This is my observation for sharing this week.
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This is my observation for sharing this week.
Click to play animation:
The celebration of World Teachers’ Day in Australia this Friday provides me with the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the powerful influence a teacher may have on the life of another.
Like the butterfly effect, the ripples may travel far and unseen, with consequences that are sometimes intentional but sometimes not; often visible, but just as often not; and occasionally acknowledged, but frequently not.
World Teachers’ Day was established by UNESCO in 1996 with 5th October claimed as the date of its celebration. A map of the world shows that not all participating countries observe that specific date each year, but usually do recognise a day in October. As 5th October falls during the school holidays for most Australian children, the last Friday of October is the date celebrated in Australia.
According to UNESCO, the day was established to be “devoted to appreciating, assessing, and improving the educators of the world. The real point is to provide a time to look at and address issues pertaining to teachers. Strangely one of the most central, vital professionals to society does not receive the respect it deserves in some parts of the world.”
The slogan for this year’s celebration is “A call for teachers”, highlighting the dire shortage of professionally trained teachers in so many places around the world, a situation which is not expected to show any improvement before 2030.
While I often talk of the limitations I see in a traditional approach to education, I am very appreciative of the fact that, in Australia, every child has access to an education system with well-trained and educated professionals. It is certainly a privilege not shared by all around the world.
So on World Teachers’ Day, let’s celebrate what we do have, and what we have learned from the many teachers who have touched our lives. The fact that you are reading this means that someone, somewhere supported you to learn to read. There may be a teacher who touched your life in a very special way. Are they still around? Have you let them know?
If you have children at school, have you told their teachers how much you appreciate their efforts?
Some people say “They are just doing their job, why should I thank them?”
But let me assure you: there are very few teachers who just ‘do’ their job. The wonderful, innovative, creative and inspiring teachers live it! It is their purpose in life. They are devoted to improving the educational outcomes for their students. They work long hours, away from the classroom, reflecting on learning and how to improve it and make it engaging for students.
Some children think teachers even sleep at school, that they have no life out of the classroom. I can hear the chuckling of the teachers who are reading this now, because it’s true! Well, not really, but sometimes it seems like it. They carry the children in their hearts, striving for ways to help each fulfill their dreams and ease their worries.
However maintaining that dedication year after year with little acknowledgment or a sense of being valued can be difficult and disheartening; and many teachers burn out when there is little fuel to keep the flame alight. A small word of appreciation may be all it takes to keep their energy and motivation levels high.
So join with me in acknowledging a teacher who has made a difference in your life . . . the teacher effect!
I acknowledge two inspirational teachers:
Dr Brian Cambourne and Peter Kidston
Dr Brian Cambourne was Head of the Reading-Language Centre at Riverina CAE when I did literacy studies there a long time ago. (”CAE” gives a hint at how long ago!) He is still working in the field of literacy education at the University of Wollongong. It was an enormous privilege to learn from such an intuitive, innovative, inspirational and influential literacy educator. Not only am I indebted to him, but the ripple effect travels far and unseen, touching the lives of the students and teachers with whom I have since worked, and beyond. . . Thank you, Brian. Your power is immeasurable.
Acceptance for study in the program under Brian’s tutelage came at a time when I was searching for answers about how children learn and how best to teach them. When I applied for a course about teaching literacy, I didn’t realise the impact it would have upon my developing philosophy of education and understanding of how children learn. I already had serious misgivings about the traditional approach I had been schooled in and the systems I was working for, but had nothing tangible to replace it with.
Through developing an understanding of Brian’s “conditions for learning” I began to see how I could not only effectively support students with their learning, but could make that learning meaningful and enjoyable as well. I found that the conditions Brian espoused applied to all learning, not just literacy. The understanding from readings I had previously engaged with about educational alternatives e.g. books by John Holt, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neill and John Dewey, combined with my new understandings to help me formulate a strong and effective pedagogical practice. Armed with my new understandings and skills, I was ready to once again face the classroom.
