Earlier this week the Hindu Festival of Holi was celebrated around the world. This is a very colourful festival, often celebrated by people covering each other in brightly coloured powders, resulting in some spectacular sights and events, and some of the most easily recognisable photos from any religious celebration!
At one of the campuses I lead, students learned (from some wonderful parents!) about one mythological story linked to the festival, as well as tasting some traditional foods and sweets, creating their own colourful bandanas and, of course, taking part in their own Rangwali Holi, or “Carnival of color”.
One question that I am often asked (not only here in Hong Kong, but in most schools I have taught in) is why we place such an emphasis on celebrating these different cultural festivals. The answer, in my opinion, is deeply embedded in our desire to create students who are engaged with, and empathetic to, the world around them. Not just the narrow, singular world that they may encounter within the confines of their immediate family and social groups – the exciting and diverse global culture that they will, ultimately, be required to engage with in their future lives. To understand and value diversity begins with encountering those different cultural practices in ways which are safe and enjoyable. Celebrations at school are often low-key and focused on learning a little about the things that are special to others. We celebrate and experience (on a minor scale) the things that people around us value. It can help us understand and be more accepting and tolerant of those who are different from us, as well as growing learning and children who are open-minded and knowledgeable about the world around them.
That is a desirable and achievable goal in educating our students to take their place in leading the global community in the future!
I have been involved in digital innovation in schools for a long time now. There are so many exciting ideas and approaches that have developed in the last 10-15 years. The advances we have made in the area of pedagogy and learning design with technology have helped to transform the way we teach and the way students are approaching their learning. Technology underpins many important emerging visions for modern learning. It is one of the core “deep learning” skills identified in Michael Fullan’s groundbreaking “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” project.
Billions of dollars have been spent around the globe in education to improve infrastructure, upgrade technology training and increase access to devices for students in a variety of ways. There are many frameworks which have been developed which focus on marrying good pedagogy and learning design with effective technologies. It is not good enough just to put technology in front of our kids and think that they can do it themselves. Our kids are fearless risk-takers when confronted with new tech – but they often need a lot of guidance and support to use technology to improve their learning – that’s where we are ideally placed to have the most impact!
And yet there are still many teachers and leaders who have a view that technology is an added extra or even a “distraction to real learning”. We talk about our “digital natives” in a way that implies that this revolution is about them and not us. There are many ways that we can enhance the learning of our students by the use of technology – but there are also some exciting ways that we can improve the way that we carry out our roles as teachers.
Technology is still an area where many teachers feel hesitant, under-skilled, disempowered and even fearful – but it doesn’t need to be that way! It is way past time that we lived out our vision for our kids for ourselves. Here are three easy steps to take:
- ACCEPT that this is a part of your teaching toolkit that you can longer afford to be light on. It’s here to stay and it is becoming increasingly important for you to have these skills to be able to contribute positively in your teams and not be a burden on others.
- BUILD on our existing strengths and knowledge – choose technology use and digital strategies that you know will enhance learning based on research and your understanding of how kids learn. After all that’s what schools and students need to make it successful – teachers who can apply and filter these initiatives through a lens of pedagogical expertise! If you have a growth mindset, apply it and supercharge your tech initiative.
- CONNECT with other teachers who can support your skill development and who will benefit from your ideas and input. Working together is part of what we do as a profession and we are seeing many exciting developments in team-based approaches to teaching in modern learning spaces which are fantastic for teachers to be continuously developing and honing their craft alongside their colleagues. A personal learning network is only a few clicks away – social media is a rich source of wisdom, encouragement, innovative new ideas and support for any teacher who needs it. Don’t just sit and wait for the next course to be offered to you – go out and design your own learning by accessing the global network of educators who are more than willing to lend a hand!
Is it time you got your passport out and shifted your mindset? Become a digital immigrant.
I dare you.
Building trusting, positive relationships is at the heart of any leaders role. To lead you must have the trust and respect of those who you would have follow you. In schools this means that you must be constantly striving to build connections with students, staff, parents and the wider community.
I recently was lucky to be able to spend a whole day with a group of middle leaders unpacking a new “coaching” role within our cluster of schools. At the core of the matter was the ability for team leaders to build a coaching relationship with their team in order to effect ongoing increases in team capacity. It is an exciting development and one which operates with a high-trust model. I am keenly aware that our success as leaders relies on this key trait: our capacity to build positive, professional, trusting relationships with the people around us. As John Maxwell states in his sixth “irrefutable” law of leadership:
Trust is the foundation for all effective leadership. When it comes to leadership, there are no shortcuts. Building trust requires competence, connection and character.
“The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, John Maxwell
The following article is a great quick read which outlines 5 practical ways school leaders might create a more inclusive and positive school climate – something which we should all have in mind as we live our lives and work with our students, parents and staff. I might get a lot of light ribbing from parents who see me at the school gate clutching my ( rapidly cooling ) caffeine fix on cold mornings – but I have to say that I am a convert to the idea of making sure the first school face the kids and parents see each day is a smiling one!
“A positive school environment is one that is welcoming; it’s one where staff, students and parents work together. It’s where the school leaders know many of the students’ names, and people smile instead of frown.”
Many schools around New Zealand still struggle to align the strange dichotomy of a curriculum that embraces our understanding of the developmental growth of children and National Standards which are completely arbitrary. The New Zealand Principal’s Federation have produced a substantial amount of information to try and make our concerns known since 2009 when they were first introduced. Now the results of a major research project have raised considerable concerns over the effect that the initiative have had on teachers and schools. With the current government pursuing the use of data as a way of evaluating schools ( and probably teachers in the future ) there are grave concerns for how this process will further complicate and alienate the education community from the political powers.
“National Standards are having some favourable impacts in areas that include teacher understanding of curriculum levels, motivation of some teachers and children and some improved targeting of interventions. Nevertheless such gains are overshadowed by damage being done through the intensification of staff workloads, curriculum narrowing and the reinforcement of a two-tier curriculum, the positioning and labelling of children and unproductive new tensions amongst school staff.”
A very astute quote from the Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project, Waikato University. The paper is aptly titled “National Standards and the damage done…”
For more info you can visit the Wilf Malcom Institue of Educational Research website.
The skill of giving effective feedback is such a vital part of a teacher’s toolkit. Without focused professional learning about what effect our feedback has on learners and how it can support the learner and encourage them to develop persistence through failure and adversity, or allow them the opportunity to pass through mediocrity to mastery, teachers will often end up giving feedback that has little effect on the learner. Seemingly positive feedback can even limit their learning!
…Hence the power of yet: “Your sentence structure does not yet match the tone you are trying to achieve.” Yet allows negative feedback while also transmitting trust that they will get there.
Drawing on the collective wisdom of two very respected author/researchers Amy Conley gives some great advice about how to adapt some commonly used phrases to have a better effect on learners and build better engagement and ownership.
This article gives some great insight into one teacher’s learning as she discovers a new way to impact the learners through her own voice. This is definitely five minutes of your time well spent!