Everything to Win

So an educator friend of mine spent the better part of last year traveling around the world visiting schools, in the hopes of identifying the innovations, the pedagogical approaches, and the educational strategies that are truly engaging students and driving student learning forward in today’s ever changing world. As you can imagine, he was inspired by much of what he saw, and in many instances hopeful and optimistic about the future of education. He called it the best year of his professional life but interestingly enough, also the most depressing. You see, although he found many, many schools across the globe that are genuinely pushing innovation, and taking creative risks for their students, and empowering all kids to lead their own learning, he came back a little overwhelmed and saddened by the traditional and industrial models that still shape our global educational landscape. In a recent conversation with him earlier this month, he remarked that something drastic needs to happen in education because we have absolutely “nothing left to lose”…

 

I started thinking about that, and honestly, I’m not sure that I agree with him…I think we have plenty left to lose, particularly regarding the future of our young people, and I’d like to reframe that comment and suggest that it’s actually the opposite…we have “everything to win”. At the heart of his disappointment was not the lack of effort by schools to redesign their buildings and teaching spaces, there was plenty of that. Lots of open, futuristic, and collaborative building designs, new and inspiring maker spaces and purposeful incorporations to the natural world, and a tremendous amount of thought that went into shaking up the “look” of a traditional school. In that respect he was very, very encouraged. He came back discouraged however, because what he saw happening inside those school designs and spaces, in the classrooms, and at the heart of what matters in the day to day approaches to teaching and learning, was very much 1982.

 

Like Dylan Wiliam says, the hardest thing to do in education is to get teachers and leaders to change their day to day practice. We all know what the research says, and in most international schools we now have access to the resources and the spaces to engage and personalize for all of our kids, but often times when the door shuts and the day begins, it’s easy to revert back to what we’ve always done…what’s comfortable, and what we’ve gotten very good at. Schools and educators across the globe continue to do what they’ve always done because of habit, but it sure doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

 

On the heels of a fantastic weekend with Carol Ann Tomlinson here at ASP, and with the new school year staring us down, I want to encourage all of us to look critically at how we’re engaging our students, and how much of our approach is the same as it was a few years ago. How much “innovation” is actually making its way into our lesson and unit planning? What opportunities are we giving to our students to really and truly own their learning and to lead their own educational journey? How are we setting up our classroom spaces, and what opportunities are we giving students to showcase their learning…is it a one-size fits all or have we looked at our curricular approach and assessment through the lens of meeting all students where they are, and moving them forward as individual and unique learners?

 

I want us all to feel empowered to shake it up this year and to take some risks…to try out some new strategies that will push us out of our comfort zones and will make us feel a little uneasy. We have an opportunity this year to move past the traditional…the comfortable…the easy, and to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to stretch the limits of what’s possible with our kids. Then when we do, we have the moral imperative to share and to model and to collaborate so that we all can learn and stretch together…no more siloed approaches to education, we’re past that. Anyway, I want to wish you all a tremendous 2017-18 school year, and I truly hope it’s the best year of your professional lives. I guarantee that if we take some risks, shake things up, and truly make an effort to change some habits, then it will be a year that will be worthy of our kids. Like I said, it’s not that we have nothing to lose…we very much have everything to win! Have a fantastic opening week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.

 

Quote of the Week…

Curiosity is a delicate little plant that, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom

– Albert Einstein

 

Interesting and Useful Articles –

http://www.futurity.org/creativity-teachers-education-914562/

https://www.rubicon.com/risk-taking-in-the-classroom/
http://inservice.ascd.org/7-reasons-why-differentiated-instruction-works/

http://www.readingrockets.org/atoz/1123/all

http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy042.shtml

 

Innovation in Schools –

http://www.businessinsider.fr/us/most-innovative-schools-in-the-world-2-2016-10/

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edtechresearcher/2016/01/innovation_in_schools.html

http://www.designorate.com/creativity-innovation-in-education/

http://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/04/innovation-leadership-in-schools/

 

TED Talks Worth Watching –

https://www.ted.com/talks/adam_grant_the_surprising_habits_of_original_thinkers

https://www.ted.com/talks/charles_leadbeater_on_innovation

 

Great Educational Podcasts –

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-11-16-education-podcasts-to-check-out-in-2017

Transgender Children Deserve a Warm Welcome Back: Here’s How (and why this benefits all students)

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

The roster says they’re a she, but… they look like a he. What do I call them?

I’ve met numerous educators who express annoyance at not getting a heads-up from administrators that they have a transgender (or gender variant or gender creative or gender nonconforming) child in their class. And, understandably so. We care about our students, and want to treat them all with respect. Calling her ‘him’ can be awkward at best, and deeply offensive in many cases. Pronouns are incredibly personal, so it’s important that we know what our students want to be called.

We can’t necessarily tell someone’s gender identity (internal; how they feel) by their gender expression (external; what they show through dress/appearance/behaviour) or their assigned gender (assigned at birth; usually based on external sex characteristics). Additionally, some of the software programs that schools use to keep track of student records are outdated and don’t include a function to update students’ gender data as necessary. This could lead to inadvertently outing a transgender child to their peers. Don’t rely on your roster to give you the correct information about gender pronouns.