And that’s where Peter Kidston came in.
Peter Kidston was the principal at one of the first schools to which I was assigned after completing my studies at Riverina CAE. Peter was an effective leader; strong but relaxed, firm but compassionate. He was respected and loved by staff, students and parents. He was actively involved in the community and worked tirelessly for the benefit of his students. If there were problems, he often solved them by . . . listening. I think he worked on the premise that, when a problem has a proper airing, the solution soon presents itself.
My first step onto the school grounds told me that this school was going to be different. The students were friendly and welcoming, greeting me as I walked through the grounds. The staff too, were friendly and relaxed, and Peter was pleased to see me.
One of the roles of a principal is that of educational leadership, and Peter was the best I have met. I firmly believe that the tone of a school is set by the principal; and the warmth and friendliness of the school I attribute to Peter’s leadership. Peter always let his teachers know how valued they were through feedback, encouragement and support. He led by showing, not telling.
Peter encouraged the innovative strategies I was implementing in my classroom by providing support, respect and professional freedom. At the same time he ensured educational expectations were being addressed through questioning and conversations designed to encourage a wider and more in-depth reflection on my practice. He followed up with classroom visits to monitor the students’ participation and learning progress. The respect and value he placed upon my professionalism enabled me to stretch beyond my own expectations; at the same time developing effective, independent and self-directed learners who enjoyed the school experience as much as I did.
Thank you, Peter. I am indebted to you. The ripple effect of my learning under your leadership goes far and unseen beyond those few classes at your school into unknown territories.
Which teacher will you thank today?
If you would like to print out your own “The teacher effect” bookmarks for a teacher special to you, click here.
One of the things I appreciate most about spending time with young children is learning to see the world again through their eyes, with the sense of wonder they shine on all they view.
“Did you see that?”
“Why is like that?”
“What would happen if …?”
For many adults, that sense of wonder has been buried deep inside, hidden by the worries and concerns in the hustle and bustle of modern life; the busyness with which we seem to cloak our daily activities.
But how joyous it can be to fling off that cloak of busyness and once more allow a childlike sense of wonder to emerge. The company of a young child is not essential for this to occur, although it may help to reawaken the sense initially.
Take a moment each day to step off the treadmill of relentless must dos and appreciate the wonder all around.
It can be easier than you think:
Smile at a fellow commuter or passer-by.
Appreciate the friendliness of a smile, a gesture, a kind word.
Look around for changes in the landscape, notice details you may have missed before – “How long has that been there?”
Search through the daily cacophony to identify the song of each individual instrument: man, machine, nature.
Pause to ponder the whys, the hows, the possibilities and the big questions, like “Who am I? Why am I here?” and “What is the meaning of life?”
Stop telling people how busy you are, instead think of something you are enjoying, have achieved or are working on right now. Share the joy of being alive and capable.
Breathe deeply; and as you focus on the breath as it moves in an out of your body, appreciate the life-giving air that surrounds you.
If a child should ask a question, avoid the impulse to rush in with a wonder-stop: “That’s the way it is. I don’t know. I haven’t got time. I’m not worried about that now. We have to go. Not now.”
Instead, pause for a moment and ask yourself the question as if you were the child, seeing and wondering for the first time, with a burning curiosity and longing to know. Look where the child is looking, see what the child is seeing. You’ll be amazed at what wonders will be revealed.
Reclaim your right to wonder. After all, “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” (Socrates) and “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” (Einstein)
These ideas are but a few. I invite you to share your favourites.
School attendance during some years of their childhood is compulsory for most children around the world. In Australia schooling is compulsory for children between the ages of about five and fifteen. Most children accept this attendance without question and, in fact, many really enjoy it! A society in which schooling was not compulsory and children didn’t want to attend would be very different from that which we currently enjoy. So while I have some misgivings about the type of schooling on offer, I guess I feel grateful that it is compulsory and that most children are happy to attend.
