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:

The Future

In many (maybe most) industries and countries, the most in-demand jobs or occupations did not even exist 10 years ago.  In fact, in some cases they did not exist just 5 years ago.  The pace of change is astonishing and one that will only continue to accelerate, and at a faster rate.  Looking ahead, predictions are that 65% of children entering Primary School today will eventually end up working in entirely new jobs – jobs that do not even exist currently.

So what can we do to counter such a fast and rapidly changing landscape?

Businesses and their current models are finding that they are faced with an immediate and simultaneous impact on employment and there exists a need for new skill sets to be created, developed and maintained.  These require an immediate and focussed effort in order to achieve the required change.

The ability to plan ahead, anticipate and prepare for future required skills, job content and the knock-on effect on employment, is required.  This is critical for governments, education, individuals and businesses.  Thus, predicting, anticipating and preparing for the new (and current) transition is vital.

Debate and discussions so far related to the transformation and transition is clearly polarised between those who foresee limitless new opportunities and those that foresee a massive dislocation of jobs.

Predicting the future

The growth in cheap computing power and ubiquity of mobile internet have already had widespread impact on existing business models and will continue to do so.  Computing and mathematically-intensive professions will experience a positive impact and result in very high growth.  Similarly, architecture and engineering will be affected positively.

However, there will be a declining demand for occupations related to manufacturing, production and construction.  The educational arena will need to adjust to the needs of the new-age student, who is reliant on technology.  The use of the internet, blended learning and mobile devices will need to be optimised.  The teacher will always be necessary but a newly trained, modern teacher will be required.

The World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report 2016 has concluded that “by 2020, critical thinking and complex problem solving will be the most vital set of skills in the global job market but the hardest to recruit for.”  Education should look at ‘investing in the mind‘.

Immediate focus needed and planning ahead:  Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

  • Change the 20th century viewpoint of Human Resources
  • Make heavy use of data and data analytics
  • Talent diversity:  Gone are the days when employees had the same job that required a limited skill pool
  • Flexible working arrangements
  • Online talent platforms:  Educational organisations will need to look into how this can be utilised in their institutions with positively enhancing student learning
  • Rethink education systems:  Self explanatory.  Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to imagine what a true 21st century curriculum might look like
  • Incentivising lifelong learning:  A key skill and one worth pushing
  • Cross-industry and public-private collaboration

Yasir Patel

Sources:

https://yasirpatel.com/2016/05/27/first-blog-post/

https://shifthappens.wikispaces.com/

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf

Top Twelve Tips

Recently, I have been asked by a few people and organisations what advice and tips I would give to other Headteachers/Superintendents/Principals?

It has taken a while to draw up the list. Initially I intended a ‘Top Ten Tips‘ but narrowing the list down to ten proved difficult!  Instead I settled for ‘Top Twelve Tips‘.

Some may seem obvious to the more experienced School leader but I hope at least one helps and I also hope that there is agreement with most of the points on the list. For the more recently appointed Headteachers or educators hoping to lead a school one day, I hope this list is useful.

Top Twelve Tips (for School leaders)

1. Be the first in and last out of school (on most days).  Expect to work 50+ hour weeks – it is the job!

2. Never delegate a job that you would not do yourself.

3. Teach! At least 20% of the teaching allotment and if possible more. This is our passion, this is why we came into the profession.  So show your talent, model your ability and teach away!

4. Listen…actively.

5. Do what you say – See EVERY job through (or at least acknowledge when it is not possible).

6. Maintain the FOCUS: What is the best for the Students?

7. Organise: Fail to plan, plan to fail. Break things down and stay on top of things.

8. Stick to the school vision, mission and philosophy: do not let the small hiccups affect this.  Always remember the big picture and do not worry about the smaller issues that occur in between.

9. Be a role model in all aspects of school life (teaching, dress code, behaviour, be fair, be honest etc – everything!).

10. Have a life – switch off – have holidays (but you will need to check emails periodically!)

11. Network:  Have a family/community of Headteachers, be known and be helpful to others.

12. Know your stuff: Read read and read!

Yasir Patel

Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning and learning outside the classroom is intended to offer children experiences that are not easily achieved indoors, in the day-to-day environment.  It is intended to provide sensory stimuli, lead to greater levels of creativity and allow children to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding without the constraints of the traditional classroom.

