Best Practice in Teaching

Educators are, in my experience, always looking to improve themselves, and often seeking to live up to, or implement ‘best practice.’ But that’s a surprisingly complex idea, and it may even be that there is actually no such single thing. Maybe ‘best practice’ is a phrase that means different things in different contexts.

For example, what’s ‘best practice’ in teaching mathematics? Many educators are familiar with the numerous US studies showing the efficacy of cooperative learning in terms of raising attainment. And it makes sense – we know that there is nothing that helps you learn something as well as having to teach it; and that having peers explain sometimes puts ideas in familiar language. So are collaborative practices ‘best practice’?

In this article three researchers report on a series of well-designed UK studies which show that students in those classrooms where collaborative practices were adopted did no better than control groups. This flies in the face of accepted wisdom; and the message we can draw is fascinating. The researchers identified two crucial differences between UK and US schools; firstly that they used interim assessments in very different ways; and secondly, that they approached differentiated instruction in very different ways. And these differences were intertwined with the differences in the success of collaborative practices.

The conclusion is that the effectiveness of a practice cannot be judged in isolation; one practice rests on a whole system. They write “Teaching methods proven to be effective in one culture and system cannot be assumed to be effective in another. We remain convinced that the cooperative learning strategies that have been found in North American research to be effective in mathematics can be made to work in England, but they are going to require further adaption to the traditions and expectations of teaching in English schools. Given the many similarities between North American and UK contexts, this cautionary tale should perhaps give even more pause to those who propose importing approaches from much more exotic locales.”

For me, this is fascinating, and it shows why the job of teaching is more than simply importing proven ideas from elsewhere.   There are precious few ‘Best practices’ because they all depends on context. This basic fact – more familiar, perhaps to students of the humanities than of the sciences – explains many unresolved controversies; whether to group by ability in mathematics; whether to offer awards; what maximum class size should be. There is no single better answer – the right thing depends on the context. So while we are doing the right thing by considering these issues in light of the research, the ultimate touchstone must be our strong sense of identity and vision.

This explains why, with so many different backgrounds, we will have different views. It explains why small-scale experimentation, not mass duplication is the best possible thing, and it explains why we need to address issues as systems, in all their complexities, and not simply treat them in isolation.

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By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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People are Beautiful

       So I have spent the last six weeks or so traveling around the world interviewing at amazing schools, trying hard to find that perfect long term fit for my family and career. It’s been an inspiring, exhausting, and exhilarating experience, and probably the best professional development that I’ve had in a very long time. I have touched down in many countries, I have seen many faces, and I have met so many incredible people along the way, and the one enduring take away that has resonated deeply with me throughout it all is that wherever you go in the world…people are beautiful!
       We’re living in an interesting time in our world these days, and it’s very easy to get stuck on all of the negative aspects of life that seem to bombard us at every turn. From terrorist attacks, to natural disasters, to election results, to refugees and war, and to everything in between, it can be hard to focus on all that is amazing and beautiful in our lives and world. It’s also hard to slow down enough, and to look closely enough, to see all that is beautiful in the people that we interact with every day…the little things…like noticing a smile or a random act of kindness or a kind word, and being open and present enough to let something that small inspire our days.
       I feel like I have seen the very best of people over the last several weeks, and I have been inspired and touched by all of the people who went out of their way to help me, to get to know me, to listen to me, and to put me at ease. I’m not just talking about the people in the schools that I visited, although they were all beautiful and inspiring in their own right, but the strangers that I met that had no stake in being kind to me…the strangers I met who helped me with my luggage, and with directions, and with some unsolicited advice and recommendations. The taxi drivers and ticket agents and shop workers and everyone else I met who were just going about their daily lives, but who still managed to smile at me, and talk to me, and to ask about my life…The world is bursting with beauty and beautiful people, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see this so authentically over the past month and a half all over the world…
       So, with the holidays coming quickly, and the end of the long semester right around the corner, I want to challenge us all to reconnect with the beauty of our world, and the beautiful people that we come in contact with each and every day. Notice the smiles, and the kind words, and look hard to notice what makes each person so special and unique…and be kind and your best selves for others. People are filled with goodness and light so take the time to see what makes them shine…I promise it will make your day and fill your heart with joy. Oh yeah, in case you are wondering, I won the lottery and landed at the American School of Paris! It’s been a long six weeks but some of the best experiences in my life…thank you to everyone that has been beautiful to me along the way…I’ve noticed it. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
A life lived for others, is the only life worth living – Albert Einstein
 

Beautiful People – Aasha Thakkar

I’m thankful for
the beautiful people
in the world
like you.

