The Platonic Academy is Alive and Well

I love when seemingly separate strands wind together like Wittgenstein’s rope. Here are reflections while observing the first of several classes at Akademeia High School in Warsaw. I’m posting this while two visiting scholars from Akademeia are at my school, in their first class observation here. AND a third visiting scholar, here with her family, will continue her European travels to Athens because her children are so interested in the ancient Greeks and Greek mythology. Good teaching, good parenting, good learning, strong rope.

I wait outside my first class visit at Akademeia with just a touch of self-consciousness. I sat down on a bench outside the room with a student, who promptly got up and left. I’m the new kid here, so to speak.

The teacher opens the door and we stream in, eleven of us, 9th graders who must be 14 or 15 years old, and me at 57, grandpa-age for these kids. I’m feeling my age, actually. I’ve definitely got a few years on the teachers I’ve seen here so far.

We start with a quick review of philosophy terms. Do you remember the branches of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics? The students do.

We are at an oval, blonde-wood boardroom table. Students take notes – with no prompting – as the teacher begins her lessons. There is quite a bit of terminology: secular, anno domini, atheist … Most students write with pen and paper, a few on tablets. The teacher creates openings for students to contribute, which they do, some more than others. And then a map of Ancient Greece on the screen – this is the main focus of the lesson.

Students make fun connections with Ancient Greece. They mention the gods, the Mediterranean, the economy (I’m interested in learning more about that), and sports. She has focused their attention, drawn them in. Not bad for first thing in the morning and the study of ancient civilizations.

I’m struck that we are thinking about a time period three thousand years ago. Will there be anyone thinking about us in three thousand years? 

A meta moment: the teacher asks the students about their process. “From the discussion so far,” she asks the students, “what have you written down as notes? How do you know what is important?” This is nice, we’re talking now about how to learn. Skills that transcend the subject matter, another way of making three thousand year old Greek history relevant this September morning, in Warsaw.

We make the switch to reading, an excerpt from “The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Explained Simply.” One student remarks that he’s seen this book in the library. Another student says he read a different book about philosophy, the teacher recommends he brings the book to class. Affirms how great it is that he has encountered philosophy before.

The students copy five guiding questions from the screen. What marked the birth of philosophy? What was the main concern of the early philosophers? I’m guessing the students will answer these as they read. I’m guessing, too, that they will read independently. The teacher takes a moment to discuss study skills again. “Reflect on the questions first, before reading,” she offers as a tip. “Be ready to annotate, to read carefully. This year is about getting ready to handle the IGCSEs.” 

The student who has been most active in the discussion so far offers to read out loud. Her English is excellent, she only stumbles over the Greek names, Thales, Pythagoras. The teacher takes over again when she finishes reading and leads the students to answers for a few of the guiding questions. 

During the discussion one boy defines empirical as “God-like.” The quick-thinking teacher replies, “I wonder where you got that connection?” in a face-saving way, a way that says to the student that he is making connections, albeit not always the right ones. I’m sure the other students notice they can be factually wrong but still right, in the sense that being a learner is about being both wrong and right and learning which is which. She straightens out the meaning for the class, ties the empiricism back to the early philosophers.

The lesson has been teacher directed, with seamless movement between the course topic and an emphasis on developing academic skills. Students contributed the whole forty minutes, flagging just a bit toward the end of the lesson. I can’t ask them, but I imagine they feel very good about themselves. 

Psychological Safety and Education

In the 1950s, the educational psychologist Carl Rogers coined the term psychological safety. By this, he meant an environment in which people can explore their creative potential, take risks, not be afraid of failure, express themselves freely and essentially feel secure in that safe space that allows them to be themselves.

The concept might go back to the 1950s, but we still need to be reminded of it today.

For decades educational systems have been built on the wrong ideas: premised on shouting at children, threatening them, hitting and humiliating them while creating a stifling, stern atmosphere wrought with fear and power hierarchy. Unfortunately this Victorian model is still in force in some institutions, practices and households today.

