Where to target?

Large organizations, by nature, have a wide range of members in them.  All organizations that pay people for their knowledge and skills, invariably have a range of skills and aptitudes, even among the people who do the same job.  A lumber mill has millwrights that all technically do the same job. However, I am not passing along a great pearl of wisdom to say, that in most mills, the skills of each millwright are not precisely the same.  Some are better at other elements of their jobs…some just better period.

Education is of course, the same.  I often meet with my principal colleagues and marvel at some of the ideas and aptitudes they have that I do not.  Hopefully, somewhere along the way, the same has happened to someone when I had something epic to share….or maybe that time still has to come yet, I am not sure.

Regardless, this fact then makes it necessary for all organizations to make attempts to help their employees grow and learn in their craft.  Furthermore, if one is in an organization that by its nature, is more dynamic than others (software engineering for example), the very future of the organization lies in its employees continuing to grow.  However, I would suspect, even in a dynamic organization like a software engineering firm, there are still variances in employees as to their ability to adapt, and perhaps more importantly, their willingness to do so.  In the private sector, the willingness to change may be easier to deal with, in terms of how employment is structured, but in the public sector, or in more heavily unionized private sectors, that is not necessarily the case.  If a software engineer appears unlikely to adopt change, or does not agree with the direction of the change, a parting of ways at the end of his or her contract likely solves the immediate problem.

In a sector though, that is structured more along the lines of more permanent employment, barring major issues, the situation is different.  Organizations like these may find themselves in a position where they have a staff with varying degrees of willingness or ability to evolve in a certain way.  Both situations, the willingness and ability could  theoretically be affected by strong PD, training or whatever you want to call it.  However, as is also the case, the resources for such training are never infinite, and neither is the time required.  So organizations have to make a choice.  Does an organization focus on those who are willing and ready to move on and learn and change, or does it focus instead on those it needs to bring along further?  Does it do something in the middle?

Going back to the Lumbermill again, I will use technology as the example.  As mills introduce more and more computerized technology into their operations, they will invariably have some millwrights who jump all over the opportunity and learn and accept the new skills.  Others will be mildly interested, and others still who will want to stay with their tried and true ways.  What does the mill do?  Do they focus on the last group, and move them along, expending resources to get this group at least to the middle of the pack?  Or do they focus on the first group, and get them even further along?  In their case, this is about profit and success in a brutally difficult industry.  Do they focus their money on the group who are already moving in the direction the mill wants, and hope that the others will sort of be “dragged along”?  Or do they focus on the last group, the most resistant to change, and hope that the first group, will continue on their own path, interested in their own learning?  I find it an interesting conundrum.  Personally, I think as we move forward in our brave new world, it is a question that has to be answered by each organization facing it.

As a personal reflection, I will think of my father.  As a small business man he needed to keep up with technology to some degree.  I can remember when he purchased, probably in the early 80’s, the latest and greatest cash registers for his business.  For the life of him, he had a challenge operating them.  He was a pharmacist, had university degree and ran a successful business for 45 years, so he was presumably intelligent.  However, I can remember my then 18 year old sister, losing her patience with him.  He would press the wrong button, something would beep and he would proceed to press every button available to him, causing even more difficulty.  My sister would have to bail him out….and it happened more than once….more than twice.  However, he had no problem navigating the technology of his new Canon camera…..So, was it just that he could not handle the technology of the cash register, or that he was far more focused with the camera, due to a personal enjoyment of photography?  I think I know the answer.  How then, does this translate to the problem I posed above?  We cannot make a person want to be interested in something.  Personally, mechanics holds zero interest for me.  If I wanted to fix my own vehicle, I would need to learn, but there is no passion.  What if the mill has a millwright who is intelligent and capable, but simply does not possess the interest and desire to change in a particular way?  What then?

So, what do we do as organizations?  Do we put our resources into those who may be further away from the goal, at the expense of those who want to move?  Or do we put them into the movers and risk leaving others behind?  Is there a middle ground somewhere?  I really do not know, but as I personally navigate the working world for another 6 years or so, I am anxious to see where it goes, and to hopefully have some small part in finding the answer…..thanks for reading!  Comments please!

Will it be different this time?

