy to write down, but it is very difficult to do in practice. Managers and leaders hate the idea that they can not hire their own people.  Interviewers cannot stand being told that they have to follow a certain format for the interview or for their feedback.  People will disagree with data if it runs counter to their intuition and argue that the quality bar does not need to be so high for every job.  Heads/Principals do not like the time spent on recruitment.  However….

Do not give in to the pressure and fight for quality.  Think of your students and keep reminding yourself that the success of a school depends on the quality of its staff.

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://www.wired.com/2015/04/hire-like-google/

https://johntomsett.com/2016/07/24/this-much-i-know-about-how-we-are-on-our-own-when-it-comes-to-the-teacher-recruitment-crisis/

http://www.developer-tech.com/news/2015/aug/27/googles-recruitment-process-straight-ex-machina/

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160826-think-before-you-overshare-yes-it-can-get-you-fired

http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/12426

Book for recruiting:  https://books.google.co.ve/books/about/Work_Rules.html?id=M6idBAAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y

Top Recruiting by Bradford D Smart

Excerpted from Work Rules: Insights from Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

 

“When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

Following a recent, valid article on TES Secret Teacher, pasting one I wrote about the same topic in 2011 for a school magazine below.

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“When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

230pm signals the end of another day, another teaching day dealing with THAT question, THAT annoying, frustrating yet oh so valid query, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

The honest answer probably is, “never”, nevertheless we persist in sharing our passion and enthusiasm for the subject. We continue in trying to share its importance with the world, and let’s face it; we think it is the MOST important of all. We still feel we are the cornerstone, heart and the core so to speak of the school curriculum. Rene Descartes is quoted as saying; “Mathematics is a more powerful instrument of knowledge than any other that has been bequeathed to us by human agency.” We still have a privileged position in all educational systems (mathematics is the only subject that all student must study for the IB Diploma) and people still look at mathematicians with a sense of awe. Even the great Isaac Newton once remarked, “Number rule the universe.”

Mathematics is hard, let us be honest, it is not a natural talent for everyone. “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater” said the great Albert Einstein. If difficulty equated to importance, then this article could end now, however it is not so simple.

“Mathematics is like love – a simple idea but it can get complicated” and complicated it does become. Using lego to add numbers quickly becomes mental addition, using a straight edge and compass to bisect lines and draw polygons soon becomes a list of properties and rules, calculating the rate of change ends up with the most amazing (or horrific depending on your outlook!) calculus questions. It is all very exciting and intriguing for us; us being mathematicians.

So what, if mathematics was the language of choice to communicate with possible extraterrestrials? So what, that coding theory was used at Bletchley Park during world war two to crack German war communications?

Buying items, calculating percentages, using recipes, saving funds, budgeting are all concrete examples when Mathematics is being used. However, why does an author need to learn trigonometry? Or a secretary logarithms? We cannot deny that these are valid questions, which lead us back to our favourite question, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

Yes mathematics is all around us and most people accept that. “Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics” – Dean Schlicter. Most people admit, maybe hesitantly, that mathematics is required and is within everything that we see around us. Unfortunately that still doesn’t address the valid question of those individuals who truly do not see a use of topics such as vectors, matrices and dare we mention it again, calculus, but are forced to learn them during those normally challenging teenage years.

Mathematics teaches students to think logically, systematically, rationally and critically. Students tend to become better decision makers due to the clear and clever reasoning skills they have developed during lessons. They are pragmatic, thinking and acting methodically most of the times. At other times they improvise, think outside the box and act on their feet. Many students become better organisers as a result of years of mathematics classes. They solve problems by making quick decisions yet staying balanced throughout. Judging at face value rarely occurs and plans are thorough, well thought out with all possibilities considered. Leadership qualities are commonly found amongst mathematicians.

Unfortunately for Mathematics teachers and mathematicians we cannot show or “prove” that mathematics is responsible for these vital characteristics!

I guess if all else fails, we can always tell students that mathematics can make them very rich and point to the top twenty jobs in the world in which at least 17 require a high level of mathematics (with the others being footballers, actors and directors). And if we really want to be arrogant, we can simply tell them that it will make them look good and feel important!