Beautiful faces are
those that wear
a friendly smile
that say, “I care.”

Beautiful eyes are
those that show,
the kindness and warmth
that glows below.

Beautiful lips utter
kindly words
that show the soul
like the songs of birds.

Beautiful people
touch and bless;
they inspire hope
and happiness.

You will always be,
beautiful to me. 

Beautiful Videos – Please take the time to watch this week! – 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkSPAHeqd8Y
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW8BDgLpZkI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME9PmSZedB4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZTm-iYUpm4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jAC3FFXUgY
Inspiring Articles/Websites – 
https://payitforwardday.com/inspire-me/inspiring-articles/
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-paying-it-forward.html?_r=0
http://globalnews.ca/tag/pay-it-forward/
http://www.laudable.com/article/31032224/16-photos-that-capture-the-beauty-of-the-human-spirit
http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org/
Posted in Daniel Kerr | 1 Comment

The Must Haves

higher_learning

As educators, we have an awesome responsibility.  We are charged with preparing our students for the future.  No matter what they may end up doing in the future – whether they are business people, authors, political leaders, or engaged in a trade, we have the responsibility to make sure they have the skills they need to successfully engage in the world around them and to be meaningful global citizens.  This is a responsibility I often find myself thinking about as I strive to make sure we are doing everything we can to best meet our student’s needs.

I recently found myself reflecting on this topic again.  I was at a conference and the presenter raised the question, ‘What are the ‘must haves’ our students need to make sure they are prepared for the 21st century?”  This is a difficult question.  I often think about the data telling us that most of our children will end up in jobs that are unheard of today.  If that is true, how do we make sure we are preparing students for these “unknowns?”

One of my favorite educational leaders is a professor at the University of Toronto named Michael Fullan.  I think highly of him because I find his work to be very practical and realistic for promoting effective education.  In one of his recent works, he stated, “All of the work we are doing in schools is just tinkering unless we clarify the role of collaboration and inquiry.”  I found this quote to be interesting in that it caused me to begin thinking about the role of certain skills that may be needed in the future and the importance of teaching these skills as much as we teach certain content.  

If that is the case, then what are some of those skills we need to make sure we are teaching and promoting?  In my mind, it would seem there needs to be a focus on thinking.  That might seem to be apparent, but there really is skill that goes into thinking, to pushing ourselves to see beyond the obvious, to question, and to draw conclusions.  This is important stuff!  Similarly, reasoning and problem solving should be high on our list.  Whatever jobs our students have in the future, there is no doubt innovators who are able to solve problems will be leading the way.  However, I believe we need to push further and promote the ideal of moral reasoning, encouraging our students to see themselves as fitting into the larger world, taking responsibility for what goes on there, and seeking solutions.  Collaboration seems to be key.  The world of working in isolation seems to be coming to a close.  Students who are prepared for the future will be those who know how to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas.  Finally, I think it is very evident technology is key.  It seems to be an absolute that our students must be proficient in the use technology as a tool for communication and innovation.

Some of the skills that ISY encourages and embeds in learning include: Thinking, reasoning and problem solving, collaboration, and proficiency in technology. As I think about the future, and how we can best prepare our students for success, I hope our work will be more than just the tinkering described by Fullan.

As educators, we have an awesome responsibility. We are charged with preparing our students for the future. No matter what they may end up doing in the future – whether they are business people, authors, political leaders, or engaged in a trade, we have the responsibility to make sure they have the skills they need to successfully engage in the world around them and to be meaningful global citizens. This is a responsibility I often find myself thinking about as I strive to make sure we are doing everything we can to best meet our student’s needs.

I recently found myself reflecting on this topic again. I was at a conference and the presenter raised the question, ‘What are the ‘must haves’ our students need to make sure they are prepared for the 21st century?” This is a difficult question. I often think about the data telling us that most of our children will end up in jobs that are unheard of today. If that is true, how do we make sure we are preparing students for these “unknowns?”