Given that schooling is compulsory, I believe that a school must be a place where children wish to be; where they feel safe and comfortable, respected and valued; where their needs are met and imaginations excited; where they have some sense of purpose and control; and where they are challenged to be more than they ever thought they could.
For some children, schooling does provide all these things and, as adults, they may look back on their school days with fondness. Others become disengaged, unable to see the purpose in endless tasks and expectations that appear to bear little connection to their lives either now or in the future, as they imagine it. Reigniting enthusiasm for learning once the first flush has faded is more difficult than maintaining it in the first place, which is often challenging enough.
The study of philosophy in schools may help students understand the purposes of what they are learning, maintain their engagement with the curriculum and contribute to their excitement for learning and the desire to stay in school.
I have always had a personal interest in philosophy and philosophical discourse, though I do not claim to have any great knowledge of particular philosophers and their thinking. The “Philosophy for Children” program developed by Dr Matthew Lipman, which has been implemented in many schools throughout the world, including Australia, favours a community of enquiry and democratic approach in which students are encouraged to think; critically, creatively and reflectively. They are also encouraged to think and talk about thinking. When I was first introduced to the approach in the mid-1990s, I was not surprised to find that development of the approach had been influenced by John Dewey’s ideals of progressive education. The program not only fitted with my philosophy of education perfectly, but expanded my thinking and gave more credence to what I believed. I was pleased to receive, through use of the program, guidance for implementing these important thinking skills in my early childhood classroom.
Recently, on the recommendation of my friend and fellow philosophy-enthusiast, Glenn, I listened to a podcast “Philosophy in Education” available on the Philosophy Now website. In this podcast, three philosophers, Peter Worley, Dr Michael Hand and Dr Stephen Boulter, discussed the question “Should schools teach philosophy?” All three were unanimous, of course, and presented some very interesting and convincing arguments for the inclusion of philosophy in the curriculum.
The discussion dealt with questions about values and basic morality, what one ought to do or should do, and the reasons why. It also raised the importance of “why” questions in maths and science e.g. “Why do we know that 2 + 2 = 4?”, or “How do we know that what we perceive in the natural sciences is reliable?”
All three agreed that the importance of the basics in education can’t be denied, but Stephen contended that if we want to improve the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, then we need to start with philosophy. He said that secondary school students are already asking philosophical questions about the material they are being taught in subjects like chemistry and history; questions like “Why do I have to learn this?” or “Why is this important?” (I suggest that children are asking these same questions from a far younger age.)
Stephen asserted that these questions about the curriculum are philosophical questions that must be answered if students’ engagement with the curriculum is to be maintained.
This argument was the most compelling for me as it confirmed the importance of providing students with an understanding of the purposes for the learning they are required to undertake. Michael explained that while the basics are important in education, education is more than just that; it is for the “whole of life”. Stephen agreed, insisting that children need to know the reasons why adults force them to go through so many years of formal education. He said that although there were answers to these questions, they were infrequently given to students.
Peter agreed that children need more than just the practical reasons, for example learning to count so that you can add up when you go to the shops. Stephen maintained that students would find it easier to engage and put effort in if they saw the point of the learning, including an understanding of what it is to be an educated person. Not only that, children need to know why they should believe all the information they are being presented with in school, not just because the teacher tells them so.
The arguments for including philosophical discussions in school, and I would suggest in all curriculum areas, are very convincing. Peter explains that philosophy is inescapable as it deals with concepts and the ability to reason and suggests that these underpin the basics. He questions whether, if the basics haven’t improved for a long time, it may be because no one is questioning what needs to be learned before these skills can be developed. Maybe philosophy and the development of reasoning and concepts is the answer.
What do you think?
How important is it for you to understand the reasons for what is expected of you?
If a seemingly meaningless task is expected of you in your role, do you more willingly accept the requirement if the reason for it is explained?
All clip art used in this post is copyright but used with permission of the eLearning brothers.
