I recently did a webinar for the Council of British International Schools COBIS on the topic of Crisis Management in schools.
The link to the webinar is:
I recently did a webinar for the Council of British International Schools COBIS on the topic of Crisis Management in schools.
The link to the webinar is:
I recently did an interview with Aditya Maheswari, the co-founder and CEO of Vawsum Schools PVT Ltd as part of their Edutalk series.
Some links of the interview are below:
📹 Full Interview Link – https://youtu.be/NIEkiMYSK94
Staffroom (https://www.staffroom.school/) set up and owned by two Australian international teachers Ollie and Cheraine Escott, aims to help teachers (especially “non-native” English speakers) land their dream job. Staff room help teachers by training them on how to:
I recently did an interview with Cheraine and Ollie about recruitment and general tips for international teachers.
Somebody asked me recently for my Philosophy of Education (with a one page limit!). It really made me think deep and I am glad I was asked. My response is below. What is your Philosophy of Education?
All children can learn and be successful, and they all deserve the best education.
My educational philosophy stems from the above statement; a simple yet powerful statement. Students are first, second and third in all my decision-making processes. This should be for all aspects of schooling. It includes timetabling, recruitment of staff, infrastructure considerations, retention of staff, legal questions, financial discussions and much more. A question often used by myself, and one I encourage all stakeholders in the school to use is, “What is best for the students?” The answer to this nearly always guides one in the right direction. I keep this question at the forefront of all decisions that need to be taken on a daily basis.
The students are the most important members of a school community. Under the correct conditions and with the appropriate strategies, all students can and will learn. Every student must make significant progress in every lesson. This goal and my personal definition of High Quality Learning should be of utmost importance and the top priority in all classrooms every day. I believe the classroom is a living community and that everyone, from the principal to the students to the parents, must contribute in order to maintain a positive atmosphere. I will not shirk from my responsibility as a leader to promote and enforce this aim. Promotion of this involves developing and training the teaching body in ensuring the success criteria that make a great lesson are agreed upon, transparent and understood. Enforcement of this includes a clear appraisal system that takes into account all the aspects of a teacher’s job, and not solely one or two lesson observations, leadership is sufficiently trained to assess performance and follow-up is always done. The ultimate goal towards teachers, as with students, is to encourage intrinsic motivation toweards their own personal development.
Children need constant support and guidance and their welfare should be a key focus at all times. Happy and safe students are students who learn more effectively. All children should be valued, respected, nurtured, encouraged, praised and supported. Children must learn and develop both academically and socially, and we must work hard to prepare them for adulthood. This means creating well-rounded individuals who are not simply excellent at subjects such as Mathematics or Art or History, but who can hold a conversation, debate, empathise, care for others and all with humility, respect and modesty. The world needs kindness more now than ever before. It is our duty as educators to create these kind young adults.
As for the teachers who I am fortunate to work alongside with; I want to work with teachers who are academically well-qualified, who enjoy working with children, who are prepared to work really hard for those children, who have genuine humility, who are open to improving their practice for the entire length of their teaching career, who are idealists, who acknowledge the fallibility of the human condition, who always see the funny side of things, and teachers who teach for the love, not solely for the money. In return I want to provide teachers with the very best opportunities for continuous professional development and learning, give them as much professional autonomy as I can over how they manage their working lives, treat them with respect, honesty and kindness, show them unqualified humanity, the highest level of integrity, acknowledge that they have a life to live outside of school, give them free tea and coffee on demand, and, even if they do it for the love, to pay teachers well.
Warning: This article is a plug for a service – a service I have utmost respect for.
In Venezuela, as in many countries, schools are unable to source and purchase various teaching resources locally. As such, they need to look at using suppliers a little further from home. There are many out there but the quality of service from start to end tends to be below satisfactory. One such service sticks out as an exception: Equip My School.
Some background: During my seven years in Venezuela, it was next to impossible to purchase quality products locally and/or niche products specific to our context. Our previous experience with other companies was full of inefficiencies, time delays and communication issues. It was extremely frustrating. This is when Equip My School came to my rescue – As Head of School, I decided to make the switch to Equip My School in 2015. They were the exception – modern, forward thinking and extremely efficient. From start (order) to delivery, it was always smooth, year upon year.
I have to point out some aspects that are a life-saver for any school that needs such a service:
During the 5 years I used Equip My School, I have come to admire their business model, quality service and efficiency. It is sad to hear how the COVID pandemic is currently affecting their work, hence I make no apologies for this article. Schools need quality services such as Equip My School.
I would recommend any school, anywhere, to use Equip My School for your orders, whether small or large. They are truly an exceptional company – way ahead of its competition.
Please do contact me if you have any questions about this fantastic company.
Yasir Patel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tuesday 30th April, 2019, 5am: “A coup is happening right now, switch on your TV” a parent informed me as I was getting ready for work. Indeed, an uprising by the Venezuelan opposition looked like it was taking place. “What do I need to do?”, “We have the IGCSE Mathematics exam today, does it go ahead?”, “Do we close school?” and many more questions needed answering, and needed to be answered quickly. Luckily, we were well prepared in managing crisis situations and were able to act, think and move ahead swiftly and effectively.
