The Threshold Challenge for Teachers in 2016

 

My favourite definition of education is this:

“Education is a conversation between one generation and the next, about what is important” ~ Sir John Jones.

The quote does, however, invite the question – “What is important?”

At a secondary school recently, I asked that very question of staff, who discussed it in small groups, and together we make a list of what they thought was important. Here’s what was listed (in no particular order):

  • Learning how to learn
  • Creativity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience / Willingness to risk failing
  • Teamwork
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Independence
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Tolerance and understanding of others
  • A growth mindset
  • Research skills
  • Digital citizenship
  • Self-awareness / Self-assessment.

What interested me is that nobody mentioned “memorising important historic dates” or “knowing the first 20 elements of the periodic table”.  Nobody even mentioned “learning times tables”. That’s not to say that those things are no longer useful, but that nobody mentioned them, shows me that teachers know, tacitly, that some things, while still useful, are now less valuable, and other things which have always been valuable are now even more so.

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The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which, in our heart of hearts, we know have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.  Do you see what I mean? If we spend all our class time teaching creativity, communication skills and resourcefulness – we are doing them a disservice if they face an exam testing their knowledge recall in a room where communication is banned and resourcefulness is called ‘cheating’.

The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.

We have to do both, not either/or. That is one reason (of many) that the flipped learning model makes so much sense. It allows us to make sure we are covering the knowledge they will need for the exam, while freeing up significant class time for “…what is important”.  Flipped learning is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end – which end is the freedom to teach the things that matter most, in engaging ways, whether or not they are assessed on an exam.  (Until the yoke of exams is lifted off our shoulders).


 

If you are interested in flipping your class, or if you have already done so, but are looking for easier, cooler and more effective tools, workflows and strategies, I’ll be running a workshop in Melbourne on 19th February.  You can find the information about that workshop here.

Or if you would like me to present to your staff on this, or any other topic related to the use of ICT in education, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Why your school needs clearly defined social media policies

pinnacleIt’s not to stop teachers from doing the wrong thing with social media; It’s to give them confidence to use social media well, knowing there is no appearance of impropriety.

If there were no balustrade on the ‘Pinnacle’ lookout in the Grampians, very few people would venture to the edge to take in the arresting view.  The barrier gives hikers confidence to go further than they would otherwise dare, because their safety is assured.  The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

Is it appropriate for a teacher to reply to a student’s electronic message at 9:00 pm? 11:00 pm? I don’t think there is a universal answer to that question, but I do think there should be a school policy about it.  If a student sends a text at 9:45 pm, and the school policy says 10 pm, a teacher can confidently reply, leaning against the balustrade of that policy.

I meet a lot of teachers who are reluctant to use “this website” or “that web 2.0 service” with their students for fear that doing so might make them the star of a story on 7’s Today Tonight (and not in a good way).  That fear can be soothed by creating well publicised, unambiguous and clearly defined policies.

What Teachers Can Learn From Air New Zealand

If you have flown Air New Zealand recently you will be familiar with their latest air safety video. If you haven’t, watch it here.

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Normally while taxiing to the runway, a bored flight attendant stands in the aisle and mimes a robotic demonstration of seatbelt fastening, and life vest inflation. This scheduled interruption to my reading, is only made tolerable because I can amuse myself looking at the faces of fellow passengers. Very few are really watching. Some, out of a sense of obedience/courtesy, are gazing in the general direction of the hostess – but they are not really watching. They are judging her hair style and guessing her age. Many passengers just ignore her and continue reading.  (I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the similarities between this and some classrooms).

Things are quite different on Air New Zealand flights. There, the cabin crew don’t perform the safety mime. Instead, safety information is delivered as preflight entertainment. The safety video is so creative and well made that passengers really want to watch. It’s far, far more effective than the live demonstration perpetrated on passengers by other airlines. Air New Zealand’s most recent safety video features characters from The Hobbit: elves, orcs, dwarves and wizards. Brilliant! It’s safety demontainment. By putting the safety message into a recording, they have presented it in a style that would be impracticable as a live safety demontration. In doing so, they have made it watch-worthy; memorable.

A second, but equally significant advantage is that the actual, human flight attendants are no longer tied up performing a dehumanised, routine act during those precious pre-flight minutes. Instead, they are able to move freely through the cabin, interating with passengers, asking if they are comfortable, and ensuring their seat belts are fitted and their baggage is stowed safely.

A recorded safety message has not degraded the Air New Zealand passenger experience at all. Quite the contrary, by automating the routine components of a traditional air hostess’ role, and freeing her to focus on the rest, the airline has made passengers’ experience at once more fun and more personal.

I think there is much we as teachers can learn from that. If a concept needs to be explained at all (a matter for a furture blog post), and if you find yourself explaining that same concept, in the same way, over and over, year after year. Maybe it’s better to record it once, really well, and thereafter instead, focus your attention and time in class on the things that can’t be automated because they are interpersonal.

Aside: If you live in Victoria, and are interested in attending a workshop on doing exactly that – recording your best explanations in ways that are more effective than if you presented them live in class –  I have several such workshops coming up.  Each has sufficient numbers to run already (Ie. this is not a sales pitch ;-)).   If you’d like to attend, contact me and I will furnish you with the details.