Recently, on the recommendation of my friend Rosie, I listened to a TED Talk by Michael Sandel “Why we shouldn’t trust markets with our civic life”.
Rosie and I often suggest Talks to each other and then share thoughts and comments about them.
This Talk, like most of those on TED, raises some very interesting, thought provoking and challenging ideas and issues. The issue of most importance to me in each of these Talks may not be the issue of most importance to Rosie, nor to any other listener. The understandings, beliefs and personal positions, (ideological, philosophical and ethical), that each person has will not only influence what they hear but how they interpret, organise and prioritise what they hear and what they take away from the Talk, whether intended by the speaker or not.
In this Talk, Michael raises the issue of motivating students to learn, a challenge experienced in many schools. He invited the audience to consider whether cash rewards should be used as incentives for students to perform well on tests or to read books.
The reaction from the audience was mixed with fewer in favour of offering the rewards than against. When asked why cash incentives should not be used to encourage students to work harder or read more books, a participant stated that the students should be reading for intrinsic motivation, for an intrinsic desire to learn, and that a cash reward would take the intrinsic incentive away.
However: If a child is a reluctant reader or reads only when required, does that child have any intrinsic motivation for reading? If not with cash rewards, how can we inculcate an intrinsic motivation to read? What is or has happened in this child’s experience that an intrinsic motivation to read has already been killed? (I will offer some thoughts on these issues in a future post.)
The argument for and against the use of rewards in schools, as well as homes, to encourage children to perform or behave in a particular way has waged for as long as I can remember and, I’m sure, even longer than that.
Should children receive a sticker, a star or an award for that? Shouldn’t they just do what we want of them for the sheer joy of it / because it will do them good / because it’s the right thing to do? Shouldn’t they be intrinsically motivated and have no need of extrinsic rewards?
It all sounds very good, doesn’t it? And maybe it works when a child is intrinsically motivated through a genuine interest, or maybe when children are happy to comply and perform expected tasks either through a need to please others or their own developing sense of how things should be.
But what of the child who does not have this intrinsic motivation, no need to please or any ability to see a personal purpose in expected tasks or behaviours?
One of the Talk participants suggested that results of offering a cash reward for reading books could be measured by a count of the books read while the reward was being offered, followed by a count of the books read after the payment ceased. Results of the experiment found that students, when offered cash rewards, read more books, but they also read shorter books.
And why should we expect any more of children than we do of adults?
How many adults perform their work tasks for the sheer joy of it, powered by intrinsic motivation? Only the lucky few, I would guess, who are able to combine passion with employment, or who have sufficient resources to maintain the lifestyle they desire. Isn’t the extrinsic reward a major motivator for much of what we do? I dare say the performance of most adult workers would not measure highly after payment ceased!
Okay. I know it’s not quite the same. The children are not in need of the cash rewards as they are supported by adults who receive cash rewards. Nevertheless, without that extrinsic reward, in most cases, that work would cease, regardless of whether the cash is actually required for survival or not.
However I am always drawn back to an attempt at reconciling intrinsic motivation with compulsory schooling.
So how does this work for children in school?
Not only is school attendance compulsory throughout most of their childhood years, children have few choices in school. They generally attend a school chosen by someone else, are taught by a teacher allocated by someone else, and expected to make friends with a group (class) allocated by someone else.
They line up, eat, talk, play and toilet on the ring of a bell and are expected to perform academic feats on command. When they progress from one year to the next, they often suffer the disruption of new class group arrangements, decided by somebody else for questionable reasons. What would be so harmful about a child going through all the years of schooling with the same group of friends?
Why then do we think that students should be intrinsically motivated to do something about which and in which they have very little choice and are most often powerless?
Learning for the love of it, for the sheer fun and joy of it is a marvellous goal. And I believe children are innately intrinsically motivated to learn.
How different would schools be if we began with the intrinsic motivation of each child and wrapped the leaning around that? How much more powerful would the learning be? What would that school look like?
