Friday, May 29, 2015

Come follow me, it's a new day (The Answer)

An article in Synapse recently mentioned Finland's teacher evaluation system
Blue sky thinking in Finland.
For a variety of reasons, the educational system in Finland is often viewed as one of the best in the world. As arguable as that claim might be, it’s easy to look at what the school system of Finland does with regard to teacher evaluation. There’s only one problem with this approach: Finland doesn’t have a centralized teacher-evaluation system. Finland’s teachers are evaluated entirely by locally-determined measures established through agreement between schools and the teachers’ union (there are also no standardized exams in Finland’s schools). This fact stands to demonstrate that...centralized teacher-ratings are not a requisite for an educational system that is viewed as a model for the World.
And with blackboards and chalk!
Hmmm - interesting. Even Ofsted in the U.K. have now recognised that evaluating teacher effectiveness by lesson observation is deeply flawed. Yes - you read that right - Ofsted!

While reading this I couldn't help thinking about my time in the U.A.E. as an advisor working in Ali bin Abi Taleb school. The company I worked for was deeply driven by statistical data gained from our regular teacher observations which ran to about thirty bullet pointed focus points.

Yikes! You do the math (or not). 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Communication Breakdown, it's always the same (Led Zeppelin)

Institutions tend to have a certain in-built pathological, distorted, even dysfunctional quality about them when it comes to the norms of most communicative situations, and it is this which makes them inherently unjust - Corson 1993.
This came from an article a senior manager at school passed on to me; she was asked to read it for some post graduate work she was doing.

I nearly choked on my low fat yogurt!

Aside from it being so wildly out of date for university work, this is an amazingly bold statement to make.

Read it again - too lazy to cast your eyes up? Okay here it is with a slight adjustment:
Schools tend to have a certain in-built pathological, distorted, even dysfunctional quality about them when it comes to the norms of most communicative situations...
Whoa Nelly! 

The scary thing? I think I agree and I'm Mr Happy usually (I don't know about the next bit though - the 'unjust' clause that follows, so I left it out).

Many (most?) 'communicative situations' (ugly construction) in schools are dysfunctional. That's not the intention but it sure as heck fire is what happens along the way.

To a large extent, I blame email.

It's ubiquitous and pernicious and it has got in the way of face to face.

Of course, face to face is not always perfect especially if there are agendas at play, but it does allow for decoding a message, seeking clarification and gaining tone.

That trio aren't so easy in an email war. And it's so ubiquitous that people get cc'd all the time. Or, sometimes worse, NOT cc'd.

Corson (1993) was on to something - and this is BEFORE the onslaught of email.

I have my school email, Schoology messages, Kamar messages, my private email, and a gmail account for funsies.

I'm drowning in communication!! There's so much I can't help getting a distorted message.

Another thing I've noticed: people's patience for a reply has dwindled to minuscule proportions. 

Today (a Monday) a girl asked me why I hadn't replied to her message yet (sent Sunday! Yes - yesterday!!).

Staff walk up to me all the time, not literally - work with me, and say, "Have you read my email?"  

Um, yes, I have and I was ignoring it - I was waiting for you to walk past my desk to remind me.

Pretty sure I blogged recently about the dopamine effect that getting a new message has on people's brains.

What's the opposite of dopamine? 
As Vaughan Bell has recently and brilliantly pointed out, dopamine can have varied – even opposite – effects, depending on the receptor it is interacting with. It can have different effects depending on the area of the brain it is activated in, and it can sometimes have different effects in the same brain area.
That's what emails are producing in me at the minute - not joy!

The solution (I like to be solution focused wherever possible)? I'm fresh out of ideas.

Maybe you've cracked it. Email me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The world can change in a second (Robbie Williams)

This guest post comes from one of my students. My thanks to Hannah for allowing me to share this with the blogosphere:

We are all so busy faking it that no one is stopping to enjoy the experience

Our generation is the first to be so completely immersed and exposed to social-media.  Going out to dinner with friends is now a difficult task due to the fact I have to fight with a cellphone for their attention. I challenge people to go out and look around a café, a place once used for family bonding and friends gossiping. It is now a haven for young girls to take photos of their food to post on Instagram; friends next to them ignored while they message to people on Facebook that would be ignored too if placed in the same room. As young people it is no longer about having fun. It’s about putting all our time and energy into making it seem like we’re having fun to everyone else who are of course, glued to social-media doing the exact same thing.