After seven years in Caracas, Venezuela, many have asked me to write a book about my time in what is probably the most volatile country in the world over the last decade. I was the school Headteacher/Principal for six years (2014-2020). This article is intended to discuss my experience of leading a school during what turned out to be, a constant crisis situation, through arguably the country’s most difficult period in its history. Maybe a book will follow one day… Please feel free to add comments, questions, suggestions or disagreements.
A school crisis is any traumatic event that seriously disrupts coping and problem-solving abilities of students and school staff. It is typically sudden, unexpected, dramatic and forceful and may even threaten survival. A crisis can cause a drastic and tragic change to the environment. This change is generally overwhelming and uncontrollable as well as unwanted and frightening. It may create a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and vulnerability combined with a loss of safety.
A 2009 research paper titled, ‘Crisis Management in Schools: Evidence-based Postvention’, talks about crisis as being, “Critical incidents in or involving schools include shootings, stabbings, other forms of homicide, terrorist activity, suicide, road traffic accidents, major fires and natural disasters, which result or might result in death and/or serious injury to students and staff.” The NEA describes a crisis in school as, “School crises can be on a large scale, such as severe violence, hostage situations, and natural disasters that require an emergency response from the community.
Or, they can be more individualized, such as a car accident or the unexpected death of a student.”
All of these are of course, valid definitions of the word ‘crisis’ and what constitutes a crisis, however, a few more examples can and should be added to the list (these are very much based on my own experience over the last seven years):
Situations such as the above spring up on you quickly and how a leader manages the situation is key in moving forward productively, and indeed in many cases, vital for school survival. Much of what is in this article can be used in various scenarios.
I would like to begin by emphasising one of my favourite quotes, “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.” As with most things in life, a plan will go a long way when faced with difficult situations. Yes it may be that the plan has to be changed, often drastically, but a plan will nevertheless guide ones decisions. Secondly, the WHO recently stated that in a crisis situation you have to think and decide quickly – a quick decision is better than no decision. Take a decision now that you will no doubt have to make later. And finally, “where crisis management plans exist, they might be based on ‘common sense’ or clinical judgement, risking worsening rather than improving outcomes.” By preparation and planning, a leader could improve outcomes instead of thinking intuitively. Furthermore, it allows quick and effective decisions to be taken, another vital aspect of managing crisis situations.
Below are some pertinent and key points with respect to handling a crisis situation based on my own experience.
1. Communication, communication and communication: this is ever so important. Your stakeholders (I include employees, schools, students and parents here) need to hear from YOU. By writing YOU, I mean the leader – the person they trust the most. Many messages that have been sent during the current COVID-19 crisis have been empathetic, lovely and assuring – that is the way to do it. Regular messages are necessary to avoid double guessing. If possible, face-to-face, whether virtual or in person, is the best approach. Be open, transparent and exude confidence to others.
2. Transparency: maximum possible transparency is required. This will help avoid distrust, anger, theories, gossip and speculation. Be clear, succinct and any plans presented, should be easily understood.
3. Sympathy and empathy: Everybody wants to be listened to, and understood. A huge amount of sympathy and empathy is required to all stakeholders, taking into consideration they will most likely have their own issues in their personal lives that they are dealing with. Avoid messages that come across dry and soulless.
4. Human beings v Policy: Policies are of course important, however, the human being matters much more. In all communications there needs to be assurance that you are aware you are dealing with human beings, young people, anxious parents, worried staff who have been stressed for many months, for many years in some cases. Policies are just policies – dry and black and white, not considering the subtleties nor the nuances of context. Every individual has a story that needs to be listened to and acknowledged. Encourage your leadership team to put aside administrative tasks and talk to the staff body.
5. The Leader Leads: YOU are the key. YOU have to stand up and be counted. Every school, parent and student is relying on YOU. If needed, a constant review of the processes has to be undertaken in fine detail, maybe with some objective unbiased lens – including people with a different angle. If necessary, changes can and must be made given the evidence of any review. It takes a strong and humble person to admit ones faults but that is what one does if that is the case. Keep asking yourself, “has my organisation kept to its vision, its mission, its values and have we role modelled these?”
It is worth noting that in any crisis situation, a team should be formed quickly that can help guide your school through. Carefully select members on this team and be aware that too many will prove counter-productive. However, the leader must lead and it is fair to say, long days working with little sleep is to be expected in such a situation. Rise up to the challenge!
On a personal note, despite the challenges, my seven years in Venezuela were wonderful and will forever be remembered with fond memories. The troubles and obstacles faced may have been difficult, but were a great life experience. Both my daughters are Venezuelan and the country will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Please feel free to add comments, questions, suggestions or disagreements.
Crisis Management in Schools: Evidence-based Postvention 2009: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251442974_Crisis_Management_in_Schools_Evidence-based_Postvention
NEA School Crisis Guide: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA%20School%20Crisis%20Guide%202018.pdf
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.
Teachers’ perception of use of technology in the classroom
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:
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!
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.
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:
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:
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.
A recent article from TES, pasted in its entirety below.
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