Sunday, February 26, 2012

Man battered in fish shop.

I've just finished the fourth volume of Gervase Phinn's recollections of his time as a school inspector of English in Yorkshire. This one's called Up and Down in the Dales.

All four books have been very similar but they've also been very enjoyable. Some of the stories from his inspections are a real laugh and the recurring bit players (Sidney and David, Connie, Mrs Savage and so on) are now familiar comfortable old shoes of characters.

Along the way Gervase and his wife Christine collect funny headlines (like the post's title) from their local paper and various signs for use in after dinner speeches. They are a hoot:

Sign on a visitors' centre - Please Leave Heather For All To Enjoy.

An advertisement - An opportunity to join an expanding contracting firm.

Another - Are you going places in aluminium foil?

And - Street lighting engineers - two posts.

Some catchy headlines - Captain Fuches off to Antartica.

And my favourite one of all - Body in the garden is a plant, says woman.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This emptiness won't let me live without you (The Four Tops)

I’m cream-crackered from a hectic couple of weeks of frenzied interruption fuelled work on bureaucratic paperwork. And it’s only Wednesday (i.e. another day to go before the weekend and a trip to Dubai Mall to buy some earphones for the ppod and check out a good ppod dock).

In its infinite wisdom, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has 44 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that educational companies have to meet in each school.

Each of these KPIs requires proof of completion (we are checked up on by internal and external auditors). For a lot of them we are required to provide multiple types of evidence. That’s where the bureaucratic nightmare comes in.

KPI 4 for instance sounds simple enough – are Individual Education Plans (IEPs) established for all individual students with special needs?

Given that around 5% of students require IEPs (for us that’s 10 students), you’d be forgiven for thinking this would mean collecting a sample from the 10 and putting them in a folder. So maybe three pieces of paper, right?

Well - no: you’d be very very wrong. My KPI 4 folder contains a two page table of contents and then 161 pieces of paper. I’m not having a bubble bath,,,161 pieces of paper.

It’s not quite times that by 44 to see the size of the job, but it’s not far off.

This is a big task then and one I am committed to complete as far as I can before I leave at the end of this Trimester (21 school days and 4 weekends away as I write this).

I have devoted a lot of time to getting these folders hunky dory and that’s why I feel so tired and it’s only Wednesday. Plus last night was a staff BBQ and a late night hasn’t helped.

Now…about that ipod dock…

Monday, February 20, 2012

I don't want you, but I hate to lose you (Frank, George, Ella and many others)

There was an amazing story in today's The National that a whanau member alerted me to.

 Schools face hurdles hiring Emiratis

In a nutshell it seems that the local universities have been churning out Emirati teachers that ADEC won't employ because they fail their teacher requirements, among them an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of 6 or better.

Lordy lord. That seems utterly bizarre and I bet that's not the whole story. But who would know? Rhetorical question number 1.

The solution? Why - form a committee of course.

Meanwhile those poor Emirati teachers have not been able to find jobs in the classroom.

Will anyone's head roll? That's rhetorical question number 2.

Friday, February 17, 2012

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress, running, like a watercolour in the rain (Al Stewart)

I resigned from my job this week (for personal reasons) and will be back in Nu Zild permanently at the end of March. 

I was dreading the conversations that inevitably go with a resignation. The two biggies were my local Cognition boss (Cognition is extremely hierarchical in structure and I’ve lost count of how many bosses I have) and Mohamed, the school principal where I advise.

But as is usually the case, the reality was far less blood splattered than the day-dreamed conversations I had been having in my head. Both men were understanding and supportive, which was great.

But it doesn’t take too long for self-interest to kick in and suddenly five minutes into my announcement I’m reassuring them that things will be completed before I leave (my boss) and that the new Lead Advisor will be in place after I leave and that person will be equally as awesome as I have been (Mohamed). Ha ha – just joking.

Graveyards are full of indispensable people and by July I will be a memory as far as the company goes.  But not with Mohamed. He is keen to visit me in NZ on the farm and he means what he says. He calls me his brother and although that is how I am often referred to by others (as in, “Good morning brother”), Mohamed and I have been on the same wavelength since day one. He is a very similar Principal to me in terms of style and approach. We have definitely been simpatico.