Social-media has been defined as the many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort, or build relationships. Build relationships? I can’t think of a more opposite way to describe how we are using social-media as a generation. Our brains are full of things we don’t need to know. Is it really important that I’m aware that my auntie’s husband’s distant cousin is getting married? I don’t think so, but this is what I’d probably learn if I were browsing a Facebook newsfeed. Facebook and other similar sites are fountains of knowledge about the lives of people that we are likely to have met only once.

We let strangers know where we are for dinner, the names of all our close friends and family, our school and where we live. They have access to all this pointless information that they would only really want to know if they planned on stalking us.  So why is it that so many girls my age want to post their personal details and portraits online. Well it all comes down to this – attention. As young people we are all stuck with the idea that (sorry to be cliché) the world revolves around us. As much as we would love this to be true it’s not, but having a couple of hundred people you don’t know on a social-media site complimenting every one of your pictures sure makes us feel like it is. Teenagers crave attention. Whether we are obvious about it or not, we are in an awkward stage where all we want is to be reassured that our flaws mean nothing and that we are truly wonderful human beings. Social-media can help us with that.

Although people may see this is a positive, I totally disagree. Yes there is the girl who gets constantly told she is beautiful and perfect but when she falls in love she will probably be ditched as she is always searching for attention and if she doesn’t get it she’s irrationally insecure. Or the boy who gets bullied at school and is sent abusive messages daily that eventually lead him to think that he is worth so little that he kills himself. Either way it’s not helping anyone.

When we do not have our posts acknowledged in a positive way by those who we consider friends it can lead to feelings of inadequacy. We start to doubt that friendship in a way we never would if not for social-media. If say someone was having a conversation with a friend over Facebook and one said something unintentionally offensive to the other, there is no time to think before acting. In an angry and upset immediate response something could be said that would cause a massive argument between friends just because one message got misinterpreted.

Often our immediate reaction to something negative that has been said to us is far more irrational and dramatic then it is when we have calmed down and thought things through. That is exactly where instant messenger apps go wrong. Not to mention the fact that it is far easier to admit personal feelings or say something hurtful to someone via keyboard than it is face to face. I believe this is a huge downfall for our generation. The conversations that are most private and personal are the exact conversations we should have while talking not texting, messaging or using any other form of social-media. Otherwise how are we supposed to communicate properly, in friendships, family, romance or in a work place? We need to be capable of sharing our honest and unguarded selves in person not over the Internet.

What else does more social-media mean? It means loving ourselves less. While we are so hung up on the opinion of others, how many likes a photo on Instagram got or who commented on our profile picture, we don’t realize that we’re letting our own opinion of ourselves become less significant. When we give power to others who ‘follow’ us on social-media sites we lose strength in ourselves. Teens are often insecure, and this is just fueling the fire. There is no need for social-media at all. My parents got along fine when they were my age and all they had was an exchange of one letter a week between New Zealand and England. They didn’t however have the constant instant gratification that our generation does. In other words – when we want something we want it now. I’m not sure if this attitude came before apps like instant messenger or those apps fueled the whole thing in the first place. Yet, it doesn’t really matter because in my eyes it’s always going to have a negative impact on our generation.

Busying ourselves with taking photos of a place we have barely looked at ourselves so we can show all our ‘friends’ what a great time we’re having is not only ridiculous it’s sad. The biggest issue these social-media sites cause can be summed up in five words – not living in the moment. It may sound cheesy but it saddens me. The fact that we are all so busy faking it that no one is stopping to enjoy the experience. Some things in life should be seen or heard by one person a secret memory that you can store in your mind not on the Internet. After all if the view is that beautiful, the food is that amazing or you’re having the time of your life you wouldn’t be thinking about what caption to put on your Instagram post!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Like a lifeline Ophelia, tell me you're there (Wild Beasts)

Three different sources have converged on me following my post on some iphone rules that an American mom had compiled for her son which went viral. 

1 Some recent Learning To Learn sessions in our Home Rooms have been on digital citizenship. A video called Look Up was suggested to me by a colleague and some girls in my Home Room.

2 According to an article I read, over 350 million selfies are posted to Snapchat A DAY. Yikes!!!

3 I received a great writing folio piece from one of my senior students objecting to the way her friends have embraced social media to the detriment of close personal contact.

I'll check with her to see if she minds me posting it here but in the meantime:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say (Motorhead)

Do you know about the one minute test ? Didn't think so. Warning: good idea ahead!