Humankind has advanced itself in many ways in 10 000 years.  One of the most noticeable advancements is of course Technology.  I mean technology in the broadest sense of the word.  When my grandmother was born in rural Ukraine in 1905, there were not too many planes flying around.  Yet, by the time she passed away in the early 90’s, of course we as a race had been into space and back, successfully.

If one looks in a broad sense, at all the technology we have developed over the years, there is one undeniable pattern to it all.  As a society, as a globe,  as a race, we as humans, have more often than not, allowed ourselves to succumb to the use of technology not so much to improve ourselves, but simply for other purposes.

To illustrate, I will focus on radio to some bit, television, and the online world.  With the advent of radio, the world was brought closer together.  Radio, probably has been affected the least in all of this.  However a medium, that could immediately, and fairly cheaply once they were mass produced, bring not only news and entertainment to the masses, was and is used primarily for entertainment.  Enter television, radio with videos.  A huge potential as a teaching tool.  However, in today’s world, how many programs on television are actually educational?  TVO and PBS constantly raise money to keep some decent programming on.  However the majority of people are more interested in the entertainment value of television.  For me personally, I tend to not find much in the way of TV entertainment to even be entertaining, but that is me.  I am actually quite saddened with the state of so called “educational television”, such as programs on History, that are anything but.  However, I digress, as usual.

So, enter the online world, in roughly 1997 or so, for most consumers.  Once again, a great potential, and unlike television and radio, not only mass produced.  For a few bucks and some programming skills, anyone could have a website….perhaps not professional, but a website nonetheless.  Fast forward to today, and when you add mobile to the equation, we now have a world where there are literally 6 billion people with something to share.  Will Richardson put it as, and I paraphrase, “there are 6 billion teachers out there”.  And Will is right.  Anything one wants to know how to do, one can find a pretty reliable lesson somewhere on the internet.  The potential is massive.  This is truly world changing, or more correctly, could be world changing.  The question of the day is, will we finally learn from our mistakes and ensure, as a society it is world changing?  The internet is saturated and full of everything from uselessness to the bizarre to the horribly degenerate.  However, there is so much that does not fit into that category.

As an education system, are we going to leverage that and teach our kids to learn from those 6 billion teachers out there, where appropriate, or are we going to miss this opportunity too?

Only time will tell.  I hope for my own kids, the answer is yes, because they will have a better world to live in.

David

Where do we go from here?

On Friday, staff at the Algoma District School board spent some time listening to Will Richardson speak about the state of education in our world.  Part comedian and part philosopher, Will presented the idea that our school system is not well suited to the 21st century learner.  I will not summarize his thoughts anymore than that, but I urge people who want more, or who want to view a different idea, to check him out…www.willrichardson.com.

I took many points from Will’s talk on Friday, (I tweeted a few as I was watching, if you check out my twitter feed @davidjaremy) but I will write about two of them today.   The first one, is that with the connected world, learners can learn almost anything, on their own, especially if it is content based.  The second was that as our kids get older, they get less interested in school, and it primarily because we do not teach them the things they are interested in.

So, in thinking about this problem, one naturally arrives at curriculum.  If what Will says is true, then we need to change.  How do we change, though, when we have mandated curriculum, including compulsory courses?  As well, I suspect the Ministry of Education is not doing away with prescribed curriculum tomorrow.  So, we have a problem.

In perusing Ontario Curriculum, one can come across something called “interdisciplinary studies”, which as the name suggest, allows a school to provide a credit that draws from many different curricula.  Could this be the vehicle through which secondary schools actually try to change our system to one that meets the needs of 21st century learners?

Could a teacher, walk into a class of senior level students in high school, and write on the board, the first day:  “Welcome to “ZZZ4M”.  What do you want to learn?”, and then go from there?  How would our students, who are at times difficult to motivate, react to that? Furthermore, they would be told shortly after reading that first statement, that they better get used to working, because they are going to be the hardest workers in the class, not the teacher.    Once they were over the initial surprise of not being able to ask the question “what is this course about anyway?”, I think they would go forward with excitement.  It would be a transition for sure.

