Category Archives: Values

The Only Real Failure…

Needing some relaxation after an intense but rewarding day, I  began to watch a film called “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’.* I didn’t know anything about it apart from the names of the actors in the impressive cast list. This is not going to be a review or even a summary of the plot. However, I am going to use some dialogue from the screenplay as a theme for this blog. 

IMG_1177

Near the end of the film, there is a voice-over, in which Judi Dench (…sorry, Dame Judi Dench OBE, CH etc. etc.) speaks the following lines…

The only real failure is the failure to try…and the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment…as we always must.”

As an educator and a learner, this struck a chord with me. So much so, that I ‘rewound’ to hear that phrase twice more before I let the film continue.

Without risk, there would be no failure. Without failure, there would be no learning opportunity. Perhaps we can see the destination and are unsure of how to get there. Or, perhaps we are exploring without any idea of our destination, creeping forward or leaping into the unknown. Either way, it involves a degree of uncertainty and risk. 

Fear of failure…or more specifically, the fear of the consequences of failure is a huge barrier to learning for learners of any age. If we do not have the ability to cope with failure, then success will constantly be elusive.

How we feel about the consequences of failure is an indicator of the culture to which we belong – family, school, community, society, tribe, nation etc. We may receive many mixed messages about risk and failure. For some it is a natural part of life, for others it is associated with shame, guilt, rejection and humiliation.

I wonder how many young learners witness the abuse heaped upon a losing side by sports ‘fans’, as if it is the worst thing that could possibly happen. They may be present when the mistakes of individuals are focussed upon and spoken about repeatedly, and their sporting hero’s best efforts are derided without mercy. They may be inducted into a tribal mentality, where the passionate hatred of other humans who wear different colour sportswear is their dogma and creed. I wonder how many learners exist in cultures where the worst thing you could be is slightly different to a perceived norm – ethnically, physically, sexually, or spiritually. You are labelled a ‘loser’ because of height, hair colour, disability, etc. Good luck to the educator who then encourages children to embrace errors as learning opportunities!! (Seriously…good luck…and don’t give up!)

For some learners, failing to try is not the worst thing you can do but a guarantee that the ‘worst’ will not happen – ‘If I don’t try, I can’t get it wrong’. For some it is better to endure anger than humiliation; better to remain in control and deal with certainty than the uncertainty of a less than perfect outcome.

Most of the time, ‘getting it wrong’ is not a matter of life or death. (Sometimes it is – such as the occasion I tried to fit a new light switch without turning off the mains electricity!). Failure to succeed in the education system can result in limited life choices and opportunities for many school leavers. However, we can be made to feel that any perceived failure is hugely important. In education, that feeling can be transferred through a whole system from national government to learner. (We are not ‘winning’ in the PISA league…! Panic! Fear! Anxiety! Blame! More Panic! Knee-jerk reaction! More blame!) 

Of course, the failure to provide effective education has potentially devastating consequences for individuals and society. That is undeniable. And, to quote a friend of ours:

 ‘Public education is the imperfect solution to the perfect problem.’**

There has to be accountability and systems to monitor quality of provision. However, what if the monitoring system itself adversely affects quality because of the climate of threat and fear it creates? Whether that fear is justified or not,  is the system able to detect its own influence and respond appropriately? Or, do we have to wait until a complete system failure? 

The only real failure is a failure to try

If any system of monitoring quality and school inspection is not at least trying to monitor its own impact – then it has already failed. Perhaps those with the power to change and improve these systems*** cannot cope with the disappointment of its failure (even if it is only partial failure) and therefore cannot admit it, perhaps for reasons of professional or political pride. When those who design and operate (enforce?) internal or external quality assurance systems are prepared to genuinely request, receive and act upon feedback concerning their effectiveness, we will indeed be making progress in education. 

Raise standards. Embrace errors.  Revive Learning. Encourage risk . Remove fear. Empower learners. 

*‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is a screenplay adapted from the book ‘These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach.

** Thanks to Zach Bullock for the quote. 

***Systems should be used for their purpose, not a as social engineering tools for whichever government (local or national) holds the balance of political power.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under consequences, Education, evaluation, Explore, Learners, Learning, monitoring, Passion, Potential, Practitioners, Primary, Professional Development, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Risk, Secondary, Standardised Testing, Values

‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

ny2 007

I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Coaching, Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learners, Learning, Networking, Potential, Practitioners, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Technology, Values

All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

1 Comment

Filed under Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Embedded CPD, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learners, Learning, Networking, Practitioners, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Professional Development, Reflective Learning, Risk, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Values

‘Quality’ time…?

