The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Month: May 2011 (page 3 of 3)

Seth Godin asks What’s high school for?

Seth Godin says:

Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:

  • How to focus intently on a problem until it’s solved.
  • The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
  • How to read critically.
  • The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
  • An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
  • How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
  • Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
  • Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
  • An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
  • Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving.

Personally, I think Seth Godin is right on the money with this post. Note that really none of these can be very easily assessed using a standardized exam, except possibly the understanding of finance, and that might be better demonstrated by running a business.

I’m going to add a couple of my own ideas to his list.

  • Develop an appreciation for nature.
  • Learn what a healthy and balanced life style looks like.
  • Learn about different perspectives, points of view, and the power of words to convey meaning of those perspectives.




Dear 16 year old me

Here is an absolutely amazing video shared by Karl Fisch. Please share it with your students.


Idea: Have your grade 11 and grade 12 students create their own public service video for their 10 or 12 or 14 year old selves. 

How do you see yourself?

Venn diagram - geek, nerd, dork

(image credit: dullhunk)

One of the purposes of school, in my opinion, is for students to find themselves, and discover other people who think similarly to them, and have similar interests. It is also equally important that kids discover that the world contains a wide range of opinions and diversity. Understanding these opinions, and why people have such different opinions is a critical component of an educated person.

Note, that I’m not in favour of students applying labels to themselves, and to other people. Labels, despite the usefulness of the diagram above, are limiting the discourse about what it means to be human to a small range of possible answers, when in reality, we are all different.

Peer observation vs teacher evaluation

The basic model for teacher improvement has three assumptions.

  1. We should train teachers effectively before they start their careers. If the current round of teachers has problems, we try and address those problems in the future generation of teachers by modifying the pre-service training they receive.
  2. Teachers need to be observed regularly by trained professions to ensure they are using best practices.
  3. Professional development is an occasional activity in which teachers engage wherein they learn all about the latest best practices in education.

None of these assumptions is actually completely true, nor are they sufficient to improve our education system.

The problem with the first assumption is that the feedback system for improving teacher education of pre-service teachers is incredibly slow. So slow in fact, that despite the current revolution in our information technology, virtually none of these changes has made its way into mainstream teacher education. Only 5 out of 9 teacher education programs in BC even include any kind of technology training for teachers. While we can argue that technology is not necessary for teaching, at the very least the arguments both for and against the use of technology in education should be shared with pre-service teachers. There are other areas in which teacher education programs suffer, technology education is just one example. We can therefore expect this model of improving the practice of teachers to be insufficient.

The problem with the second assumption is that observation of practice doesn’t actually lead to improvement. One can argue that the process of evaluation is intended to measure the current effectiveness of a teacher so as to better support their future learning of their craft, but rarely is enough time allotted for teachers to actually improve what they do. We apportion professional learning into meetings or workshops held a few times a year, but very rarely is any time given to teachers to focus on improving their practices in their area of need.

The reasons why professional development is an occasional task is primarily because of the expense involved. It is expense to release teachers from a day off of teaching to go to a workshop, both because of the lost instructional time, the cost of a substitute teacher, and the costs associated with the conference itself. In British Columbia, we have 5 professional development days for teachers in the public system. In the private system, teachers often have only 2 days for professional development as a group, but have much more funding for engaging in more personalized professional development through attending conferences and workshops.

However, both of these systems for professional development assume that access the information teachers need to improve is expensive and difficult to find. For those of us involved in professional learning through Twitter, we know that this isn’t true. You can easily learn from your peers around the world any time you want, provided you have access to a social network, and time to access it.

This doesn’t mean that the professional learning that is already occuring in British Columbia is pointless, it certainly serves as a way to establish norms for our education system, and for those in charge to share their perspectives on what works in education. However it is insufficient as a way to ensure continuing teacher improvement.