One of my favorite educational leaders is a professor at the University of Toronto named Michael Fullan. I think highly of him because I find his work to be very practical and realistic for promoting effective education. In one of his recent works, he stated, “All of the work we are doing in schools is just tinkering unless we clarify the role of collaboration and inquiry.” I found this quote to be interesting in that it caused me to begin thinking about the role of certain skills that may be needed in the future and the importance of teaching these skills as much as we teach certain content.

If that is the case, then what are some of those skills we need to make sure we are teaching and promoting? In my mind, it would seem there needs to be a focus on thinking. That might seem to be apparent, but there really is skill that goes into thinking, to pushing ourselves to see beyond the obvious, to question, and to draw conclusions. This is important stuff! Similarly, reasoning and problem solving should be high on our list. Whatever jobs our students have in the future, there is no doubt innovators who are able to solve problems will be leading the way. However, I believe we need to push further and promote the ideal of moral reasoning, encouraging our students to see themselves as fitting into the larger world, taking responsibility for what goes on there, and seeking solutions. Collaboration seems to be key. The world of working in isolation seems to be coming to a close. Students who are prepared for the future will be those who know how to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. Finally, I think it is very evident technology is key. It seems to be an absolute that our students must be proficient in the use technology as a tool for communication and innovation.

Some of the skills that ISY encourages and embeds in learning include: Thinking, reasoning and problem solving, collaboration, and proficiency in technology. As I think about the future, and how we can best prepare our students for success, I hope our work will be more than just the tinkering described by Fullan.

 Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

Posted in Gregory Hedger | 1 Comment

Tech Integration: Are you mapping it?

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By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A few weeks ago I was on a campus, but not my campus. I was speaking with some technology teachers. They would prefer to be called tech-integrators. After a short and very succinct speech about their beliefs in the technology integration model, I ask them two questions. In both cases, the answers were not what they should have been.

Question 1: Is the integration scheduled, or do you wait for teachers to come to you? 

The answer was a very common one, teachers come to us. This model has some very defensible merits. The driving force is that a few technology integrators can focus on class projects, over longer periods of time, and use their own initiative to improve technology in the classroom.

This main issue with this model is learning accountability. The is no accountability for what students need, and no metric stating what students need.

For example, the IB Design Technology SL programme recommends 150 total teaching hours. This indicates that a group of people looked at the entire course experience and the desired outcomes can concluded that students need 150 hours.

A technology integration model needs the same discussion and it needs some metrics. Since technology integration is not a new concept, determining how many hours students need to be engaging with a differentiated curriculum in a “knowable thing”.

Without determining the metrics, how can anyone conclude an on-demand model is the best way to proceed?

The school should have a core set of technology related standards for teachers and students. The technology integration program needs to be able to add metrics to these standards, set standards for contact time, and track how all these requirements are being met. This is normal accountability.

Aside from accountability within the integration technology curriculum, another major issue with the on-demand planning is that people tend to work in their comfort zones. People tend to develop patterns. Because of this, they will often want to engage students in a routine and predictable way. Routine and predictable does not equal learning. Trial and error equal learning.

Breaking routine and creating opportunity takes a plan. A plan in a school needs some type of schedule so that people can jump in and join. Just like any class (in school and out of school) students need to find a time to explore, and finding time means knowing the options.

Question 2: How are you mapping or tracking what you are doing?

The answer was not straightforward. I do believe, if under the scope of certification, there would be evidence in lesson plans and emails. However, as a school administrator I want to be able to have a quick snapshot of what is happening in any and all classrooms. Whatever tools the teachers are using for curriculum tracking and mapping, the integration team should be using as well.

Let’s talk about Atlas Rubicon.

I am not an Atlas Rubicon pundit. However, when I work with their developers, and I have a clear report driven goal, I get results. In other words, my school gets results.

If a school is running a technology integration model, and the school is using Atlas or any other curriculum tracking system, there should be a mandate to track integration technology and cross-curricular integrations. The latter is often forgotten, but it goes hand-in-glove with integration technology.

This what modifying an Atlas template to track technology integration and cross-curricular integrations would look like:

tech_intcrosscurricular

Here is what a simple report looks like in terms of data entry on every subject, and every map:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-03-36-am

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-04-12-am

I can run this report for all year levels in about 10 minutes. I can review the work planned and the work that has already been done. The cross-curricular report is great for discussions. The data is simple, and could easily be part of monthly department level meetings.