I will really miss him and the other staff and I must confess I got a bit misty eyed in his office – must have been the AC.

It’s a bitter/sweet feeling. Parting is always such sweet sorrow. I would have liked to have finished the contract at its end point in July but circumstances have made that impossible.

My reality is that I have five weeks left until the end of the Trimester. Work-wise - I want to end with everything firmly in place for my replacement. I also need to complete all the leaving protocols – close accounts, return the rental car, get a police clearance – all that sort of thing.

It will be a busy time before returning home where my first purchase will be a Maple tree (then chickens and cat with Jade and SWMBO’s help).

After the conversations there were the usual decisions - who do I tell? When?

And now, of course, there is the beginning of lame duck status to look forward to. What fun.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"There must be some kind of way out of here", said the joker to the thief (Zimmy)

The National had a story recently (today actually) headed up Pupils shine in new school system’, with an exciting sub heading, 'Scores up by 32%'.

Okay, I thought, maybe they’ve cracked it - a miraculous new way to achieve improvements in student achievement. Right here in the UAE, Dubai to be specific; 18 schools in Dubai under a ‘Schools for the future’ banner to be even more precise. No more agonizing over data. No more angst. No more teachers' dirty looks. A simple solution. 

Yeah right!
Turns out all that we need to do is teach in English and - hey presto – instant success!

Sorry to be so sniffy but…hello!! If you want students to become better at English and get into university here without doing a foundation English course – then the longer you expose the students to English the better, right?
But hang on – they’ve only been doing this for four years in this trial of 18 schools in Dubai (teaching English, mathematics and science in English). How can that time frame, even with a massive injection of resources and funds to those 18 schools, in a small number of subjects, result in increased results by 32%? Easy – you start near zero!
According to The National – improvements in test scores came from the use of new teaching methods, multimedia, new textbooks and added preparation by the teachers.

Someone alert John Hattie and Michael Fullan! Lack of technology, old books, outdated teaching methods and slacker teachers are the problem! Those are the correct drivers...right? Well no, they are not. Not even close!
It’s also interesting that the same edition of The National included an editorial about ‘the cheating culture’ in education here. The editorial bemoans the ‘largely guilt-free trend with officials accusing students, and even teachers, of generally being tolerant of…plagiarism’.

[This editorial followed a recent story about how students are using technology to cheat;]
It seems the cheating culture ‘is seeping into the system as early as kindergarten level'.

So, sadly I have to report that it looks like there is no silver bullet to be found in Dubai's educational adventureland.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Take my hand, take my whole life too (Elvis)

While I was writing the previous post and looking for some substantive research on whether teacher evaluations had any significant impact on student achievement I came across a great statement by John Hattie:
On the other side of this equation [the effects of the best rated teachers], having poor teachers can be devastating. The effects of poor teacher quality tend to persist for years after a student has had such a teacher.

These are the mediocre teachers that Todd Whitaker talks about in his work.

While the superstar teachers have high expectations of their students, create high self-esteem, and will be fine no matter what, the mediocre do untold damage by having low expectations and teach in a uniformly boring way to the whole class.

Why don’t we let the superstars and backbones get on with it and limit the damage of the poor teachers by concentrating on them? If the mediocre teachers can’t or won’t adapt then let’s get rid of them.

Believe me I know that’s easier said than done. I have been involved in competency meetings/decisions in NZ, England and here in the UAE. None were fun but all were a case of needs must.

Gervase Phinn includes this poem in one of his books:

Remember me?

"Do you remember me?" asked the young man.
The old man at the bus stop,
Shabby, standing in the sun, alone,
Looked 'round.
He stared for a moment screwing up his eyes,
Then shook his head.
"No, I don't remember you."
"You used to teach me, " said the young man.
"I've taught so many," said the old man, sighing.
"I forget."
"I was the boy you said was useless,
Good for nothing, a waste of space.
Who always left your classroom crying,
And dreaded every lesson that you taught."
The old man shook his head and turned away.
"No, I don't remember you, " he murmured.
"Well I remember you," the young man said.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I still haven't found what I'm looking for (U2)

The dust is starting to settle on the teacher evaluations - only five teachers saw me today with their concerns - and I'm starting to reflect on the effectiveness of teacher evaluations on student achievement.

I did a Google search and it wasn't very helpful.