Instead, let me suggest a simple, but powerful getting-to-know-you routine for the start of every term: ask students (all students) what their pronouns are. You can begin by offering yours as an example (i.e. I use she/her/hers or they/them/theirs, etc.) This exercise eliminates gaffes without singling anybody out.

I gave a training to graduate education students on this topic. One participant wondered aloud whether it was worth the “trouble” for the “zero point zero, zero, zero, one percent” of students concerned. First, I answer that sure – this is a fairly simple strategy to create a safer space for your students, even if it’s only a small number who benefit. Second, however, this person’s statistics were way off. Many more people (about 0.6% of the U.S. population, which equates to 1.4 million Americans) identify as transgender[1]. I can assure you that, over the course of a full career as an educator, you have taught, and will continue to teach, numerous transgender and gender nonconforming children. You may not always know who they are, but there are transgender people in every culture.

The practice of recognizing students’ gender identity can have a significant impact on their well-being. Transgender kids are some of our highest risks for being harassed at school[2], a range of related risk-taking behaviours, and both physical and mental health issues, including suicidality[3]. Research shows that supportive school contexts can mitigate this disparity[4]. Asking students about their pronouns suggests that you are supportive of gender diversity, and could be a literal life-saving gesture for a child in need.

Plus, all students benefit from learning about diversity. Consider if we only taught minority groups about issues of oppression, and excluded dominant groups from this conversation. White children would not learn about slavery. Christian children would not learn about the Holocaust. That would be absurd, and avoiding gender identity issues with your cisgender (gender identity matches assigned gender) students is similarly exclusive and nonsensical.

It is a privilege for cisgender people to be fairly certain that others will correctly guess their pronouns just by looking at them. When we, as professional educators, question socially-constructed assumptions about gender, we exercise cultural humility, we establish that our classroom is a considerate place, we take a step toward rejecting gender hierarchy, and we set a positive example of inclusivity for the students in our class. This enhances the learning environment for all.

I recommend repeating this welcoming routine at the start of each term, and letting students know that they may update their pronouns with you at any time. If you’re still uncertain about how to get started, some resources with tips and FAQs are available here, here, and here. Proactively asking for students’ pronouns is best practice, and should be systematically implemented in all international school classrooms.

[1] Flores, A. R., Herman, J. L., Gates, G. J., & Brown, T. N. T. (2016). How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States? Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute.

[2] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[3] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

[4] Poteat, V. P., DiGiovanni, C. D., Sinclair, K. O., Koenig, B. W., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Gay-Straight Alliances are associated with student health: A Multischool comparison of LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(2), 319-330.

Redefine PD with the 80/20 Principle

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.

Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.

Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?

After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:

  • This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
  • The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
  • Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
  • Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.

Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong

The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Pareto_principle)

For example:

  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the software bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • 20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.

80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.

Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.

As an example, an international school wanting to implement a new system like Google Apps for Education only needs to formally train 20% of the end-users in each user group (Administrators, Teachers, Students, etc.). This 20% can then work with the remaining 80% to achieve the desired results; results which are often very niche and vary by division and department.

In another case, consider a school purchasing Microsoft Surface Laptops for their staff. Only 20% of the end-users need to have the full training on the hardware and software in order to fuel the future deployment.

The optics of 100% are not really fair when the majority of the 100% are not actually gaining the information and skills need for mastery. In education there is always pressure on students to reach mastery. That same expectation should be placed on everyone, and embedded in every initiative. Organizations working towards a good introduction, are not working towards their full potential.

Words to Actions

Randomly selecting 20% of a group to master a new PD initiative is a mistake. That would only work if the entire group were known equals. New and existing staff should be surveyed to identify their current knowledge and aptitude. Identifying aptitude is essential. New initiatives tend to have a limited experienced population within the organization; but aptitude is around every corner.

Years ago I took the 80/20 approach when switching a very large campus to Apple. I made certain all required hardware and software was available for 20% of the staff before summer. I selected the staff based-on their current familiarity with Apple and their ability to work with their colleagues.

The switch went very well, and after about three weeks the technology support issues declined by 75% from the previous year. The switch to Apple while following a 80/20 implementation plan reduced the non-Apple issues as well as the issues with the new hardware.

Recently, using an 80/20 plan, I sent a core group of people for training on a new school information system. Those people were tasked at training, and evangelism, within a hostile environment.

Knowing the system was actually in competition with other plans, a final meeting was held to determine if the school would continue with the new information system. The option was on the table to remove the new and bring back the old. The old was rejected. I do not believe this would have been possible without the core 80/20 group.

Keep in mind during each of these difficult transitional experiences the remaining 80% were not always happy. They new change had arrived, they were being delayed access at different stages, and they were not being trained or equipment immediately. This was noise. And noise should never dictate a plan or process.

The optics of 80/20 do not look as “nice” compared to working with 100%. However, the outcomes will be fair, balanced, and better. Most importantly, those suffering in silence will have a smaller more agile group for support.

Take a chance. Make a change. Go for 80/20.

More 80/20 Resources