With systems like Atlas, the integration team can have access to all the maps. They can make certain this data is collected, they can add notes, and they can contribute to the reflections.

Question 3: Whose fault is it?

This is the question that was on my mind for a few weeks after the initial experience. Upon reflecting on programs that I have been involved in, and programs I am currently involved in, I decided the blame was always clearly on my shoulders when accountability was lacking. As the administrator providing oversight I should require accountability on a level that is reportable, encapsulated, and not taxing for the educational technology team.

If I am the person who leads or supervises the educational technology planning, I should be assigning metrics for minimum contact time, maximum exposure, and differentiation. The technology integration team should be focused on delivery an excellent program to meet those metrics.

I guess the question is, do we know what we don’t know and how can we find out?

 

 

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Should I raise my own children internationally… or settle down?

Title: Should I raise my own children internationally… or settle down?

I have heard this question stated in many forms by both veteran international school educators and those who never worked overseas as educators.

Educators seek out positions overseas for a variety of reasons* (more on the catalysts for this move in a later blog) and often go as singles or couples with no children.  At some point during their career and migrations, they partner-up and/or wish to have children.  When the conversation about ‘starting a family’ floats across the kitchen table (or the bedroom), the discussion then switches to, ‘should we go home and … settle down?’

Other educators have taken their families overseas for a short experience, and when it morphs into a decision about a longer time frame, also begin to question the impact on their children.

I have also met educators stateside, who, after hearing about the world of international education, are intrigued by our lifestyle living and working overseas. When I tried to encourage them to consider a similar career move and lifestyle change, the response often is “oh, I couldn’t do that to my children.” They were paralyzed by the fear of the perceived ‘harm’ they would do to their children.  “We’ll think about it after the youngest goes off to college” or “  …  after we retire.”

Indeed, these concerns were the prime reason for my research**, as an international educator—both to answer the questions in my own head and heart – and to help others who question this lifestyle-career decision.  We all want to know the potential effects on our children.

Responses from readers helped me realized that my subsequent book*** touched on a sensitive and necessary topic. The responses were often emotional, as complete strangers described their personal experiences and expressed their thanks for identifying, analyzing and addressing so many of their own issues – as children growing up as EdKids or adults who are raising EdKids while on their international journeys. Most indicated that they were rarely able to discuss the issues openly in the past.  They told me how cathartic it was to ‘hear’ the voices of the children-students, the parent-educators and the counselors. Some administrators wrote to tell me that they are using the book for new teacher orientation and staff development.  Wow!  I was flattered, humbled and pleased that it has been so helpful.

No, this is not a pitch to sell more books, as I will be writing excerpts from the book in this blog. I truly believe that learning more about this topic will help international school administrators, counselors, parent-educators, colleagues, students, Board members and other community members better understand the dynamics of the educator-family unit. Thus, they will be able to enjoy the pleasures, identify and learn to avoid the pitfalls, reduce the angst and improve relationships, communications, well-being and quality of life/work for all members of the community.

In fact, I would like to use this blog as a platform for your comments, observations and experiences.  Please write to me as a parent-educator, an administrator, a counselor in an international school and/or a educator-child of educators (yes, 30% typically become educators themselves).  I’d love to hear your ‘voices.’

Dr. Zilber is available for seminars and training on a variety of topics. She enjoys receiving comments from readers and colleagues in international schools. Contact her at ettie.zilber@gmail.com

Citations:

*Zilber, E. (2015). The Catalysts for a Career in International Schools. Unpublished Independent Research. InterEd, p. 29

**Zilber, E.   (2005): Perceptions of children of International School Educators: An Exploratory Study of Third Culture Kids. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA.

*** Zilber, E.  (2009). Third Culture Kids: Children of International School Educators.  UK: John Catt.

**** Zilber, E., (2005): International school educators and their children: Implications for educator/parents, colleagues and schools, in Journal of Research on International Education, 4, (1), pp5-22.