What this type of behaviour does is it pushes students into their reptilian brains, shredding any sense of confidence in them and, ultimately, as it models symbolic and physical violence, it reproduces this in students who will not know any better than to copy the unpleasant behaviour they have been subjected to and exact it on others.

A good school looks at students in the exact opposite way: we are here to make sure that the classroom is a place where you want to be,where your self belief is built up every day by acts of validation, kindness, recognition, gift spotting and encouragement.

Unfortunately, some of the remnants of the Victorian past still make their way into what might look like enlightened classrooms through seemingly innocuous but potentially damaging throw away comments, sarcasm, damning reports and, quite simply, an inability to be generous enough to see someone’s potential and to say it. Giving a student a bad grade can be enormously hurtful to their inner core, and it should be scaffolded carefully and sensitively, not done with a sense of impatience or superciliousness. 

When students are starved of the feedback they need to garner that quantum of confidence to grow out of their shells, it can be demeaning or worse. This is all the more so since children need the validation of their teachers, in many ways it counts for more than that which comes from families and friends because it is institutional and less tinged by favouritism: it’s the first exposure to the outside world and whether that place will be friendly or hostile.

If we really want creativity, critical thinking, interpersonal sensitivity, multi literateness and human flourishing, then we have to keep reminding ourselves of the idea of psychological safety and should not be misguided into thinking that harshness, coldness, negative feedback and emotional cruelty bring out the best in students.

Some people, already down a track of mastery, already confident and thirsty to go from good to great, might actually seek out this type of “tough love”, the clichéd draconian sports coach type of relationship with their teacher, but these are exceptions and should be understood as such.

Finally, psychological safety, like so many  socio-psychological concepts, is not only educational, it speaks to the professional world too. We all know how tough it is to have a supervisor who never lifts you up, loses their temper, shuts you down and tries to make you afraid: they are lost in the same Victorian illusion and are not bringing out your creative potential. 

You might not be able to change that, but you can control the way you deal with your supervisees, so create a space for them to flourish and give your people what they need to thrive: a feeling that with you, they are safe, they can grow, they can fly. 

 (photograph: Ali Kazal)

The neurocircuitry of prejudice

I wrote my EdD some years ago on prejudice and the different ways that we might consider mitigating it through pedagogic strategies. It was a fascinating journey into the labyrinth of social psychology and neuroscience (here’s the publication if you’d like to go deeper). As my research deepened, it became clear to me that prejudice cannot be eradicated, only reduced, and with great difficulty at that.

What is it that causes prejudice? Well, there’s certainly no simple answer to that – as it means, literally, to prejudge a person, to make up your mind about them before knowing them, before giving them a chance and without deliberately controlling that impulse to judge. And often prejudice hardens too: we cherry pick evidence to reinforce the original position we have taken, to substantiate the judgement, discounting counter-evidence. Trying to undo all of that in our dense psychological framework is asking a lot.

One thing that researchers have known for decades, going all the way back to some of the first social experiments that were run just after WW2, is that when the context flares up (war, economic depression, political tension), fear sets in and, almost automatically, outgrouping increases, stereotypes are rekindled and prejudicial beliefs are exacerbated. When fear sets in, the amygdala – a subcortical “emotional brain” as it were, which regulates instinctive behaviours – plays a central and all-encompassing role in dominating thinking, pushing us into “fright or flight” or “reptilian brain” mode (these terms are layperson shorthand and are actually technically contested, but they will do for now by means of a short cut).

In short, the dark thunderclouds send us into panic and we react by minimising other people, casting them as friend or foe and, of course, this can lead to discrimination and worse. 

The next time someone attacks you, judges you, labels you, realise that they are probably acting, subconsciously, from a place of fear.

Hence, one of the core goals of an education is to help us become aware of the alarming ease with which we can lapse into prejudice and to equip us with the means to make intentional, metacognitively aware decisions that are counterintuitive, and cut against bias.