Before reading that Medium post (loving Medium btw) I was also ignorant of this little gem of a concept. The idea is simple (aren't they always): ask meeting participants to write their responses to these three questions in one minute at the end:
  1. What was the big idea? (What was the most important thing you heard at the meeting?)
  2. What was your big surprise? (What was the thing you saw or heard that surprised you the most?)
  3. What’s your big question? (What’s the biggest unanswered question you have at this time?)
I've adapted this idea for my class room practice. So - for a poem for instance, after a close analysis I asked my students to report back on each of those three questions. 

After a lesson on Unfamiliar Texts - a quick one minute written answer to those three questions.

The end of a meeting is the only time I haven't used it yet - purely because I don't chair any of the meetings I'm involved in. Certainly, though, I can see how it's a powerful strategy.

Do try it!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is this a game you're playing? (Judie Tzuke)

10 Must-Know Career Skills, actually to quote the magazine headline properly =10 MUST-KNOW CAREER SKILLS.

Before getting a recent hair cut (Urban Attitude Hastings - Cheryl is an ace cutter!), I spied this attention grabber on an old cover of M2 - a New Zealand magazine for men.

Apparently it's been going for ten years but this is the first time I've come across it - not usually my scene jelly bean!

In the old days I'd have ripped the page out of the magazine, these days even a hair cut place has a photocopier. Cheryl's mum did the business for me. Thanks Glenys.

So - here they are, the 10 must-know career skills.

  1. Constantly adapt to technology
  2. Embrace diversity
  3. Be a life-long learner
  4. Practice impeccable integrity
  5. Be a self-starter
  6. Demonstrate personal discipline
  7. Prioritise and evaluate daily
  8. Be adaptable
  9. Think creatively and innovatively
  10. Have the 'can-do' attitude.

I like this list. I like that integrity is in there, and being adaptable is there a few times. Two things that are very important to me. I like that creativity is valued and life long learning. 

My first thought on reading these ten was how my students should know about them from the get go, but it's impossible not to read a list like this and apply it to yourself as well. I ticked boxes (hey - gotta back yourself). 

How did you do?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I have to sing about the book I read (Talking Heads)

Read this (it's rill cool)!

It's extremely well written, very funny, and very relevant. Go on - you won't regret it. 

The basic idea is that our brains are becoming/have become rewired by the demands of email and social media and addicted to the dopamine rush that accompanies our new emails/Txts so that we are becoming/have become less inclined to read books (and read tortured sentences like that last one).

We want the next hit from our phone or email. Our attention sp...sorry - just had to answer an email...where was I?

I'm sure the irony of signing up for an email newsletter at the end of the article is deliberate!

Currently I'm reading Murakami's 1Q84. It's a beast - three books collected into one volume. I love his stuff. This one is as surreal as he gets. Nothing is what it seems. It's freaky and reminding me of Brunel's film about dreams.

Try this sentence: The scene outside the window suggested that the world had settled in a place somewhere between "being miserable" and "lacking in joy", and consisted of an infinite agglomeration of variously shaped organisms.


Anyway - blogging about this and reading that article (go on - READ IT!!) has made me want to go and, um, read some more. So, see ya!

Why don't you go do the same?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lifted up to new horizons (Lighthouse Family)

Just read this about blogging (thanks Toni for the link):

Blogging gives us the opportunity to share the truth, our truth—to expose the intricacies of our days with students, the joy we share, the care we give, and the love we spread all come to life when we allow our words to flow from our souls for the world to read. We connect with others, forming networks built on passion for education and a commitment to what is right for students and teachers. And most importantly, we learn more about ourselves.
Writing forces us to stare deeply into a mirror, oftentimes one that is looking back with bias, and explore our truth. The power in writing comes not from the product but the process; writing assists us in learning things about ourselves we didn’t know. In short, it helps us uncover, dissect, and learn the truth...our truth.

I quite agree! I'm a happy blogger, that's fer sure.

Here's some of my truth: teaching makes me happy, keeps me laughing. I sometimes feel a little guilty about how much fun I'm having. I find our staff room a mostly joyous place - loads of laughs, good natured banter, self deprecating humour. My class room is the same - fun times!

It's winter sports code time at school - I have a Year 13 football team this year. I can't recall the last time I laughed/smiled so much while refereeing a football game as I did last Wednesday afternoon. We played a local team and every girl (on both sides) was smiling, laughing, supporting, teasing, cheering each other on. Wonderful!

What a great thing to be able to say - I love my life!