There were complaints aplenty about evaluations being unfair and summative in nature when they should be formative as well (and inform teachers of improvements that need to be made).

There are papers showing how appraisal/evaluation is good for teachers (well yes - of course it is if the teacher is open minded enough to listen and heed advice) but I couldn't find anything that indicated beyond a series of platitudes how it was good for students.

John Hattie in his Visible Learning book says that 'almost everything works' in so much as 95% of all things we do in teaching are positive. As he says, "one only needs a pulse and we can improve achievement". I'm not arguing with him. I'm sure teacher evaluation systems have a positive impact.

But how much? And how much given the length of time and amount of energy expended on them? As one of my teachers who complained to me today said, "I could go away and generate some paperwork evidence but how do you know it achieves anything?"
Those are three good questions.

The closest I've come is the aforementioned new guru of student achievement - John Hattie. And it's not good news for the advocates of teacher evaluation.

Specifically considering student feedback to teachers (often used in teacher evaluations) he reports that feedback derived from student rating of the quality of teachers and teaching 'rarely leads to improvements in their teaching and the effectiveness of their courses'.

Those three good questions remain then. Someone out there in the interweb must have some answers but I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday (John Denver)

Haar haaaaaarrrrrrrr (a sigh is sometimes written as the far less dramatic 'phew').

I have finally (finally) finished the teacher evaluations. They have straddled two trimesters, taken all of January and first week of February to complete, and have completely monopolised the work schedules of the Principal, his Vice Principal, my translator and me for over a month.

So again - haaaar haaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Forget that we have to do this beast of a job again next trimester - at least we all have five weeks to get the students prepared for high stakes examinations in March.

My company is fond of asking the "So what?" question lately.

Now that we've all finished measuring the teachers - so what did it tell us? Did it tell us anything?

Not really. It confirmed what we knew already. I wrote a post some time ago about how the Principal knows his staff well - he can make the three groups Todd Whitaker lists in his book (Superstars, Backbones and Mediocres) without too much thought.

So what did the evaluations tell us? It gave us a rankled (sic) list of our teachers from top to bottom that we could have produced two months ago. Not roughly - exactly!

To be fair, it also gave the teachers valuable information about how they can improve their teaching and contribution to the school. Unfortunately they are not really focused on that though. And I'm mindful that continually measuring the pumpkin doesn't make it grow any quicker. Best to chuck some blood and bone around t'roots.

So what is the real legacy from the evaluations? Division and resentment - all the teachers are comparing their scores (a 100 point system provided the score) and moaning because someone in another school, who's not as good as them, got x. Lack of confidence and a dip in morale - teachers who do great work but couldn't prove it got lower marks.

And guess who it was who immediately organised themselves to make improvements based on their evaluation. Thas right - the four superstars!

All in all I think I would have preferred the rest of the teachers to have been focussed on how they can make a difference to their students, rather than having their difference measured by a 100 point score.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Home is just another word for you (Billy Joel)

It's hard to believe, but we are still knee deep in teacher evaluations. Even by doing four interviews a day we are still some way off actually finishing this particular task. I would hate to be in a bigger school with a much greater number of teachers to get through.

It is a worthwhile exercise, there is no doubt, but it has meant little time for the other important demands that are cheerfully sent our way. All prefaced by the cliched, "I know you're really busy, but..."

Never the mind, I have Gervase Phinn to cheer me up. Here he is relating a delightful story from one of his classroom visits. One of the boys he reads to is a boy named John. The classroom teacher tells Gervase a story about John.
       John lived on a farm way out across the moors. He was expected, like most children from farming families, to help out around the farm. When he was little, Mrs Brown told me, he had been awakened by his father one night and taken into the byre to see the birth of a black Angus calf. The vet had suggested that it was about time the boy saw this miracle of nature. John had stood on a bale of hay in the cattle shed, staring in the half light as the great cow strained to deliver her calf. The small, wet, furry bundle soon arrived and the vet, wet with perspiration and with a triumphant look on his face, had gently wiped the calf's mouth and then held up the new-born creature for the little boy to see. John had stared wide-eyed.
     "What do you think of that?" The vet had asked him. "Isn't that a wonderful sight?"
     John had thought for a minute before replying. "How did it swallow the dog in the first place?" he asked.