Rather than lapsing into the comfort of labelling other people, painting them as outgroup villains while wallowing in the warm illusion of belonging to a fictitiously homogenous ingroup; we have to train ourselves, as incommodious as it might be, to walk away from that intuitive prejudicial thinking and to turn to the more difficult work of reconsidering people as individuals and not as groups, listening to what is said and not judging because of who is saying it, and judging after, not before the fact. 

In fact, if education is to move to its highest force, so as to extend consciousness to cosmic, spiritual realms, this would mean not judging another person at all but seeking empathy and likeness. After all, in 99.5% of cases, we share the exact same DNA.

Easier said than done, but if there is one place where the higher and narrower road of compassion and understanding can be built, it is in the classroom. 

(Shoutout to Melanie Wasser for the photograph)

Observations in a math class

After the midpoint break in the first block of classes, I join a grade 12 math class. They are looking at inequalities. The graphs look familiar, they bring back to me the smell of the dusty math classroom at Cooper High School, they make me think of my friend who never brought his math text to class. He borrowed one of the texts in the room instead, and for some inexplicable reason kept it after class to store it in the bottom of my locker. Every now and then we cleared the locker of math texts. His record was 12.

To get the students restarted after break, the teacher projects a problem on the board, gives a brief explanation, and lets the students know they have five minutes to work it out. They are looking to find the equation of the quadratic in the form y = ax2 + bx + c. A hint of recognition flickers in the back of my mind. 

The students work mostly alone, on paper or tablets. After a few minutes the teacher moves to one student to help him out. “You’ve made it a bit too complicated,” he says matter of factly, as he helps the student get back on track. Other students check in with each other. The tables are arranged in a rectangle and we are sitting on the outside perimeter. The student in the middle of a group of three confers with his colleagues to the right and left. He has the luckiest position for getting help, or for helping others, it occurs to me. The teacher takes a look at his work, saying that it is the same answer he has come up with, the student goes back to conferring with his friends. 

The teacher writes out his solution on the board as the students finish their own. This helps me remember a bit more, it must help the students, too. The teacher gives a couple of hints, gives the students a bit more time, lets them know they’ll be looking at a second problem in a minute. As the students finish their work I take a look around the room.

Rectangular, exposed concrete, big windows that go all the way to the floor, it is wonderfully sunny outside and nicely cool inside. One entire wall is white board, from floor to at least a meter over the teacher’s head. I believe this wall folds together to combine with the classroom next door. If I remember correctly, a third room has a similar configuration so that all three rooms can be combined. That’s flexible. And from other math teachers I’ve worked with, I bet the teacher appreciates all that white board writing space. I wonder if the students solve problems at the wall, too?

The teacher works out the second problem, speaking aloud as he writes each step on the board. Students ask questions without raising their hands, there are only seven of them and they are obviously used to this approach of discussing problems, taking turns politely, seemingly willing to ask questions when they don’t understand.

Apparently the teacher has been prepping the students for a bigger assignment, a handout  labeled “classwork” with six graphs. He leads a discussion about the first curve. I love his constant smile, how he leans toward a student when asked a question. Now, in fact, he just stepped over to the student so that they are looking at the problems, projected on the white wall, together. This isn’t a know-it-all teacher, even if he does know it all. This is a colleague who shares an interest in math and is willing to wonder along with the students. 

He leaves them to their work. The student next to me, in a red Audi cap and gray sweatshirt, is already finishing. Other papers in front of other students, from what I can tell, are not nearly as complete. The teacher circulates, but hasn’t made it to our side yet. Red Audi has a question, though, I’m anticipating it’s going to be to confirm his thinking, to make sure he’s done things right. I wait for the teacher to finish helping another student …

And then Red Audi asks his question. The effort of formulating the question is enough to give him the answer before the teacher can reply. So the teacher waits, listens, and then says “Exactly” with that big smile. And then he calls the attention of the class to the front to check the answers to each problem. He asks if they have understood, if they got it right. I suspect it’s possible that some haven’t, but aren’t admitting it. Or maybe I’m just thinking back to my own unhelpful strategies when I was in high school. To sort of pretend I knew what was going on. A horrible strategy. The teacher is satisfied with their answers, the students look as if they are tracking, and now in the last ten minutes of this 80 minute block, the students are given a packet of problems. They all begin working immediately. 