The teacher would need to be progressive.  The teacher would need to be a person who also wants to learn.  The teacher would have to take risks.  I believe those teachers are out there.  I also believe our kids want this.  I also believe our kids can come out of high schools better prepared for the world they are inheriting from us.  I also fear that the university environment may prove difficult, considering the way in which those institutions apparently operate, however I think that is a small issue.  We always worry about kids in high school and are they prepared for university, or post secondary.  How can a kid be prepared for a science program, if they can learn whatever they want?  Good question, but I suspect any kid who wants to take a science program in university, wants to for a specific reason, and as a result, will want to learn what they need to learn.  Grade 12 physics program co-designed by the learners would probably resemble the one that exists now, but maybe just the fact that the learners are part of the process, makes it even better.  Even in turning to my background and passion, history, any student who wants to study history at university, will know that they need to know certain things. However, YouTube and iTunesU and podcasts can teach them an awful lot of that knowledge without you and I as teachers.  For example, on iTunesU, one can listen to world renowned first year lectures from leading universities.  One of my favourites, is John Merriman from Yale (http://history.yale.edu/people/john-merriman).  I have listened to a few of his lecture series and enjoyed them immensely, and learned a great deal.  As well, in the spirit of learning in the 21st century, I contacted him via email, and thankfully he did not think I was some crazy person, and we carried on a few conversations.  He even invited me to have a glass of wine sometime in Paris, if we are ever there at the same time.  Without iTunesU, this would have been difficult to make happen.

However, I ramble.  Focus was lost a bit, I fear!  Back to our schools.  I think we have kids and teachers who want to and can do what I suggested above.  With such a rapidly changing world and set of conditions for our youth to navigate, can we really afford to proceed slowly and approach change in little bits?  I afraid I do not think we have the luxury, if we want our kids to really learn, and to be engaged learners for the rest of their lives.

 

2016

Well everyone, here we go with a new calendar year.  I believe it is close to a year since I last blogged.  Just needed time away.  As Pink Floyd so eloquently said:  “Thought I’d something more to say”, and I felt it was all drying up a bit.

Much has transpired in the year.  It was a great year in many ways and in some not so good.  I travelled abroad twice in 2015!  Once with students on a trip to Italy, Southern France and Paris.  Oh, Paris.   A bit more on that later…  What a trip.  I know that a few of my travelers will become travelers themselves.  That is what it is all about for me.  Showing kids that there is more to the world, than what we personally have in our own lives.  Paris.  We were there a few scant months after Charlie Hebdo.  We twice were delayed in the Metro due to various issues.  An eye opener.  Little did we know, Charlie Hebdo would become a footnote to Paris in late 2015.  More on that a bit later, as well.

I also travelled personally, with my wife and kids, to England and France.  I visited London, Winchester, Cambridge, Ely, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Wellyn Garden City.  A combination of family and personal interests. Several bucket list items ticked off, several more created!  I also visited France, again, only this time to visit the families who hosted our two teens when they did their exchanges in France.  One family in Orleans, in the Loire Valley, the playground of the French monarchy, long before Robospierre and his ilk put that concept to bed once and for all, in France at least.  The Russians took a few more generations to accomplish the same task.  From Orleans, I travelled to the south-west of France, the old territory of Languedoc, the land of Cathars and the Catalan, cross-border movement that is as Spanish as it is French.  A brilliant part of the world, an interesting area, one that has to be visited again and again.

Whilst on my travels, I was re-acquainted with people I had met briefly before, and met many other great French citizens, establishing life-long relationships that will only continue to grow.  I now know people in Western France (Brittany), Paris and Orleans, the middle of France (near the infamous Vichy capital), as well as the south, from Toulouse.  All very interesting, yet different people within the same culture.

We learned a different way of life, especially on the shores of the Mediterranean, but in France in general.  Just a different way to look at the world.  More relaxed, more interested in the moment and each other, than the world we have created for ourselves in North America.  Despite the fact that I still have strong ties to Eastern Europe and Slavic culture, I have to admit, I fell in love with life in Western Europe.  Yes, I know, I was on holiday and it is different, but there are some ways of life that they take for granted, that we need to learn from.  The first is their approach to health and fitness.  We in North America, have dropped the ball on this one big time, myself especially!  We do not move enough.  French people eat great food and drink fantastic wine, , but less of it.  Not less often, perhaps more often, but less volume.  Oh,  and they move more.  However, this is more of an issue for me personally, not really the gist of what I am getting to in this message, although the food is part of it.