 

Posted in Ettie Zilber | 4 Comments

Embracing Regret

        So I’ve been going through the interview process a lot lately, both as a candidate and as a recruiter, and one of the questions that keeps coming up has to do with the idea of mistake making and regret. It’s a good question honestly, as it gets you to reflect critically on your approach to failure, and whether or not your past has impacted your present in a positive or negative way. Mistakes and regrets can be framed very differently I think depending on your mindset…they can be opportunities for growth and action, or they can be a hinderance and debilitating both personally and professionally…it’s all in how you respond, and how your frame the experience.
        Because of these recent interviews I’ve been thinking deeply about this, and it’s given me the chance to look back on how I’ve reacted to the many mistakes that I’ve made, and how the regrets in my life have impacted who I am as a person and as a leader. I’ve come to realize that the more you embrace your failures, the more you grow and the more you learn. It’s the mistakes in your life that shape who you are, and as long as you open your mind, reflect, and do better the next time around, your mistakes, regrets and failures can ultimately become the most powerful opportunities that you have in your life.
        Luckily, I don’t have many true regrets in my life but I certainly have a few. One of them, which I still think about on a regular basis, has shaped who I am as a leader in a very profound way. You see, almost ten years ago, during my first year as an administrator, I had the opportunity to advocate for a student who needed my support. This student was being bullied by a teacher and needed me to stand up for them. The relationship was negatively impacting this student’s ability to be successful in school, and it warranted a hard conversation and some quick action from me…but as it turned out, I lacked the educational courage to do what I needed to do. I’m not proud of that experience, and it haunts me to this day, but looking back on it, it may just be the most important leadership lesson that I’ve ever learned. From that moment on, every time that I have been faced with a hard conversation, or a difficult decision, I think of that kid…and the conversation becomes easier. Because of that one incident, that regret, I no longer lack the courage that is needed to be a true student advocate, and ultimately, dealing with difficult situations has become a strength of mine…it’s all about learning, growing, and becoming better…and seeing a regret, or a mistake as an opportunity to become a better version of yourself.
        I’ve since reached out to that student, and we talked through the incident from both our perspectives, and I apologized for not being there when they needed me. Our relationship is stronger now than it was and they have forgiven me, which is the next key ingredient to growing and becoming better…forgiveness. People will make mistakes, and it is easy to hold grudges or to judge, and to let it affect you in unhealthy ways. The way to move forward, and to truly own your life is to forgive, and to let it go. I know it’s hard but it’s freeing for both parties. I’ve made a practice of forgiving in my life, and I’ve learned to say what it is that I need to say to people. One of the biggest forms of regret are the things that go unsaid. The times in your life when you didn’t thank someone when they deserved your appreciation, or when you didn’t tell someone you loved them enough, or when you held your tongue when you really should of spoken your truth. Well, it’s not too late…
        I’m asking you all this week to do two things…First, think of a person or persons in your life who deserve to hear from you…either a “thank you”, or an “I love you” or an “I’m sorry”… say what you need to say and get it off your chest…don’t wait for it to become a regret down the road. Secondly, think of someone who has wronged you in some way and forgive them…move on. I guarantee that it will be freeing and it will ease our mind in many ways. Let things go that are bringing negative energy into your life and take control. For my part, I’m off to write a couple of emails to people who need to hear from me and I’m excited about it. I hope that you will take some time this week to do the same. Mistakes, failures and regrets don’t have to be negative experiences…they can be framed as opportunities for growth and powerful learnings…embrace them…hold them close to your chest, and do better. It’s all about your mindset and approach. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the week…

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind – C.S. Lewis

 

Interesting Articles/Websites –

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201008/5-key-things-weve-learned-about-regret

http://www.womenunlimitedworldwide.com/how-to-move-on-from-regret/

http://thinksimplenow.com/wisdom/how-to-deal-with-regret/

http://www.pocketmindfulness.com/why-its-perfectly-okay-to-have-regrets/

http://www.spirituallivingforbusypeople.com/embrace-regret

 

Great TED Talk – Embracing Regret (Kathryn Schulz)

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

 

Inspiring Videos – 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxyxywShewI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t186tlhjvMk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghk-nDJB3Tk

http://www.upworthy.com/this-school-replaced-detention-with-meditation-the-results-are-stunning?c=tpstream

Posted in Daniel Kerr | 1 Comment

Election 2016: The Day After

November 9th, 2016.  As is so common at this time of year, weather changes and busy schedules create teacher fatigue and weakened immune systems. As such, I stayed home today in my pajamas in order to get some much-needed rest.

