Musings from the Plains
The value of trust
We had a parents evening today and a number of teachers were on song in the hall talking to parents and students about progress and next steps. The eager students who were jostling to go see their favourite subject were mingling with the not so eager ones who just wanted the evening to get out of the way.
Talking to parents and observing some of the conversations in the hall, it was quite clear that parents put in a huge amount of trust in our abilities to do the best for their children. Sometimes in the bigger scheme of things, the value of this trust gets out of focus and we end up concentrating on learning, targets, attainment, pastoral, progress and all the other buzzwords. But for the parents, the value of that trust always remains.
Now one may argue that all the above are parts of us valuing that trust but how do we instil that trust and make parents believe that we have their child's best interest at heart? Parents want to feel valued and respected by teachers. They want teachers that genuinely care about teaching. They want teachers that raise the standards and have high expectation for ALL children and not just the eager ones mentioned above.
I am sure you have overheard or been part of a conversation about a student who does not work at home. The parents end up with the responsibility/blame to co-teach at home and more often then not, they don't have a clue on how to go about this. We end up projecting our failure to connect with the student onto others.
The key lies in communication between teachers and parents. Traditional systems of reports, parents evenings, odd phone calls are archaic. Modern systems such as access to School information management systems and student data are also redundant as the onus is on parents to regularly check it and teachers to regularly update it. Both can go amiss at times.
So how do we go about it?
Well our school is trying. We are setting up a team of parents and teachers to help solve this problem and actively pursue a mutually satisfying result. Governors are getting involved in setting this up an perhaps getting students onboard would be quite useful too. Perhaps all aspects of home school communication needs to be looked upon and a clear protocol needs to be established and followed to ensure that the trust in embedded deeply. If you get your parents onboard and students realising that there are adults who care for them then a successful environment for learning will be established
In the end, rightly so parents only have their children that they focus upon whereas a teacher has the whole class to look out for. Without getting the parents onboard, ensuring every student succeeds is a monumental task indeed.
If you want to know of how our systems work and our plans to overhaul the area of home school communication, contact me on Twitter or pop a comment below.
Bringing about a tech revolution
I have been teaching 12 years now and from the very first day, I have taken technology for granted. I always worked in a school with a high ratio of computers per students, Internet access, VLE, information systems, the works. It's like a part of being a teacher to me.
This post is based on my experiences of bringing about change in countries where tech use is not the norm.
I cannot stress the importance of getting your school leadership onboard whatever you want to achieve. I am lucky to have a leadership that can see the benefits that technology brings to learning but I have had to convince some teams in the past of the difference it brings to learning. Once, to show the benefits of iPads, I asked them to buy some for themselves, which got them using it. Once they saw the potential, the rest was history. With leadership teams, its never us vs them, just a matter of perspective. Sometimes staffing might be more important than technology.
Vision, ownership and pace of change
Listen to what people want, but stay true to your vision. If you believe that it is the best and can prove it, don't get dissuaded by doubters. I once had a team member, who used to be negative about any change that you discussed. Eventually, there came a time when he wasn't involved in discussions. I am sorry but if all you will do is doubt about change without offering a valid reason, you are off the bus. Taking people onboard is important but not when it comes in the way of improvements to learning.
Another member of staff, once came up to me to give "advice" that we shouldn't go ahead with changing our email system to Gmail as it was my first big change in school and I should be careful how people perceive me. We had an archaic system of email which was staff only. The same person later raved about gmail and how it helped him and his students connect.
Regarding the pace of change, here's a quote from a very experienced SLT member "It's not mountain climbing where you go at the pace of the slowest person". In my current school, we were a decade behind UK schools and in one year we are on par if not ahead of them. This pace of change has been dramatic however the vision was there along with the support that helped bring this change.
This is the model we worked upon so might not be suited to your context.
Our essentials were the best Internet access we could get, site wide WiFi, mobile devices, Web 2.0 tech, data management software and teacher training. Later on Google Apps for Education (GAFE) became an essential component in our strategy.
We had about 80 desktops for a school of 500 users. 34 were for student use. Two sets of 15 laptops were also available. A 2Mb Internet connection and a WiFi system which used home routers to give access to the laptops where it was needed. I joined the school with a new Principal who had experienced first hand the benefits that tech brought to learning and that made my job a lot easier.
The first thing we did was come up with a strategy to this change and get key staff onboard. Next, the Internet speed was bumped up to 20Mb and eventually to 40Mb. Still slow by UK standards but pretty quick for Nepal and we are using it completely. We then decided to implement site wide WiFi to ensure that BYOD and our mobile vision brought tech into every classroom. Eventually we ended up going the tablet route and ensuring that a majority of our Secondary students could use a device in every lesson. This was ensured by giving iPads as part of a rolling program for Years 7, 8 and 12. In Primary, we invested in touch screen technology and collaborative tech like Osmo. We gave iPads and eventually Macbooks to teaching staff so they could get familiar with using the technology. We upped the number of computers and laptops for student use from 64 to 200 and have a set of bookable 30 Nexus 7 tabs and 30 iPad minis. We scrapped the Moodle based VLE which was not being used and started using Edmodo and GAFE. Socrative, Quizlet, Nearpod, Thinglink and many more tools were introduced through INSET sessions with the provision that the expectation wasn't there to use them all but whatever suited the teacher's style and classroom. We revamped the school website in line with our vision and also implemented a school wide information system called Engage and I can go on and on.