In distilling this down to something related to education, instead of just recounting my trips abroad, to the boredom of probably every reader, I feel there is a lesson for how we approach life, and how and what we teach our kids.

As I said earlier, Charlie Hebdo, followed by the Paris attacks, certainly shook the core of Western Europe.  It was awful.  I realize there are socio-economic factors that can be pointed to.  I also realize that France has not done a great job integrating immigrants/refugees, and this can be seen in the next generation.  However, it was still horrific.  The lesson I want to point to though, is the reaction of the French people I knew.  Yes, there was fear, yes there was certainly anger and frustration, but there was also a very strong belief in not letting the horror and terrorism stop the French from what they believe in.  The very fabric of French culture was under attack, and while the short term goal of the attackers was to kill and maim, the long term goal is to destabilize this culture and encourage people to shun it and live a different way.  To a person, once a few days had gone by, everyone I knew, was mourning the deaths, but defiantly expressing their desire to continue to live their lives their way, and not to be deterred in pursuit of their own happiness.

One of the most iconic photos I saw, expressing this belief, was a simple photo of a glass of red wine, some bread, cheese and dried sausage.  I do not remember the precise quote, it does not matter. What it was expressing was the French were going to continue to live their lives the way they want to.  They are committed to their culture and will defend it.  It is a passion that is well developed in their culture.  The reasons for this passion are complex, involve hundreds of years of history and cannot be compared to a relatively young culture like Canada, however there are lessons in it.  Of course, as a bit of a side note, connected to an earlier point, the amount of wine, meat, cheese and bread was far less than one would expect on a North American table, but that is a topic to be explored at a later time.

So, for the connection to education today, and for the year of 2016, I ask myself:  “Are we teaching our students, and our children, for those of us who are parents, to be passionate about important things in life? ”  What are we teaching them to be passionate about?  Are we teaching passion?  Are we teaching a love of our way of life, and how to preserve it?  Are we highlighting the dangers of extremism, regardless of the variety?  Extremism does not only come in the religious form, it comes in many different guises.  Are we leaving our kids with a passion to live a good life, to live a life that we enjoy, but one that has to be respected and never taken for granted?  Or are we joining them in the pursuit of learning what colour of dress a Kardashian wore?  Western Europeans are all about fashion too, even more so than most North Americans, but somehow, it is the fashion itself they are interested in more than not, not the celebrity wearing it.  I am not sure this last point makes sense, but that is what blogging is about!

I am not so sure we are teaching passion for our lifestyle, our freedoms, for our culture, or for parts of it worth saving, at least not all the time.  Perhaps this is something we have to consider, as we weave our way through 2016 and navigate who knows what in our volatile world.  I believe it is our job in our school system to start asking these questions of ourselves.  If and when our culture is under attack from extremism, what image will represent our culture and our commitment to passionately protect it?  Hopefully we have an answer when the time comes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The intentional blurring of professional and personal lines

No, you are not going to read about me in the Blue Pages….I am returning to blogging after a bit of a break, but this time, I am using my blog, which has been primarily professional in nature (although, I guess one could argue that most of my professional thoughts, come from personal goals, thoughts, ideas and philosophy) for a more personal use.

Tomorrow, I am embarking upon a lifestyle change.  It is an experiment.  There will be no grand announcements about an entirely new way of living, nor will I openly push my theories to anyone.  Much like my thoughts on religion and spirituality, I have come to a state in my life, where I believe what I believe and honestly have no interest in becoming a missionary for my beliefs.  Even if I am successful in my latest attempt to change something in my life, unless I am asked by people to talk about my experiences, I have no interest in pushing any agenda.  It is just where I am now.  Of course, if anyone asks me about why I believe it is vitally important to encourage kids to travel outside of their community/province/country/continent, as a life experience, make a pot of coffee, you will be here a while….

Anyway, as usual, what could be a few sentences is now a paragraph.  I should have been a writer, when people got paid by word…..oh, wait, blogging does not pay!  So, what I am saying, is, I am planning to use this blog as a way to keep myself motivated, and to record progress, or digression, in how I succeed.