I haven’t thought about discipline issues at all. There are none. There is no shushing, no silly rewards, no cajoling, no shaming. No permission to go to the bathroom. Just discussion about math problems, respectful assistance between some students, and a palpable interest in math. It almost makes me nostalgic for Mr. Omen (I’m not making that name up), my math teacher when I was their age. Almost.


Are you already getting into Christmas or year end activities? In previous years I have recommended books to celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa and others. Here are some good titles to share in the classroom (or use as gifts) during December.

An Aboriginal Carol by David Bouchard.

With Christmas just around the corner, this aboriginal Christmas tale is perfect to share in the classroom. According to traditional beliefs the ‘peace maker’ was born before contact with white Europeans and brings together First Nations, Inuit and Dene groups. Told in poetry in both English and Inuktitut, this is the winter tale of a joyful birth. The incredible art of Moses Beaver illustrates text by David Bouchard while Susan Aglukark provided translation to Inuktitut and music on an accompanying CD. ISBN 978-0-88995-406-9, Fitzhenry & Whiteside

One of my favorite Christmas stories ever, is the book Baseball Bats For Christmas by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak. The award-winning Inuit author paints the perfect picture of life in the high Arctic when he was little. Arvaarluk and his friends lived in in Repulse Bay, a tiny community on the Arctic Circle.  One day a small plane buzzed in and landed on the ice. But what did it deliver? Never having seen trees before, the children try to guess what the six green spindly things are. One of the boys has a brilliant idea: why not use them as baseball bats?  Full of vibrant illustrations, this story gives young readers a glimpse into a time, place, and culture that may be new to them.  A great way also to introduce discussions about Christmas traditions that others may not be familiar with. ISBN 978-1554519286, Annick Press

Island Santa by Sheryl McFarlane, with art by Sheena Lott, is a wonderful story that works on many different levels. Sophie and Sam live on an island, which is great for spotting orcas or seeing seals but not when you are sick. Just before Christmas, Sophie needs to go to the hospital in the city by Water Taxi. Santa arrives each year by boat. But this year Sophie is in the hospital. All Sam wants, is to be with her and his dad. The skipper of Santa’s ship offers Sam a ride and will get him dropped off at the city’s hospital, if he helps along the way. Sam helps sort gifts and make balloon animals. A gale hits when they visit another island. But eventually they safely reach the lighthouse where Santa delivers gifts. And, finally, Sam reaches the hospital where he shares gifts and stories with his family – the perfect way to spend Christmas. This book is not only a heartwarming story, it supports Jeneece Place – a house for island families to stay while their children are in hospital.  ISBN 978-0-9880536-0-1, Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island

A Wayne in a Manger by Gervase Phinn is a small, hilarious book for educators. It’s a heartwarming collection of anecdotes focusing on the nativity scene and Christmas pageants in schools that any teacher will recognize and enjoy. From shepherds clad in housecoats to a nose picking Joseph, from angels falling off stage and many other mishaps, the stories reflect a caring educator who loves nothing better than to observe and stimulate children. This little book will bring you joy and laughter and makes a perfect Christmas gift for other educators. ISBN 978-0141-026-886, Penguin

In this edition of my book review column, I celebrate sharing the 500th book with you! Happy celebrating, no matter which feast of the season you feature.

The making and teaching of history

Blogging while observing class – here is another post in the series. The photo is a doorway in Stare Miasto, the old town in Warsaw. Not much remained from 1666 when this house was rebuilt in 1953.