It has really hit home this weekend how important it is to stop, reflect, recharge the batteries and be kind to oneself. Even if it seems inwardly selfish. A sense of self-survival and self-nuturing is necessary. All too often we get caught up in life, in work, in school, in pressures…and all too often we forget to give ourselves the basics that will ensure we can keep aiming for quality.

Life has been busy for the last 3 months. Work has been busy. We haven’t forced blogs. We didn’t want to force ourselves into writing when we were tired. We didn’t want to ‘find something’ to write about – a ‘forced subject’. We didn’t want to take our focus away from the people we were working with to fit in time to ‘blog’. That would not have resonated with our souls.

We are currently doing lots of thinking about the world of ‘online’ connectivity. The potential 24/7. The potential of a tool for learning and connecting. The potential of it adding quality. The potential of it destroying quality. And striking that balance.

Quality is going to be the focus of the next few blogs. This blog begins with a recognition that we all need to give ourselves time to reflect and recharge our batteries in order to be able to aim for quality. We found a place to do that this weekend. And we valued it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2 Comments

Filed under Coaching, Creativity, Designing for Learning, Education, Formative Assessment, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Single Steps Learning, Values

The Appearance of Learning** (‘We must be seen to be doing…’)

Italiano: Maschere veneziane - Baùta

Italiano: Maschere veneziane – Baùta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have just returned from an inspiring two weeks in Stirling with two groups of dedicated practitioners. We have had a number of conversations which generated ideas for blog entries. However, the ‘appearance of learning’ became the ‘pebble in my shoe’ and now it’s time to get it out!

In teacher training college, I (Andrew) had an hour-long lecture on the display of learners’ work. I still remember the lecturer saying, ‘informative, interactive and, wherever possible, 3-dimensional’. We were informed of the pros and cons of ‘double-mounting’ and why staples were preferable to drawing pins as fixings. We were never informed of the truth about classroom display…and the politics involved.

There should have been a practical workshop on ‘Backing Paper’ – how to put it on display boards without tearing, creasing or ‘bubbling’ it…and how to get it perfectly horizontal! Oh, the trials that face the newly-qualified teacher! (Also, where do all the blue ‘Bordette’ rolls disappear the day after they arrive in the stock room…when they subsequently never appear on anyone’s walls?) There should be a module on writing loan agreements for staple guns.

For me, classroom display is a multi-purpose tool to celebrate, inform, inspire, involve, engage. However, it should always have the learner as the focus not the teacher (or the headteacher!). It is not the same as decorating your living room!

 Classroom display should not be ‘wall-paper’. One purpose is the celebration of learners’ effort and achievement. However, achievement should not be equated with ‘perfection’. It is a snapshot of their learning at a point in time. 

 The reason for this blog arose from a discussion where some practitioners mentioned that school policy dictated that only ‘perfect’ work could be displayed in their schools. Written work could not be displayed which had spelling mistakes, poor grammar or sub-standard handwriting. Graphic work would not be displayed unless it conformed to a ‘model’ demonstrated by the teacher – so was often ‘improved’ by adults (without the learners giving consent or being present). These are displays of work which have the ‘appearance of learning’. 

 Believe me, I do understand where this motivation is coming from. Schools which are aiming for excellence believe that displaying only ‘excellent’ products will create an aspirational culture. I think there is definitely room for celebrating high quality work but not at the expense of the truth. Shouldn’t we be honest about variation and engage the learners in a dialogue about the progressive nature of quality? Encourage aspiration by all means but engage learners in an honest way of achieving their goals. Otherwise, isn’t this the same mentality as ‘We are judged by our grade results. Therefore we only examine learners who achieve high results. We are judged to be a high performing school…by appearance.’

 A concerned practitioner expressed how her display of students’ work did not look perfect but was accompanied by students’ annotations which indicated that they were aware of what they had achieved but were also aware of what their next steps would be. For me, this is a ‘display of real learning’. It shows students engagement and makes the learning ‘visible’. It is not merely the ‘appearance of learning’.