There is convincing research that suggests good quality learning outside the classroom adds significant value to students’ learning. In 2004, Michael Reiss (a Science professor) and Martin Braund (an honorary fellow at the University of York and an adjunct professor in Cape Town, South Africa) published a book about the importance of out-of-school learning called Learning Outside the Classroom.  Research from the book was later published in the International Journal of Science in 2006, which highlights several arguments on why science classes should go on meaningful field trips. More information can be found on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website.

In a more recent study conducted by Play in Balance and commissioned by Persil, 45% of the 12000 parents polled stated that they wanted their child to have activities outside.  Furthermore, three-quarters of 6 to 11 years-olds spend less time outside (in non-school time) than the daily hour recommended for prison inmates by the UN.  In fact, yesterday (Friday 17th June) was Empty Classroom Day!  A 2005 study by the American Medical Association found that Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.” There is also some scientific evidence that the wilderness can reduce hyperactivity and has a soothing effect on children, especially those suffering from attention deficit disorder. 

Sir Ken Robinson, a leading educator, educational researcher and a big advocate of bringing creativity into the curriculum (see his famous TED talk ‘Schools Kill Creativity’), has pointed out how important it is for human beings to be outside, playing and engaging with nature.   TV presenter and author Ben Fogle has encouraged the British government to focus on student wellbeing and connecting children with the natural world, instead of pumping valuable time and money into exams.  Juliet Robertson, author of Dirty Teaching points out how activities away from the classroom gives pupils freedom to make decisions about their own learning and is incredibly empowering for them.

Some schools, such as Long Crendon School in England have gone further and created a curriculum that revolves around outdoor education.  The Headteacher Sue Stamp claims outdoor learning is “a way of life”.  The whole ethos of Long Crendon is to be outdoors as much as possible, despite the English weather!

The research (Trost 2009: Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance and Active Living Research in 2015) around the importance of physical education and sports cannot be understated. Some of the conclusions include:

● Physically active and fit children tend to have better academic achievement, better school attendance and fewer disciplinary problems.

● Allocating time for daily physical education does not hurt academic performance, and regular exercise may improve students’ concentration and cognitive functioning.

● Physical activity breaks can improve cognitive performance and classroom behaviour.

● In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardised test scores.

● Regular participation in physical activity has academic performance benefits.

● Single sessions of physical activity can enhance attention and memory.

● The effects of physical activity on brain health may explain improvements in academic performance.

Schools should look into ways of enriching the curriculum for students which involves taking learning outdoors, increasing physical education and sport.  This could be a simple lesson outside or a full week away in another country.  High Effort?  Yes, Effective? Yes, High Impact?  Yes, Memorable?  Definitely!

Yasir Patel

Moral Courage

Written on Friday 20th November, 2015:

As school ended last Friday, terrible news broke in France, but sadly, it was not dissimilar to incidents that are happening every day in other parts of the world.  The attacks, we know, were horrific and extremely saddening – all the more so because they seem closer to home. We all know Paris, or know of it through friends.  It was a reminder that we live at a time of discord and hatred, much of which seemed far away though now much closer.  A complex range of emotions were no doubt felt by the community as is normal following such devastating acts of violence.

What do we do as international schools?  How do we explain this to our children?  How do we react?

It is time for moral courage in our response.  All international schools must be aware of the social impact attacks like this can have and their effect on others.  This begins in our immediate surroundings and around our school.  It can, should and does go way beyond in creating a positive impact in our world.  How deep that impact is, depends on our intentions.   At times like these, we must go beyond academia, beyond bickering, beyond first world complaints, and seek to create a positive impact in our world as deeply and with the best intentions we can.

Many schools have a vision statement that talks about lifelong learning and participating in the global community.  It also talks about having an open mind and being willing to listen and change your opinion.

We should want students (and our community) leaving our schools as young adults to influence the world by making decisions with moral direction.  This is a necessary long-term strategy.  However, we must acknowledge the here and now too.  What are we doing to make the world a better place now?  We should consider everything at our disposal, from facilities to technology to purchasing power.  How can we use all these various aspects of our lives in order to enable a situation of reconstruction and reconciliation for “the other”?

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.  

Friday was and still is scary, discomforting and we enter an unknown, both physically and emotionally wary.  However, the unknown brings excitement, discovery and possible solutions to the discomfort both now and in the long term.  We need to be bold in our aim for equity, justice, peace and a better world for our children and their children.  

The International Baccalaureate’s Mission states that the organisation aims to create young people:

  • who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

The time is now.  Our impact needs to be felt now.  

I am sure you will join me in expressing our sorrow at the events in Paris last Friday, as well as similar suffering around the world.

Yasir Patel