Is that what we call a child-centred approach? An approach that values the interests and needs of each learner. An approach that starts where the child is and supports them to find the paths that take them where they want to be. An approach that values their individual styles and timeframes while providing just the right amount of challenge to stretch them beyond where they thought they were able to go. That piques their interest in a vast array of topics and supports their learning of skills to achieve their desires.
But often the lip service given to a child-centred approach in a traditional school, with all its constraints, still smacks of ‘You’ll do what I say but you’ll think that you have a choice’.
What slap in the face it is to tell someone that they must do this, when to do it and how to do it; and then tell them they must do it because they want to do it!
However there are teachers who passionately believe in a child-centred approach and in harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation. They work tirelessly and creatively, powered by their own intrinsic motivation, to employ a vast array of strategies designed to make a child’s opportunities for learning within the confines of an imposed curriculum of a traditional school motivating for each learner while targeting their individual needs.
Here are some strategies that teachers use in a child-centred approach:
– discussing their experiences
– valuing their contributions
– involving parents
– informing parents of classroom learning and experiences
– using negotiated topics and tasks
– employing a variety of activities
– using negotiated topics and tasks
– employing a variety of activities
– providing opportunities for independent and self-directed learning
– using games, songs and hands-on participatory activity
– explaining how classroom learning connects to purposes in life
– providing clear and easy-to-follow procedures
– providing opportunities for finding solutions to real problems
– allowing explorations in creativity and innovation
– working with a partner or in groups
– allowing opportunities for discussion
– harnessing spontaneous opportunities for optimising learning
– providing opportunities for practice and clarification
– challenging learners to stretch their imaginations and abilities
These strategies may not tap into the intrinsic motivation of each student all of the time. However a supportive environment in which children are provided some choice of activities, opportunities to learn at a pace suited to their needs, and an understanding of the point of it all, will provide learners with the desire and skills to harness their intrinsic motivation for learning of their own choosing beyond the classroom.
What do you think?
As a regular commenter on my blog Rosie has contributed additional value and insight, demonstrating her unlimited passion for the education of young learners as well as those who engage with them in a professional capacity. A recurring topic in her comments is the importance of self-actualisation.
I feel that Rosie’s message is important to share and, in response to my invitation, she has contributed a post, not just a comment, in order to more fully explain her views.
Please enjoy Rosie’s contribution and feel welcome to add your own insights and comments in response.
Growth toward self-actualisation (Maslow) requires integration of habits of heart and habits of mind.
The development of these habits is essential to the balanced self. Schools have long attended to the habits of mind providing for a range of capabilities from the academic to the intellectual to the cognitive. The habits of the heart have received far less attention. Critically, however, attention to the first, habits of the mind, does little if it is not complemented by attention to habits of the heart.
Curriculum frameworks have varied in the last forty years to the amount of attention focussed on habits of the heart. The trend to teach only that which is assessable and hence, that which can be measured, has resulted in many habits of the heart being neglected. To some teachers, habits of the heart, known also as the affective domain, are not within their role statement.
Early years teachers have long recognised the importance of scaffolding the development of all aspects of the child. The belief that teaching the whole child has as its focus, the integration of emotional, social, physical, and cognitive. All interact as conditions for learning. When one area of development is not receiving attention, growth of the other areas may be restricted as well.
From this perspective, words such as motivation, attitude, well-being, responsibility, independence, self-control, self-concept and identity become the “bread and butter” of a teacher’s daily activity. When learning is not occurring, the answer is not another worksheet or more of the same. These other conditions that form the habits of the heart are examined to formulate the next step to ensure growth.
Views toward conditions for learning are slowly changing. For example, the Australian curriculum has at its focus, General capabilities embedded across all Learning areas. One of these capabilities refers to personal and social capability, bringing the affective domain into the realm of respectability as a teaching focus, at last. Despite this, the term ‘behaviour management’ continues to attract funding in some education systems.