 Like most things in life, I think the answer is balance. Some schools will go to the extreme of having only student work on display. I think there is nothing wrong with having engaging and informative ‘commercial material’…as long as it is engaging and of interest to the learners! However, I have also seen the other extreme where a classroom was ‘plastered’ in commercial posters and pull-outs from teaching publications. Information overload…no student work. No celebration of learning.

 Once, I had the experience of an enthusiastic headteacher showing me a classroom as example of excellent display . Wow! It was colourful, informative and lots of 3-D creations. A few commercial posters, a bulletin-board, class rules. Signs with beautiful lettering which had been painstakingly cut out, double-mounted and laminated. There was NO student work. None. Later, I gently pointed this out to the headteacher. She had never noticed. It may have been a ‘beautiful’ environment for the students to exist in but there was no student ownership. No sense of ‘our’ classroom. It was very much the teacher’s classroom. This gave the ‘appearance of learning’ but in reality there was no evidence of it. Not a scrap – except that the teacher had learned some interior design tricks. Another extreme.

 Balance. Teachers are part of the class learning community. Why shouldn’t they have some of their ‘work’ on show if it enhances learning and the learning environment? Or, like many teachers, be a co-creator of a display of learning.

 When I was 11 years old, my teacher ‘gifted’ us a display board. We populated it with our artwork, origami models, magazine clippings. She taught us how to mount work and design labels. We shared things that we valued and never abused the opportunity. She must have been way ahead of her time. 

 I have never witnessed this as a negative extreme. However, I imagine a classroom where learners select all the display but there is never teacher engagement about quality would be as bereft of ‘visible’ learning as a ‘perfection only’ classroom. 

 Balance. If space allows…why not have displays created solely by learners; displays of learning co-created with teachers; samples of high quality product to inspire and samples of ‘visible’ learning showing progression; and also some information from the world outside. Inspire, inform, engage, involve, celebrate.

 Finally, one of my most hated phrases is ‘we must be seen to be doing’ – usually before some type of school inspection. Huge amounts of time and energy wasted on creating the appearance of something happening, which in day-to-day reality is not. Time and energy that could be spent on managing change positively rather than resisting it (…but appearing not to). I am not saying that all change is good but it is inevitable. We need to be responsive as opposed to reactive. I believe changes should be challenged and honest debates held – especially where changes are imposed to score political advantage points.

 However, that will not happen while inspection systems create a climate of fear and make snapshot judgements based on the ‘appearance of learning’. Results can be achieved without ‘real’ learning taking place. ‘Appearance of learning’ culture is transmitted through current hierarchies. Ultimately, we all lose out and our education system continues to be incongruent with the values most of us espouse. Or, do we just have the ‘appearance’ of an education system?

 

**Thanks to Eddie Schulberg for the phrase ‘appearance of learning’. 

8 Comments

Filed under Education, Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Single Steps Learning, Values

Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you get something of their brutality”. When it comes to the current preoccupation with standardized testing in the United States (and, more particularly, in New York State), my fear is that we are replacing dreams and compassion and thoughtful analysis with a quick but brutal search for data and statistics. And it is wrong to do this. We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.

via Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data.

We recently published a blog about a child’s response to the standardised testing regime that they had been subjected to over the past few weeks. Testing that teachers may not necessarily agree with, but are forced to administer and then (in some places) publicly named and shamed in the media – and we are not talking about the ‘banding’ or listing of schools based on their performance (which happens in the UK), we are talking about the names of individual teachers. This is happening in parts of the US. How long before this trend spreads?  

The above blog by gilboafox caught our interest. It is well worth a read. 

This sentence in particular resonated with us.

“We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.”

We have just completed a 3 day event in Stirling, Scotland. Assessment within ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was a major theme – something that everyone is working towards. Assessment that encourages learners (of all ages), helps them to progress and involves them from start to finish. Assessment that does not just reduce the learners (of all ages) to a number, a piece of data that can be used by politicians to justify their existence and policies. Every practitioner this week talked about learning and learners with passion, respect, understanding and accountability. If only ‘those in charge’ talked about the teaching profession (who are also learners in their own right)  in the same way and applied an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach.  All too often teachers are used as scapegoats…and forced into situations that are incongruent with their principles and values.  

If ‘health and well-being’ is high on the agenda, how do we as a profession help to create an assessment system that is not soul-destroying…a system that involves the learner (of all ages) at the centre of the process…a system that is accountable to the learner and not just the politician? Do we, as members of the education profession, have the confidence to stand up, stand tall and be heard? Do we have the confidence to question?