Instead, I found myself glued to the CNN election coverage from the moment I woke up (at 5:00 a.m., like always–go figure).  I was hanging on to the incoming results of each congressional district the same way I hung on to every pitch of World Series game seven last week.  Unfortunately, today’s results didn’t provide me the feelings of relief and jubilation that I experienced for the Cubs. Rather, I sit here dismayed, sad, and wondering what I will say to my students tomorrow.  

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, most Americans will agree that something needs to change in the way politics works in the USA. That sentiment is precisely what led to today’s outcome.  People are angry, frustrated, and feel that their voices aren’t being heard.

But what do I say to those fifth graders I greet tomorrow morning?  When we have our morning meeting where we share and laugh with each other, what will they want to talk about? I have a pretty good idea…but how do I respond?  

During the results coverage, political commentator Van Jones asked, “How do I explain this to my children?” He is certainly not alone in seeking the answer.  Like most teachers, I work to teach my students compassion and integrity.  I guide them to respect and celebrate their differences, rather than frown upon them. I teach them to accept others, embrace mistakes and failures, and live by The Golden Rule. Their emotional growth and well-being, as well as their place in society, are just as important to me as their ability to multiply fractions…if not more so.  But it’s not just me that feels this way; this is why so many of us became teachers.  We don’t do it just to increase students’ knowledge–we do it to impact their lives and enhance their character.

And yet, here we are.  The United States has just elected into power someone who has shown a pattern of bullying behaviors that we would never accept from even our youngest students.  We have elected a person who has spoken unkindly of others based on physical appearances, gender, race and religion. A person who, time and time again, has demonstrated the opposite of the leadership qualities we hope to instill in our students.  

So what do we do?  Well, I am going to start by doing what I do every day: model the same values I aim to teach my students. I am going to treat all of my friends and colleagues with kindness and respect, even if they have different views than me.  I am going to remain positive and believe that the world will keep moving forward, even when it might feel as though we’ve taken a giant step back.  I am going to refrain from arguments with friends on social media.  I will show my students how to demonstrate compassion, use kind words, and be empathetic. I will continue to teach them to question, argue, and defend their positions.  Perhaps most importantly, I will teach them to listen to each other.  It’s time we adults learn to do that as well.

Posted in Shannon Fehse | 8 Comments

Hour of Code: It Is Not Enough

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By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Hour of Codeis a very popular event and activity hosted by Code.org. Millions of students around the world participate in the large coordinated events, and continue to use the website to learn programming. Code.org is a good resource to get students and teachers interested in programming.

In the last year I have listened to numerous educators and administrators comment how their school participated in The Hour of Code. In many instances, I felt that these people believed this single event, and or uncoordinated participation of classes on the Code.org website, constituted a real effort in problem solving, computer science, design, and programming. I have news for everyone, an hour of programming, or even a month on Code.org, is only a half-step on a very long journey.

The Scope

When an educator thinks about the word mathematics they will cycle through categories of mathematics. These include, but are not limited to, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, applied math, statistical analysis, etc. Computer programming, no matter how graphical, has always been based on mathematics. If a student asked if they could do math for an hour once a year would that be celebrated?

The IEEE, which sets standards for engineering and technology worldwide, recently listed the top 10 programming languages in use in 2016:

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Students would need to be exposed to at least three of these languages in order to find meaningful understanding outside of the classroom environment. In a balanced programming curriculum, students would spend at least a year with a new language, while incorporating any other languages they have learned.

The scope is immense. Within each language are tools and nuances that need to be explored. A student does not need to master three languages, but they need to know how to read them, research within them, and implement solutions by following best practice design patterns.

Programming (Coding) is not Computer Science (CS)

In a programming module or course, students can freely create, and create for a variety of audiences. Students can solve problems, make random games, or simply create a utility to improve a user experience.

In a computer science (CS) module or course students need to look at a problem, study a set of data, create a hypothesis, and test that hypothesis. Here is an example of a computer science activity.

Spending small amounts of time exploring programming does not develop the skills needed to engage in CS driven initiative. K-12 curricula need to specifically define CS modules and standards. Educators need to be cautious of students working without testing ideas and well articulated theories. Accidents happening outside the context of understanding will often be confused with competence.

10,000 Hours

In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

There are 52 workweeks in a year. The standard North American workweek is 40 hours long. That is around 2080 workweek hours a year. In roughly five years, a person could develop a new mastery if they solely focused on that endeavour.