The highest form of pure thought is in mathematics

Plato

 

Sources:
  • http://shareranks.faqs.org/2772,20-Highest-Paying-Jobs-in-the-World
  • http://weusemath.org/
  • http://math.furman.edu/~mwoodard/mqs/data.html

 

 

Training Teachers

LouAnne (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Dangerous Minds and John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society would give one the impression that teachers are born, not made.  Both portray a natural, hidden talent and the ability to connect with their student;  abilities that surely cannot be taught or trained?  However, this is a myth (thankfully) and teachers can in fact be moulded, guided and supported to become better at their art.  After all, “Great teaching is an art.  Great art relies on the mastery and application of foundational skills, learned individually through diligent study.” (Doug Lemov:  Teach Like a Champion)

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, has found that in a single year of teaching, the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do.  Similar results have been found in Britain and Ecuador.  Hanushek concludes his study by stating that “no other attribute of schools come close to having this much influence on student achievement.”  Furthermore, the respected educational researcher John Hattie conducted the biggest study of classroom practice incorporating thousands of teachers, students and lessons.  He discovered that all of the twenty most powerful ways identified by the study in order to improve school-time learning, depended on what a teacher did in the classroom.

Thus the situation we are faced with seems clear:  enhance our students learning through deployment of excellent teachers and training to better our schools.  Why is this not as easy as it sounds?  Some reasons include:

  • The IPPR opine that “our knowledge of what it takes to create great schools has outpaced our ability to train the expert teachers that great schools must have”
  • Poor design and delivery of training and development
  • Poor incentives for teachers to participate in training and development
  • Difficulty in creating professional development cultures within schools
  • The myth that teachers are born and not made
  • As Marie Hamer at ArK Initial teacher training points out, “too often teachers are told what to improve, but not given clear guidance on how to make that change”
  • The myth that if you know it then you must be able to teach it
  • The myth that teaching is easy

John Tomsett, an experienced headteacher from UK writes that it is vital that we prioritise continuous professional development and learning (CPDL).  He goes on to claim that teaching is the worst trained profession in United Kingdom and worryingly points out that in his twenty eight years of teaching, he can think of just three moments when his teaching practice has changed for the better as a direct consequence of training.

Schools need to make it very clear and prescriptive as to what they expect from their practitioners.  Work with staff to decide what constitutes a great lesson and an excellent teacher.  There are many different rubrics that can be used and must be used, but amended to one’s context.  Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion: 62 techniques that put students on the path to college is a useful book to help staff with day-to-day lesson practices.  All these ideas must then be complimented with strong support, mentoring and guidance from experts.  Headteachers have a duty to free up time for staff to improve their practice, whether that be through personal reflection, peer collaboration or looking over educational research.

The vast majority of educators will agree that research should be used to improve one’s practice, however, time is always a constraint.  There is an added problem with educational research.   More importantly the scholarly language used within studies often requires a translator!  Why not present an easy to understand, practical summary of findings?  Keith Turner, editor of the journal Chemistry Education Research and Practice and professor of science education at the University of Cambridge acknowledges that the professional pressures researchers face are related to their research output in high-impact journals. Researchers may want to do the full job, but they’re only being professionally evaluated on half of it.

Of course teaching is simply half the solution. School leadership is the other half.  Effective leadership combined with effective teaching is what makes a school great.  The quality of education at an institution  is simply the sum (and no more) of the quality of leadership and quality of teaching.  “Effective leadership and effective teaching are the two biggest factors in student learning and school improvement” (McRel, 2003)

A lot to consider but the simple truth to bear in mind is that we need to train our teachers in order to enhance our students’ learning.  No excuses!

Sources:

Left Out of the System

Recently (at a wedding) during a conversation with another educator he mentioned that he worked for a government funded organisation in inner city London with children who have been excluded, expelled or temporarily suspended from school.  They offer leadership and teamwork activities after normal school hours.  It is not a replacement for school, but works on creating traits that could help these children succeed when they leave school.  When asked what normally happened to such students when expelled from schools, his reply was, “either they return after a few days or go to another school and will soon be expelled or suspended again.”  They worked with such students after school with pleasing results, however, they had limited time available.  It seemed strange that they were not THE place for such students.  This is when he mentioned that the current “education system is broken and caters for the masses, not the exceptions.”