“To question is to grow” (Great line in ‘Proud’, M People)

Now is the time to question more loudly than before. Now is the time to grow. 


Leave a comment

Filed under Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Learners, Practitioners, Primary, Quality Learning, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Standardised Testing, Teaching, Values

Let them be heard: Voice of the Children

A 9 year old child writing an ‘open’ letter on behalf of the class after a prolonged period of standardised testing in New York State. They want their voices heard and have asked if we can help them to do this.

This is not ‘our’ blog, so we shall write no more. This blog post belongs to the voice of this child and their class. 

Voice of the Child

3 Comments

Filed under Education, Learners, Learning, Passion, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Values

“It’s about time you did some work…!”

For years I listened to my dad jokingly say,

“It’s about time you did some real work! You teachers get it too easy!”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine background respect for how hard I worked as a teacher. Yet how many have heard this said by friends, family, acquaintances, politicians, general public, and the media…without the knowledge and understanding about what really happens during a working day in a school; what happens during the evenings; what happens on the majority of weekends and what happens during school holidays?

At this point I feel I need to say that I am aware that, like in any other profession, there are different types of workers. Those that over-commit, those that work hard, those that just do what is needed, those that will do the bare minimum and, lets face it, those that just don’t care. Of course we have education professionals that will fit into each of these categories. That is reality. Just as it is a reality in any other line of work.

However, as the end of the Spring Term neared, I began reading more and more articles about school holidays…the length of school holidays…whether they were justified…whether teachers had it easy…whether it had a negative impact on standards…whether they should be shortened…etc etc.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a perspective. Education is a public commodity. If you have been to school as a child and young person, you will have an opinion about school based on your own experiences. If you have a child in school, you will understandably have an opinion about their education and your own ability to attend work. If you are a politician, you are certainly going to have opinions and policies which may be based on your own experience, or on what will get your party into power and or perhaps even on genuine research into proven theory and innovative practice. (I will leave any further political thoughts here). If you work in the media, then the very concept of education and the fact that the majority of the general public have an opinion, will obviously make it something of a focal point.

It prompted me into action. So what were the teachers and educators going to be doing with their holiday? What do they have to say? Hence the creation of our last blog: A ‘snapshot’ survey.

Thank you to all who took part. We had responses from Primary/Elementary teachers, Secondary/High School teachers, School Admin/Business, Advisors/Trainers/Consultants within a geographical area that spanned the UK and the USA.

The question asked:

School Holidays: What are your plans?

A very quick set of multiple choice answers followed…with the option to add more of your own.

The results.

No, it was not the most complicated of surveys. No, it wouldn’t stand up against the big research studies. It wasn’t intended to do that. It was intended to give people we know personally and people who follow us at singlestepslearning, an opportunity to voice their opinion, whilst at the same time giving us a simple set of results, something concrete to analyse.  

Having worked for 16 years in education, I wasn’t that surprised by the results. I am aware of the hours that many teachers put into planning, preparation, assessment and paperwork. I’m also aware of the amount of personal money, time and energy many teachers put in to purchase or make resources. I could continue the list…the amount of time and energy given in worry and concern about the emotional and physical safety of certain pupils when they leave the school building; the fact that teaching a class(es) of 30 all day, every day, involves so many high level emotional interactions. The average teacher must be able to multi-task, must be multi-skilled and must be ready to act with flexibility to any unknown, unforeseen circumstance that may veer you completely off any kind of pre-planned format or content of a session. The energy needed to sustain this level of interaction, to enthuse young children and people, to inspire, to encourage, to treat each as an individual, yet build a cohesive community, to help every learner explore their potential, ask big questions, develop as citizens….well, I’m exhausted just thinking about this. Unless you have worked in a school, unless you have experienced this, it is something that you cannot fully comprehend. Working with young children, young adults is a privilege. It brings moments of sheer pleasure. Yet it is exhausting if you fully commit to it…and there are NEVER enough hours in a school day to do everything required. Never. Hence the result that 44% of respondents would spend holiday time involved in a work related activity.

Add to the mix that there is a growing trend of ‘publicly judging’ teachers by a set of cold standardized results, I’m not surprised that many in teaching are beginning to question their choice of career. And these are teachers who are exceptional. Are we really going to demonise the teaching profession so much that we drive out those that do the best job?