Students, however, cannot do the same thing everyday for five years. Students need a well rounded education, and time is in high demand and short supply. In fact, if students used only their scheduled time for programming, they would need 17-21 hours a week for 13 years, to reach 10,000 hours of mastery.

I am not an advocate of an unbalanced and obsessive lifestyle. To help students choose a healthy and steady path to mastery, the curriculum needs to encourage independent study, portability, and third-party opportunities.

Independent study is critical to develop competency in programming or CS. Independent study requires students to find problems and propose solutions. Teachers giving students problems to solve on a flexible schedule is not the same as a true independent study.

Portability simply refers to the students ability to work anywhere. Students are people, and people find inspiration in the most random of places. When inspiration hits, work needs to happen.

In 2005-2007, I developed a partnership with Sun Microsystems in the Middle East and my school. They had a training division (and separate training company). I wanted my computer science students to learn Linux with corporate professionals. This third-party relationship was the first I had ever created for students, and it was one of the best opportunities I have ever given students. Schools need to make these relationships, and if possible, allow the experiences to happen off-campus.

Programs like The Hour of Code are fun and engaging. However, as educators and professionals we cannot lose sight of the goal. All of us must help students find new opportunities, choose a path to mastery, and keep them moving after 100s of potential hours of disappointment.

Mastery does not mean you are finished learning, it means you have accepted you will never stop learning.

motivational_linux

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Itchy feet. Less-than-ideal work environments. Hyperinflation of currency. Disagreements with policy or administration. Being closer to family. Safety and security issues. Dating opportunities…or lack thereof. Stability for the kids. Desire to try something new.

No matter your reason for wanting to move on from one international teaching post to another, there comes a point when you feel it is “time to go”. But what constitutes an optimal length of time to stay at a school?  Most international educators sign initial contracts for two years, with the opportunity to stay beyond that contract if both parties (teacher and school) are willing. Is that enough? Or do schools expect more than that without requiring it outright in the contract?

This has been a topic of conversation amongst many of my international colleagues recently; one which has stirred up many differing opinions and experiences. The question we’ve been trying to answer? “What do schools think about [hiring] a teacher that has stayed two years at 2-3 schools in a row?”

The answer is complicated, obviously. It depends on the school itself, the views of the administrators who are doing the hiring, the resume of the job-seeker, and his or her reasons for leaving schools after only an initial contract, among other factors.

Schools generally want to see some longevity in their faculty. Sure, many of us are travelers by nature who want to explore the world and try out new countries, cultures, languages. But when we sign a contract to teach overseas, our primary responsibility is to our school and our students, not sticking pins in a map.

Only since this conversation began with colleagues a few days ago did I first hear the term “teacher tourist”, but I immediately knew what it meant. In fact, I’ll admit that when I first went overseas in my mid-20’s, I may have fallen into this category. I was excited to see the world and didn’t want to become stagnant in any given place. I signed my first one-year contract not even considering the possibility that I’d want to stay for a second year. I was eager to gain experiences, but at that time, professional growth was not my primary goal.

It wasn’t until an interview in which I was specifically asked about my 1-year, 2-year, 2-year resume that I realized maybe it was time to stay a bit longer in a place. After all, the administrator said, “Staying longer doesn’t just show that you are willing to commit, but it shows that the school is willing to extend your contract.”

Of course, there are often solid reasons for not extending a contract. When personal safety is a concern, or one’s host country is experiencing political turmoil, even the best-laid plans may take a rapid turn. When a family member at home becomes ill, or financial concerns take precedence, a teacher may decide that it is time to move on, even if their intention had been to stay a longer period of time.

If a resume shows a pattern of short-term stays in several different countries or schools, administrators are likely to mention this during an interview. By providing a strong rationale, a teacher may be able to convince the administrator that this does not reflect a lack of commitment; rather, that extenuating circumstances contributed to leaving. However, there is also a chance that an administrator may not even be willing to interview a teacher with such a pattern on their work history. Some teachers who chimed in on this conversation said that their administrators would simply discard resumes that showed multiple short stays in schools or countries.

International schools make an investment in their teachers, monetarily as well as for the program in which they work. Dee Norman, a theater teacher who spent eight years working in Mexico before recently relocating to Dubai had this to say, “If you are not going to stick around for long, then why would they invest the visa money, housing, and PD time to work with you, when they can find an equally qualified candidate who will give them 3+ years? I am not admin, but it sounds like good business to me.”