The students are on break, one student mentions the long wait at the border over the weekend, coming back from Lviv to Warsaw. The war in the neighboring country feels suddenly very close.

I’ve grown accustomed to the physical space of the school. Oval tables with students bunched on the side furthest from the whiteboard, the teacher right next to the whiteboard with empty chairs to both his left and right. I know a number of these students now, I’ve interacted with more than half of them during my week-long visit here at their school. Many of them say hello when they see me, one tall boy waves at me through the glass wall. 

Like in other classes, there isn’t much time for rapport. Class gets underway directly and the students start taking notes on their tablets or computers as the teacher begins reviewing the lesson from the last class. I chuckle to myself a little. Not because the teacher is being funny, but because he’s explaining the incredible gray blur of history while dressed in a white shirt, black jeans, and white Adidas with black stripes on his feet. His coffee cup is white. There is a black screen behind him, a whiteboard next to that. Everything here is black-white. Everything in history is anything but. 

Apparently there was a Moroccan crisis in 1905. This is new territory for me, I admit to knowing little about Morocco. I need spellcheck to even write it correctly here. Three o’s, not a single a. I know Casablanca, the city, and Casablanca the movie, and the incredible destruction in the country by the recent earthquake there. I know that the Moroccans I’ve met speak Arabic and French.

We move to the subject of the day, Germany’s dependence on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The teacher introduces (or perhaps reintroduces) me to the Schlieffen plan, named for Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen. The students are familiar with it, they have done the reading. The plan details the invasion of France, arriving in part through Belgium, the takeover swift, just a couple of weeks. The plan is preemptive, although one student feels differently. Now the discussion takes off, several students start debating at once.

These students are discussing military tactics. What-ifs. Manners in which to win a war, to take over a country.

One student has been trying to get the floor, but too subtly. Her hand is up, sort of, it’s next to her face, unmoving. I haven’t noticed students raising their hands in the other classes, they usually just join the conversation. I wonder if she is somehow feeling good by not being recognized by the teacher. When he does call on her, she declines to take the floor. Little things that might not mean a thing. Or might indicate something that should be addressed. Or I’m reading too much into it. She  leaves her hand next to her face, and a few minutes later the teacher calls on her. Now she states her opinion confidently. There really is no way teachers can know all that is going on with students, know what they need, know what they are struggling with. Something is going on there.

The discussion turns to a few influential figures who contributed to the notion that the expansion of the German Volk beyond Germany was justified. I learn of Max Weber, who preached liberal imperialism, justifying the German Weltpolitik, and Kurt Riezler, a journalist and an advisor in the foreign office, who also justified German colonization. Another German mentions needing more land in order to support growth, I missed the name. All of this smacks of Lebensraum, which I associate more with the Second World War. The notion was incubating, growing, setting the stage for atrocities of a scale we still cannot comprehend. 

I can’t help but think about the tours I took this weekend, here in Warsaw. The Jewish ghetto, the Polin Museum, the Umschlagplatz from which so many innocent people were removed from Warsaw and killed in Treblinka. We are learning of the past to prevent repeating our mistakes, yet CNN online, at this very moment (I switch from my document to a browser to check) leads with the story: 

Strikes cause ‘significant damage’ to Odesa port.

These students are studying history, yet they are also studying people, what they think and how they act right now. I don’t know if they realize yet that history is also today and tomorrow, despite the refugees from Ukraine who are their classmates, despite the daily news, despite a weekend spent waiting at a border of a country at war.

The Intersection of Nepotism, AI, and Human Intelligence: No Shortcuts

Face it, we live in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Even here in Hawaii, a place where much of the world thinks of as paradise. There is an increasing necessity to not only look at the facts but to apply our HI. No, not HI as in the abbreviated form of Hawaii. Rather, HI as in Human Intelligence.  To think for oneself. Not to kid oneself either. Legislation in Hawaii passed in 2010 a requirement that single-family dwellings being built must have solar water heaters. Four years later, all single-use plastic carryout bags were prohibited. As we come upon the tenth anniversary of this ban, we still need to focus and see the forest through the trees. Much remains to be done in Hawaii if we are to truly become more sustainable. The photo above, taken from my home, is but one example. Seeing the whole picture is necessary. A beautiful coastline, open space, and yet the neon green arrow points to where diesel oil burns for energy. A shortcut of sorts. 