I have struggled with a very particular problem for most of my adult life.  For those of you who read this blog, who have actually seen me, it is probably very obvious.  If there are any of you who read this blog who I have not met, I will just clarify, and even for those of you who know me, this is not a struggle with alcoholism, or drug dependency, and while I certainly enjoy a drink (whiskey is the nectar of the g…, oh wait, it is just really, really good stuff) this is not about an addiction to a narcotic, a depressant or a stimulant, This is about a lifestyle change.  I have very specific goals I want to accomplish, goals that I have failed at achieving before, through other methods.  This is simply another shot at it.

In my professional life, for many years, I have had the opinion that progress is always important, and that when we cannot find success by using certain strategies, we must change.  The old adage, of “if you keep doing what you have always done, you will always get what you always got” (or however it is usually expressed..) has been something I have promoted, with mixed results, for years.  However, it is time to now apply that maxim to myself personally.

So, I am embarking upon a change.  The first three to four weeks, will be somewhat radical, but I feel ready.  After that, we will see how it progresses and we will see if things change.  I am not terribly optimistic, because of multiple failures in the past, but….as I said, perhaps a drastic change is necessary.

Stay tuned….or tune out, which ever makes the most sense to you personally!

David

Self-confidence

A short one today….really.  It is.  My wife and daughter and I were baking last night.  I do not like baking, but I persevered for the better good.  I am not a sweet eater, so perhaps that is why I do not like baking.  I have many vices, sweets is thankfully not one of them.

So, as we are baking away, and listening to the Toronto Maple Leafs crush Anaheim, we are chatting, and invariably we begin talking about school sports, as I coach volleyball and my daughter plays in all sports in school.  We are talking about another student who has begun to excel in jumping.  Always a tall person, this particular athlete has found themselves physically and has developed coordination to take advantage of a natural height advantage.

However, the conversation was about how this student, despite having a height advantage, did not always want to jump in sports.  I commented that I felt this was about confidence and comfort. This young person was always taller than classmates, since the early days, and was obviously somewhat self-conscious about it.  As the athlete matures, they lose those issues and begin to realize the physical gifts they have.

My comment was something along the lines of:  Well, ___________ used to be self-conscious about the height and did not have the confidence to take advantage of it……” or something like that, and my wife says to me:  “Let’s face it.  Most problems we all have in terms of learning, competing or just doing things stem from self-confidence.”.

My wife is not a teacher, but is university educated.  Perhaps she has managed to put succinctly what some of us have spent 23 years trying to battle.

So, I ask two questions, and offer absolutely on answers.

1.  How many of our issues in school stem from a lack of self-confidence?  Not just learning.  Behaving, social issues, attendance, and others?

2.  What do we do about it?  If the answer to question number one is “many”, then whatever we have been doing has not been working.

My role in the baking last night was to use this neat little wooden tool, that when pressed down on a ball of dough, in a mini-muffin tray, produces a mini tart shell that can then be baked, then filled with some sort of sickly sweet mixture.  In the initial stages, it was not working well.  The tool was sticking.  The shells were cracking.  So, we experimented and figured it out.

How many of our student shells are continuing to “stick” and “crack”.  Are we doing anything differently to address this?

Wow, under 500 words.  Whatcha think, @bgrasley?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

It never changes, does it?

I “start” reading too many books.  I don’t finish enough of them.  My last post focused on my early reading of The Digital Principal.  I am afraid, I have not read much more.  Too many other demands on my time, too many other things to do, especially at this time of year.  The too many things included a trip to Sault Ste. Marie for a principals’ meeting, (not that I minded, I love getting together with my colleagues, talking shop and hockey and other things…) at which I was given two new books to peruse, “A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools” and “Quality Assessment in High Schools, Accounts by Teachers”.  The former, edited by Anne Davies, Sandra Herbst and Katy Busick, with a foreward by Rick Stiggins, the latter written by Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies.  I am familiar with Anne Davies’ work and I am familiar with the name Sandra Herbst, but do not know much about her work.

In “Quality Assessment in High Schools”, the foreward paints a fairly critical canvass of assessment practices in schools, and their ultimate role in creating and perpetrating the hierarchy or our post-industrial world.  While I am not interested, right now, in this space, debating the merits of the arguments, there is no doubt there is a great deal of reality in what he says.  It reminded me of some of my own experiences as a student, many, many years ago.  Practices like handing tests back in reverse order of achievement.  Yes, that really inspired me to do better, didn’t it?