About two weeks ago, during lunch at a local takeaway in Blackburn on a very grim and rainy day, a fairly young lady with a pram (stroller in American English!) walked by with one child in the pram, one walking alongside her hand-in-hand and two others walking alongside.  Although simply an assumption, it is probably fair to state that they were all her children.  The lunch conversation (with another teacher) turned to whether these children would or could be successful in our education system?  Or maybe the question should be, whether our education system would or could be successful for these children?  And what is being done to help both the parent, child and all families?

The new Prime Minister of Great Britain stated in her first speech in July 2016:

If you’re from an ordinary working class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise. You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school. The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.
– Theresa May, 13th July 2016

Is this just a case of more politically correct rhetoric, or is there a real strategy on how to achieve this?  The recent talk of more grammar schools does not bode well.

Claim:  Education is a broken system, it does not serve its purpose; serving every child.

Schooling used to serve a purpose, like the appendix inside the human body, but now it is only harmful to the  success of the child.  Education is important and will only get increasingly important, however, schooling (traditional schools) is not allowing education for all children to take place.  Many aspects of schooling are problematic. For example, the usefulness of the grading system is debatable.  It disincentivises creativity and ‘different’ performance (which are the hallmarks of success in the real world).

Let’s not forget, that education within schooling was a noble and visionary idea.  Education for all was indeed a revolutionary movement nearly 150 years ago (The Elementary Education Act 1880 insisted on compulsory attendance from 5 to 10 years in the UK) and it is pleasing to see this occur in the majority of countries, admittedly to different degrees of opportunity and results.  However, that was a long time ago and surely how little it has changed must be a concern for all?  Such exceptional (and by exceptional it is meant in both an ‘extreme to the norm’ and positive sense) children deserve an opportunity in a system that caters for them and their exceptional qualities. Differentiation and individualisation are rightly expected within school lessons, however, they need to go beyond the traditional classroom.  ‘No Child Left Behind’, ‘Every Child Counts’ are simply slogans with naive strategies that do not cater for all.  They mean nothing other than offering a ‘one size fits all’ model.  It has never worked, is not working and will not work in the future.

Universities also have a big responsibility to stop the top-down pressure it places on the education system to provide certain types of students (e.g. 3 As needed for a Mathematics degree, or 4As needed to enter a medicine degree).  The current approach is stifling both teachers and students’ creativity.  Especially in the latter years of compulsory schooling where teachers are forced to teach to the exam and students forced to memorise information that will serve them little good a few months later.  The Early Years and open-ended teaching methodology in the earlier primary years should be applicable in later educational life.  Like big government, the interest of university seems to be no longer primarily in serving the people, which is why it was created, but in serving itself, and making sure the machine “stays alive,” with its cogs turning.

Child of Rage:  An old and disturbing documentary about a child badly abused and scarred when a baby, making an amazing recovery due to the very specific attention paid to her early in her life.  She went on to be a successful adult due to this precise help provided to her.  This individual help can definitely be applied more widely.

Here’s a call for new, non-traditional educational systems operating in parallel to the day-to-day schooling and individualise attention for all children.  Let’s develop leadership institutions such as described above.  Why not allow parents who may have ‘failed’ in their own schooling to attend an organisation with their own children present?  Maybe link it up with parenting lessons?  How about vocational and academic organisations earlier?  How about work experience at an early age?  The option of travelling and learning?  The opportunity to learn in an outdoor environment?  Can children create their own framework of learning and take in the knowledge on their own terms, learning how they like and to their preferred learning style?

Please help schools and teachers who cannot help but expel children over and over.  Surely after children have shown that a school environment is not for them, we should try something new? All it takes are creative strategic thinkers and leaders who are willing to take a risk, not concern themselves with results and work very hard with a determination to make the system work for ALL children.  Involve educators – they truly care and can see the issues out there.  Idealistic or realistic?  A debate for another day!

Finally, for all the critics and cynics, yes it can work with one example shown by this recent article.

Yasir Patel