Education in the AI Era: Shortcuts and Consequences

Recently a colleague encouraged me to install Brisk and Origins as Chrome extensions to detect the misuse of AI and plagiarism. To catch out students who opt for shortcuts. Ultimately though, my energies are more into teaching how to use AI as a thought partner of sorts as from personal experience I’ve garnered an understanding of how AI has the potential to create deeper learning. Surprisingly, however, I have found that many students are reluctant to utilize AI. Though initially drawn to it, students have shared how if used ethically, AI often creates more work. More work? Or, more learning?  

An invitation for more “work” is not one usually accepted. Increasingly this appears to be true. As students juggle academics, athletics, the fine arts, and all else whirling in their busy lives I sometimes marvel at the choices being made. For example, many students today have a much more “unique” approach to reading than a few generations ago. Maybe you remember the time, PI (pre-internet), when just had the book and maybe a copy of Spark Notes you purchased in a physical book. Today with the ubiquity of resources, instead of delving into the depths of a book, more traditionally or straightforwardly, students resort to a cunning shortcut. But there are no shortcuts. Watching videos, reading websites, and doing everything BUT reading the book, is a search to reach comprehension without the hassle of exhaustive reading. Ionically this makes the process a whole lot more laborious than just sitting back and reading the book!

Similar to the clever game of intellectual maneuvering to “read” a book, these past months as students apply to universities, I have wondered to what degree students are being used by AI. Opting for the long and winding road, interested in mastering the art of shortcuts, is an inaccurate portrayal being demonstrated to admissions departments? A colleague of mine advises, “Reality will surely strike.” Universities are likely to feel the brunt of who students “really” are and what students can do themselves. AI might be a tool that helps a student jump through the hoop, but once admitted might they be ill-prepared? If so, what might this mean to the future workforce? 

The Shortcut Myth

The current conversations of AI and ethics remind me of the nepotism I confronted early in my international teaching career.  “But Matthew, Martin is a ​​Dueñas (surname),” chided the director of the school. I was unfamiliar with the power of a last name and had never experienced such favoritism.  “Matthew, the Dueñas never fail.” All I knew was that Martin had done nothing all year. He knew, his family knew, and the director knew. Yet, ultimately I would be asked to change his grade. I stood my ground and let the director know that it would have to be her to do such a thing, not me.

There is a Chinese saying that goes “Wealth does not last beyond three generations.” This can be likened to a similar belief depicted in the American expression, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”. Later in my international teaching career I would have a chance to see this adage playing out and would once again confront nepotism. This time, however, in a different region of the world. The fading of generational wealth was evident as I was introduced to hard-working and determined grandparents who were the builders and first generation of wealth. Students’ parents often were the maintainers and were able to preserve the wealth. Yet, various students, the third generation, were either being pushed through their education or accustomed to taking shortcuts. Unaware that there are no shortcuts. Ultimately, they would be inheriting companies and positions of power in which they were ill-equipped to perform. In effect, they were on the path to becoming the squanders of the families’ wealth. 

Nepotism, seemingly in the DNA of many cultures and industries, shares a kinship with the advent of AI as a shortcut. They both illustrate a preference for the familiar over the uncharted. Nepotism prioritizes kinship over meritocracy, while AI prioritizes convenience over authenticity and understanding. I continue to be a proponent of AI, recognizing that it is here to stay. It can and should be used as a tool. Also, one of the elephants in the room is the “shortcut myth.” AI may be just as students report, “more work.” However, when leveraged with honesty, as a tool, an addition, not a replacement to our Human Intelligence, results may generate greater opportunities, broader perspectives, and deeper understanding. In contrast to the constraints of nepotism, possibilities loom.