A proposal is to redirect attention away from behaviour management and engage with the direction of the Australian Curriculum. To do this, there is a need to view what needs to be taught and how to teach it if the habits of the heart are to develop.
In looking at how to work with habits of the heart, some preservice teachers (now teachers), lecturers and a psychologist adapted “On becoming childwise” (Ezzo & Ezzo) to the needs of teachers and the classroom context. Documentation related to this program is available at www.teachersbeingchildwise.com.au. Videos are also available.
All images, except Childwise, courtesy of www.openclipart.org
Fifteen differences between traditional and alternative approaches to schooling
This list itemises some of the differences between traditional and alternative schools. The list is meant to contrast the stereotypes rather than reflect the culture of any particular school.
It is unlikely that a school would have all the characteristics of one approach and none of the other. Most schools will have some characteristics of both approaches to a greater or lesser degree.
As you read the list, consider each characteristic with regard to the schools you attended, or those attended by your children.
How closely do the characteristics describe the schools attended by yourself or your children?
What do you see as the main similarities and differences?
Where would they sit along the continuum?
The school that I attended as a child was firmly embedded in traditional practices without any characteristics of an alternative approach.
However some changes in pedagogical theories have occurred over the years, and the schools attended by my own children, and those in which I have recently taught, while still traditional, have moved a little along the continuum towards a less rigid and more flexible approach in some areas.
In an earlier post “To school or not to school” I shared some thoughts I considered when making choices for the education of my children.
I invite you to leave a comment and share your views.
Which of the characteristics are most important to you when choosing a school for your child?
Which characteristics would encourage you to choose against a particular school?
All photos courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com/
Clipart from www.openclipart.org
John Dewey’s dream
“John Dewey dreamed of the teacher as a guide helping children formulate questions and devise solutions. Dewey saw the pupil’s own experience, not information imparted by the teacher, as the critical path to understanding. Dewey also contended that democracy must be the main value in each school just as it is in any free society. The education system in Finland is . . . shaped by these ideas of Dewey and flavored with the Finnish principles of practicality, creativity, and common sense. What the world can learn from educational change in Finland is that accomplishing the dream of a good and equitable education system for all children is possible. But it takes the right mix of ingenuity, time, patience and determination.
The Finnish Way of educational change should be encouraging to those who have found the path of competition, choice, test-based accountability, and performance-based pay to be a dead end. . . . the Finnish way reveals that creative curricula, autonomous teachers, courageous leadership and high performance go together.” (Sahlberg, Pasi 2011 Finnish Lessons, What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?)
John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was an American philosopher and educator. Dissatisfied with traditional practices for what he saw as their inability to keep pace with changing needs of learners and society, opened his Laboratory School in Chicago, proposing a more child-centred approach focusing upon individual needs of the children who would be engaged in a variety of activities of interest and meaning to them. The term “progressive education” refers to the movement against formal traditional practices which, following Dewey’s lead, began in America in the late 19th Century.
Pasi Sahlberg’s book “Finnish Lessons” is “about Finland and how the Finns transformed their educational system from mediocre in the 1980s to one of the models of excellence today. International indicators show that Finland has one of the most educated citizenries in the world”.
In the introduction Ann Lieberman writes, “In the Finnish context, teaching is a high-status profession, akin to being a doctor. Those who enter not only stay in teaching, but many continue their studies, not to leave, but to learn more and contribute more to their profession. This heightened sense of professionalism makes teaching a sought-after position and one obtained only by those who are fortunate enough to be chosen for candidacy.”
The debate about the value of a traditional versus a child-centred approach to education has waged for centuries. It seems that Finland has incorporated many of Dewey’s progressive ideals into their educational philosophy and pedagogical practice. I can’t help but get excited when I read of what happens in schools in Finland.
Which other countries will follow Finland’s lead to transform their educational system into one of excellence? For me, it can’t happen soon enough!
What do you think?