The voice of one teacher who responded…

“I have followed the recent discussions in the media about changing the academic year. I entirely agree that the summer holidays are too long and children forget things. To be honest, I do too! However, as a teacher I find the half terms and holidays invaluable for both catching up and preparation for the next term. They are also a great opportunity to reset my work-life balance, as I generally have too much to do during the evenings and weekends to make time for socialising. On another note I also recall Michael Gove suggesting that the school days should be longer. Clearly he doesn’t see the 16 hour days many of us put in. I’m pretty sure the overtime during term time more than covers our holidays.”

And my final thought…

…learning experiences can happen anywhere, with anyone. Schools provide one venue for learning. Time away from school can also provide rich opportunities for learning. It just comes down to what you as an individual, and what we, as a society, decide to value. But that is another story…another blog…

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Learning, Practitioners, Primary, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Values

Status Update: ‘What’s on your mind?’

Česky: Logo Facebooku English: Facebook logo E...

I once heard the blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy talking on the radio about songwriting. “You can write a song about anything…for instance, a pocket knife. It can be used to cut food, to carve a piece of wood…or to kill a man!” 

No, this is not a blog about songwriting, the blues or pocket-knives. It is about social media. Like the knife, social media is a tool. Like the knife, it is not inherently ‘good or evil’ – that depends upon the intentionality of the ‘user’.

I have been a user of social media ever since I got my first online account in 1998. IMs, Chat rooms, icq, message boards, MySpace, Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, MSN Messenger, Bebo, and ‘blogging’.

I have seen the power of the use, abuse, misuse and creativity of social media. Today, however, my attention has been caught by two articles – one via  Twitter and the other via the WordPress blog site. Both articles concern the recent practice of employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook login details.  

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)

(Photo credit: Aray Chen)

So what is your first reaction to that statement? Mine was: ‘They can’t do that…that’s an invasion of privacy! It’s like someone asking to visit your house. Your personal lifestyle choices may have no relevance to how well you can do a job.’ However, on reflection…

Some people choose not to use (or are still unaware) of any privacy settings on Facebook. They are currently quite happy to bare their souls (and many other things) to anyone who wishes to view their page – the roller-coaster of their emotional states, public bickering, gross attention-seeking, and many, many photos of whatever constitutes ‘having a good time’ with their specific social group. Part of me finds the ‘openness’ refreshing. Another part despairs and worries.

Free twitter badge

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our training, we talk about the value of sharing and reflecting on experiences. However, the depth to which you share will depend upon the trust that has been established between individuals in a group. Why? Because we have learned from bitter experience that by being completely ‘open’, you also make yourself vulnerable to manipulation, prejudice and betrayal by the unscrupulous. We’ve all been there. Yes?

If I look at my personal Facebook page, I have nothing to hide. However, I do have a life and loved ones that I wish to protect. There is and always has been a parasitic strata of society who actually work very hard at ‘theft’ be it physical or virtual. They are creative, opportunistic and have no conscience. My  great fear is that there is a generation of social media users who may never recover from their blissful ignorance or naiveté. 

Back to employment…if you put it out there for all to see…that is your choice and you bear the consequences – positive or negative. You are Google-able… 

However, if you have chosen privacy settings…Hmmm

‘Application and interview’ is an imperfect process. Candidates may be ‘economical with the truth’, use manipulative language and personal charisma to improve their chances at selection. There are even books and online coaching advice about how to do this.

An employer who aspires to a certain set of values (such as sexual equality and multi-ethnicity) wants to know that, in the current world of instant mass communication, their reputation is not going to be besmirched (love that word!). They do not want to discover that the charismatic and knowledgeable flatterer, who said the right things at the interview, and is also highly qualified, turns out to be a misogynistic bigot with a penchant for ‘mooning’...and who had impeccable references (because the previous employer couldn’t wait to get rid of them…so they also also lied!). This happens!!!

The logo of the blogging software WordPress. D...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some questions to ponder…

Is it justifiable for an employer to invade personal privacy in order to protect its future reputation, in the same way I would want to protect my own?

…or, are we already creating a culture of social media savvy candidates who merely create multiple online personas – selecting which one they will reveal to their prospective employers?