All of this was achieved in a year and yes there was resistance to change in some quarters but we implemented a PD programme ranging from INSET days to ICT Wednesday drop in sessions for staff at lunch times and after school. We have PD screens in the staff room that show short 30 second clips on how to use tech but most of all we get the students to pressure teachers into using tech. They have become the catalyst of change. They go about asking teachers that I used this with Miss so and so, why don't you use it. Let me show you how?
I can continue going on all the things we are implementing to measure the impact of the change and how to train staff but this post has gone long enough.
In the end, to bring about a tech revolution it's all about your conviction and beliefs and how you go about it. Not all technology is good for everyone but if you have evidence then even the unbeliever will eventually succumb. They still might have personal issues but they can't deny the learning that occurs in their classroom as a result and that change should be the goal of every tech revolution.
Are you intelligently disobedient?
I have been thinking about the term more and more as I visit Nepali schools and also after reading a lot of tweets and blogs from my global PLN.
In schools, admins or leaders define the vision and policies of the school. This leads to conflict in the ranks. Obviously human nature is subversive to a degree and not everyone can be kept happy. There is a lot of backbiting and gossip however the majority of us end up towing the line. We keep our doubts to ourselves and don't try to challenge the status quo. Some do but they argue with passion, anger, heart and often due to ego.
A rare few challenge with facts. They observe, they collate evidence, they research, measure impact and then they challenge. They intelligently disobey and they often end up being the catalyst of greatness in their schools.
The term originated from the animal world - where animals like guide dogs can disobey the command of their owner in order to keep them safe. When translated into the human world it means challenging the status quo at times and often voicing opinions which might prove unpopular. Intelligently disobedient people can take risks, and can come up with creative solutions, all while keeping the needs of the learners in mind.
So if you have a no mobile policy at school or feel strongly about the negative impact of that new assessment policy on your students, be intelligently disobedient. Better yet teach your students how to do that.
Oh and there is a thin line between intelligently disobedient and intelligently obedient. If you do find that what you were against actually can work really well for learners, don't let ego get in the way. Support the change by sharing your evidence & convince others.
A staple of every school that I have taught in is the staff farewell session on the last day. This year was no different. As the speeches started rolling in, one thing emerged and that was a theme of kindness and acknowledgement. It was great to acknowledge our peers who helped us and learnt with us but the 'feel good' factor was how kind and generous everyone was.
It made me think about the role of kindness in the schools. Am I kind? What does that mean? How does that look in practice? Is kindness only talking to everyone gently? Is it just being concerned for someone when they are in your class or in front of you?
Can we tap into kindness to help our wards become better learners?
Establish a relationship through kindness
By showing them kindness during their times of distress especially when they have not got that concept for the umpteenth time whilst the class has moved on or when they have forgotten their homework or equipment or so on. Yes, there is a need to teach them discipline, but remember forgetting a few times in the bigger scheme of things is not important. Even when you have a persistent behavioural issue, often kindness in the face of adversity can help that child become more empathetic, even though they might not show that at the time. As Dr Stanley Greenspan suggests empathy comes often when children are empathised with.
Below are some direct benefits of being kind, children have (Sourced from the RAK Foundation)
What about staff?
Lest we forget, the other main body in schools, staff. It is equally important to be kind to them and often this is quite difficult. I'm sure there have been times when we all haven't been as kind as we could to a colleague. Some of you might think tough love can't be avoided at times. Maybe, but there are always better ways to deal with situations than criticism or just ignorance. Often forgiving someone's mistake is good leadership. They probably have punished themselves in their head countless times. We often don't compliment people enough as it is much easier to pick on things they do wrong. As I tell my team, you might do ninety nine things right but that one thing you do wrong often gets stuck in people's head - Don't let it get stuck in yours. Care about your own well-being too. Don't criticise yourself if you do things wrong. Remember, we all are not perfect.
Is there need for kindness or empathy training in schools?
Perhaps but there is great deal more to gain through role modelling kindness both to students and staff from the top down. Not only will this create a better work environment but it will make you personally feel better and that surely is not a bad thing.
Some practical suggestions (student level - staff I leave to you)
I am sure you all can think of countless others. Feel free to tweet them at me (@KSThakral) or mention them in the comment section below.
*Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-32.
I am Sunny Thakral. If you are here on the site then you know a bit about me. If not then I am a teacher and these are my musings. Hope you enjoy them.