While I realize, or at least hope, that such practices have long been relegated to the proverbial dump heap of ineffective pedagogy, I still think a lot about assessment, grading and its ultimate purpose and consequences for so many students.  I have two children, both of who do very well in school.  Both are undoubtedly intelligent, hard working and have heard ad nauseum from their entire families, how important education is.  So, they figured out early, that colouring inside the lines gets you an A…However, I have seen many a student who either cannot, or more likely will not colour in the lines, but is still a pretty smart kid.  However, more often than not, we know where that kid goes, and it usually is not to the front of the “line up for your academic award queue”.

Wow, 402 words already.  I just cannot make these things succinct, can I?  I suppose writing at 10:47 on a Monday night does not help either, but as my francophone friends say, “c’est la vie”!  So, to get to the point, here is what I was thinking.  I was thinking about how I felt in school over the years, or even in my professional life, if I felt dumb, or incapable, or not trained or skilled well enough to succeed.  If it was in school, I found a way to avoid.  Once math classes were done, no more math for David……no body in those days told me about Growth Mindset, they just advised me to stay out of math.  In my job, I do not sign up for committees that contain stuff I find hard….avoid yet again, much easier to be involved in something I can do better in, and not have to work as hard in, right?  And more importantly, not have to appear dumb to anyone.

That is how many of our kids feel, in many different situations.  Kids who cannot read well feel that way in English class, kids who are not yet as skilled as their friends feel that way in math and science.  So, we let our kids stream themselves, and some of them become teachers.  Teacher of English, if they were not great at math, teachers of math, if they were not great at English.  Yes, this is simplified.  As well,  I must say, I have come across in the years many teachers of math who are excellent and insightful writers, artists, musicians and athletes, as well as the reverse.  I think they have stumbled upon Growth Mindset, but that is for another day.  There are teachers, who excelled in the arts, or English, or other social sciences, who steered completely away from math and science. As a result, they are working in an environment where they are comfortable.  They feel quite fine with their subject matter and at times, this comfort and command of their subject and its requisite skills, causes them to lose sight of those who are not so comfortable, in particular, students.  Have they then lost their empathy and understanding of the struggles some students are going through?  (This also happens in reverse, with math and science teachers).  Do their grading and assessment practices encourage students to experiment, to fail, to learn over time, or do they drive them into doing the bare minimum and running away, just as the teacher themselves may have done from their own “anti-subject” matter?

So, I wonder, what if we could somehow change that?  What if an English or History or Geography, or Sociology teacher had to be forced into learning and being tested in mathematics or physics or organic chemistry?  What if a math teacher, who excels at creating confusing multiple-choice math questions, instead had to face the embarrassment of a piece of writing that was not well received by its grader?

Now, before I finish, I must state some personal philosophy.  I abhor the thoughts above.  I do not believe for a minute that any of that sort of motivation works.  It is clearly punitive and mean spirited.  I hated it as a student.  I went to school in the days when “teach the best, forget the rest” was a common theme.  While not one of the “best” I could hold my own in certain areas and scrape by in others.  I was so unmotivated by ranking and comparing to others.  I was so unmotivated by shame and embarrassment.  However, I still see vestiges of this behaviour, or perhaps more like vestiges of these theories.  So, I just wonder, if we could at times have teachers see how some kids feel, and how it affects their willingness to take risks, learn and progress, then maybe we would find more students succeeding.

Now, in closing, it is no longer 10:47.  It is now 11:32 and I do not go to be late on weekdays, but today I am.  I will copy and paste tomorrow, but I am not editing and am not rereading….just going to copy and paste and post…..I know my thoughts are not as succinct and coherent as they could be, but somehow, that fits with what I am saying, or at least I think it does.  Hope you enjoyed!  If I am not back on my little cyber soapbox before December 19th, I wish all my educational friends out there a great break.  I do not know about you, but personally I need it and am looking forward to it!  Have a great holiday season!  Perhaps I will actually finish some books over the holidays and write a more cohesive and complete reflection, but if I can write over 1000 words after reading a few pages of a foreword, I shudder to think of the verbosity that will come from reading an entire book.

David