Conversely, even if I have nothing to hide, why should I give access to my personal life to someone with whom I have not established a minimum level of trust – who may misuse information that is revealed.

We are aware that many (but thankfully not all!) educators are reluctant to comment on our own FB page, just in case their opinions, however valid and well-articulated, get them into ‘hot water’ with their setting/school/local authority. Unlike the TES forum threads, in which some extreme views are voiced but protected by anonymous usernames, we have ‘real’ people with ‘real’ names. We understand and accept your reluctance. 🙂

Despite the exponential advance in human technologies, the same human issues still remain. The instinct to survive / the instinct to protect oneself. When survival and protection are achieved ‘by any means necessary’, human values such as ‘trust’ are often a casualty, especially in times of economic hardship. If prospective employees will say/do anything to get a job, isn’t it reasonable to expect employers to say/do anything to protect themselves against employing the ‘wrong’ person? And, if employers use your personal information unscrupulously, isn’t it right that you should be able to protect yourself against disclosure?

Our learning for today… 

Why not take some time to reflect on your own social media pages. Check your own privacy settings or get someone to help you customise them – particularly if the format of the site has changed recently.  We make no judgements about content or lifestyle choices but think about what you are comfortable sharing and who can or might access your information now and in the future. Check who has ‘tagged’ you in any photographs and ‘untag’ them if you are not comfortable with them appearing on your pages. If you think that they could be potentially embarrassing ask for them to be removed – especially if they will come up in a Google search- a real friend will do this for you! Do a Google search on yourself and see what results you get – you may be surprised!

As for me, it’s time to fix the flux-capacitor and get back to the future. What will be the form and impact of social media in another 10 years…now that would be telling!

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Education, Professional Development, Risk, Technology, Values

Better Latte Than Never

So, we left Killin, according to schedule (Honestly..we did!). The A85 is picturesque, single-lane road but also a main artery through the Highlands. Just outside Killin, a set of temporary traffic lights had appeared (which wasn’t there at 8.15 a.m.) and a work crew were resurfacing the road. We joined the queue which is headed by a large articulated lorry. I know, you can already see where this is going…not very far/not very fast!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get over 30 mph for the next 30 miles. At the roundabout on the outskirts of Stirling, the lorry took the exit for the motorway – we cheered. We took the exit for Stirling…and end up behind a JCB digger moving at 15 mph. At this point we both went a bit Victor Meldrew (‘I don’t believe it!). We are obliged to follow the JCB, through Stirling, until we are almost at our destination.

We arrived at Viewforth Offices and found a parking space right outside the main doors (hooray!). We were 10 minutes late for our appointment with Early Years Curriculum Development Officer Mary Pat McConnell. We were acutely aware that Mary Pat had already relinquished a good portion of our planned meeting time so that we could squeeze in another school visit.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.** Reception cannot locate Mary Pat. We had a momentary panic that we were in the wrong meeting venue. Not so (Phew!) Eventually, Mary Pat appeared and we exchanged apologies for lateness. She, like us, had been unavoidably delayed and not in a position to send or receive messages on her mobile phone.

We headed off to the canteen. Where we had a very focused and productive 20 minute meeting (brainstorm – distil – decide – design) fuelled by an extra shot in the Starbucks latte (Thanks Mary Pat!) and we were off to our next port of call!

Better Latte Than Never

The learning journey. We had a plan, we had a schedule, we had means of communication. However, real life happened. Plans had to change, we had to adapt. At times, despite our frustration, there was nothing we could do. Our speed was being dictated by outside forces. There were points on the journey that we could have ‘escaped’ the lorry but this would have still lengthened our journey or we could have become completely lost. There are times when that would be OK, or even fun, but not on this occasion!

Despite a practitioner’s best effort, thorough planning, passion and enthusiasm, there are so many external forces that can impact on learners and learning. This is not about finding excuses, it is about recognising and acknowledging that learning is a messy business. And unless we recognise, acknowledge and deal with ‘real life’ forces, no amount of imposed ‘structure’ and standardised testing is going to affect significant positive change in a learning culture.

And finally, there are often unexpected bonuses when plans go awry. In this case, if all had gone according to plan, we might never have met the lovely Linda Stevenson, whom we had only spoken to on the phone.

**Does this make sense in an age of digital timepieces?

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Learning, Education, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learning, Passion, Practitioners, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Single Steps Learning, Values