On some annual government reports on schools in the United States, one of the indicators of stable and higher-quality schools is faculty retention. While some international schools are places of high turnover–for faculty and students alike–many schools pride themselves on the average number of years their teachers remain at the school. When faculty stay longer than their initial contracts, it provides much-needed program continuity, which in turn helps student learning and staff morale.

On the other hand, if teachers are not invested for the long-term, it is very challenging to create any long-lasting positive change.  As many of us are well aware, during the first year of a contract, a new teacher is settling in, becoming acclimated to the school environment, curriculum, and expectations. If that same teacher is already seeking a new job in the second year (often within the first two months of the school year), he or she has never truly had the opportunity to settle in before they are already on their way out the door.

Because the key decision-makers in the hiring process are school administrators, I asked my current principal, Jonathan Johnson (known by many as Zeb) his perspective on this topic. He told me that “recruiters are definitely looking for teachers who are committed, and teachers who are successful.  When people stay in a school for just 2 years, it usually signals that something didn’t work out.  Either the person just saw the opportunity as a chance to live in a new place–which is important, but is not why people are hired, or they didn’t feel they could fit in the school’s community–also not a great sign.”

Ultimately, teachers need to determine the course of action that makes the most sense for them, their family, safety, and finances, as well as consider the school and students for whom they are working. Job-hunting can be emotionally exhausting and moving is expensive, but deciding to stay in a difficult or unhealthy environment may not be the best choice.  Weighing the pros and cons of this decision can be extremely challenging. However, teachers who have had a few short “stints” at several consecutive schools may strongly consider signing on for an extra year at their present location.  Doing so helps demonstrate commitment and shows that the school itself is willing to continue a professional relationship.

Leaving a school after an initial contract is often a difficult decision, but there is no question that longevity among faculty is better for the consistency of the school. Moving every 1-2 years just for the sake of moving, without strong reasons, can eventually cause challenges for a teacher in search of a job. Administrators in international schools are generally understanding of the desire to travel and gain new experiences, but they also have to consider what is best for their programs. According to Jonathan, ”Wanderlust hits us all, but we have to weigh the desire to see the world with the desire to make a difference in a school community, which tends to happen after the initial year(s) of the contract.”

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Kindly Perfectionism

I have heard it said that the happiest person on the Olympic podium is usually the bronze medallist, and the saddest is usually the silver medallist.  The former is delighted with the medal he got, the latter distraught over the medal he missed (apparently the gold medallist is often just relieved!).  So attainment and happiness are not tightly linked.

The same can also be true in a school context.  I saw a student skipping around yesterday, looking absolutely delighted with herself.  She told me that she had just received a 7 (the highest grade in our system) in a test in her favourite subject, in which she has worked so hard.  I congratulated her, really pleased to see her hard-won delight.  Later on in the day I saw her again, and she looked rather miserable; I assumed something else had happened.  When I asked her, she told me that she had been thinking about the test, and was now upset because she realised that it was only a low 7!

I didn’t know what to make of this situation – on the one hand, I was delighted that the student was looking beyond the grade; she was seeking to be the best she could be and I sensed and admired her ambition.  On the other hand, seeking perfection can be a route to constant dissatisfaction and misery.   I fear for the perfectionists, but never want to discourage the right sort of self-drive.

How then do we help students learn to have high standards while still allowing them to enjoy their successes?  How do we ensure that those who make enormous progress are justifiably proud of their achievements, and do not feel overshadowed by those who do a little better?

There’s no simple answer here, and home and school both need to play their part.  We mustn’t always seek to be the best in everything – but nor must we accept low standards.  It’s a difficult balance, and ultimately, one that the students must make for themselves. For our parts, we can consciously and explicitly celebrate effort over achievement (of course the two usually go hand-in-hand), and we can ensure students experience a wide range of diverse areas, so that they all experience success and failure, and learn to deal with both.

So as as we approach reporting time later this term, we need to balance aspiration with realism, and to talk to our students about tempering ambition for themselves with kindness to themselves.  And it’s OK to be pleased, even completely delighted, with a low 7!

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By Nicholas Alchin | Follow me on Twitter @nicholas_alchin

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