Here is a simple change. Instead of an administrator infrequently evaluating teachers, teachers should observe teachers (and more importantly the whole classroom) frequently. In this case, both the observee and the observed learn from the experience, provided they have time to deconstruct it afterwards. If you do this often enough, teachers will naturally improve their practice as they will have much more feedback about what is working or not working as compared to a system where they receive occasional evaluations. I have done this myself as a teacher, and have watched hundreds of my colleagues teach, which has definitely improved my own teaching. We must be careful not to tie peer observations to an evaluation system, lest we end up creating a peer surveillance system!

Clearly novice teachers will benefit from this model. You can see my post on the apprenticeship model of teaching, for another model of pre-service training. However if veteran teachers observe beginning teachers (and offer support) they will also learn about new practices in education themselves that were part of the beginning teacher’s pre-service training. An experienced educator should be able to take a new educational practice, even one wielded by a novice, and implement it effectively in their own teaching.

The only issue I see with this system is teachers would need time to participate in peer observations. I would argue that the benefits of allowing teachers the time to observe each other every couple of weeks would outweigh the lost instructional time. There is much educational waste that occurs wherein teachers use practices to teach students which are clearly ineffective to an outside observer; sometimes even a small improvement in what teachers do would make a large improvement on the effectiveness of the remaining instructional time.

I would argue then that peer observation is far more powerful a tool than administrator observations. While observations from administrators, as experienced educators, are an important tool in improving teaching practicing and for aligning those teaching practices with the expectations of the school, they are not enough to accomplish a primary goal of teacher observation, improving instruction.

Social media for parents

Reprinted with permission from our school’s Imprint magazine.

On May 2nd, at 6:00 PM, Stratford Hall will be hosting a social media bootcamp for parents, with myself leading the workshop. The intention of the night is to teach parents some of the basic issues with social media, and how parents can be proactive in helping their children understand these issues.

Social media has been around for a few years now, but very few schools have been proactive in teaching students about the issues involved with it; the same is true of most parents. Given that social media is not likely to leave our lives any time soon, we must find ways to adapt our societal structures to include training for kids (and adults) in what issues social media bring into our lives.

Social media is a new way that human beings are connected through a mixture of online- and text messaging-based services. It has become a new mode of communication as it allows mass communication at unprecedented levels. Never before in history have human beings been able to communicate with each other on such scale, with such speed, and with virtually no cost associated with that communication.

This form of mass communication has some issues.

It is almost too easy to post information to these social networks, including information that is false or libelous. It is very common to hear in the news that someone has posted something foolish on another person’s Facebook page or Twitter feed. It is important to note here that the behaviours of these people haven’t changed, they just have a much wider audience with which to share their idiocy. With a large audience, and a simple venue through which to post their thoughts, they can share information often before they have time to completely consider the consequences of their actions.

Another problem is that social networks have become a distraction for many people. With the ability to maintain constant communication with a large group of followers, some people have fallen prey to narcissism, and a near addiction to using the social media. School-aged children are not only distracted from their work by the people in their immediate presence, but everyone that they can connect to through their devices as well.

On the plus side, social media also has powerful connective abilities. Through social media, everyone can find the part of society to which they belong, and those who were once isolated can have a community. The events in Tunisia and Egypt have shown just how powerful the community-building effect of social media can be, as the tool helped to rally and form a cohesive opposition to the ruling powers in those two countries.

Through my own social network, I have access to information which would otherwise be difficult, time-consuming, and in some cases even expensive to access. I can ask a question, and very quickly receive a response, no matter how complicated the question may be. I can interact with educators all over the world and share my expertise, while borrowing others’ expertise to solve my own problems.

So social media is a double-edged sword, just like every other communication tool we use. It has the power to pull together our planet closer than ever before, but it also brings new problems to our society, with which we are still learning how to cope. Stratford Hall’s aim is to prepare our students for a world in which social media exists, rather than completely ignoring its presence.

Here is the presentation I’m going to share with parents (posted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share-alike license).