Meanwhile, it may help if we remember, there are no shortcuts.


Next Level

Supporting Neuro-diverse Learners through Engagement

Bonjour !

Je suis toujours un peu nerveux, quand j’observe un cours de français. C’est normal que le prof me demande quelque chose pendant l’heure et je sais que mon niveau de la langue n’est pas très bon pour les quinze ans que j’habite en Suisse romande. Mais voilà, c’est comme ça. 

“On commence,” says the teacher, as the screen comes to life. Students take out notebooks or tablets. The assignment is to connect a phrase in the left column with its logical continuation in the right column. Un terrain ー de sport, for example. Une école ー privée. There are a few questions about vocabulary as the students complete the activity. The teacher writes on the whiteboard facultatif ≠ obligatoire. I’m pleased that he runs the class in French, far too often world language classes are conducted in English, with the result that leads many of us to say,  later in life: “I had three years of French, but all I remember is “bonjour” and “ça va.

One of the students to my left has a beautiful French accent. There must be a story there. Lived in France? Mother is French? She entered the classroom speaking Polish with her friends, the school is run entirely in English, she’s well on her way in French and who knows what other languages. These students are really something.

There’s a chance for a vocabulary twofer that we missed. A student asked what améliorer means. The teacher explained, in French, making a connection with the word meilleur, or best. But ameliorate is a nice, highbrow English word, too. The high falutin’ words in English are so often connected to French. I remember studying for the graduate records exam before learning any French. The fancy words I learned, like ameliorate, keep popping up now as I read and hear more French. The word fenestration came up just last week in an art class. Listen for them, English is full of them: rendez-vous, coup de grâce, promenade, coup de grâcedéjà-vu. See what I did there?

The students listen to a recording of young French voices explaining why they like cultural exchanges. Then the teacher gives everyone the transcripts and the students, in pairs, find and correct the errors. Now they are ready to move on to an exercise in the textbook. (Except that one student asks to go get his textbook, he didn’t bring it to class today. He’s gone for a few minutes to fetch it.)

The students turn to a cloze exercise. It’s about exchange programs again, the teacher is working this theme from different angles, but this time words are occasionally deleted from the text, leaving just a blank space. The missing words are provided, randomly, at the bottom of the page. Cloze exercises were first described by Wilson Taylor in 1953, but you can bet the basic strategy here is a time-eternal way of learning a foreign language. 

Tutor: “So the girl picked up a …. 

Tutee: Pen! 

Tutor:… and took out a piece of 

Tutee: Paper!” 

At least, that’s how it sounds when the tutor is working with an informed tutee. If the tutor picks vocabulary that is too advanced, or if the tutee doesn’t really care to learn, you are left with the tedious:

Tutor: “So the girl picked up a …. 

Tutee: [silence]

Tutor: …. a …

Tutee: [continued silence]

Tutor: pen and took out a piece of …

Tutee: [silence]

Tutor: … a piece of …

Tutee: [continued silence]

Tutor: paper. 

Luckily, in this class, the teacher is working at the right level and the students are applying themselves. The teacher assists when necessary, the cloze exercise seems helpful. I do the exercise along with them, in my head, happy that I don’t need the random cue words at the bottom of the page to get the right answer. In the study of French, small victories are important to celebrate, because there are so many ways to get things wrong. Just ask my own French tutor about me.

I wasn’t asked to speak, and now the lesson is done, so I don’t have to share my accented French with this group. There are always plenty of opportunities for that at home.

Au revoir !

All The Facts

So recently, after attending the regional EARCOS Leadership Conference, I felt compelled to re-read one of my all time favorite books, and to be honest, I came away feeling even more inspired than I did the first time around. The book is titled, Factfulness, by Hans Rosling, and even though it was released in the spring of 2018, I think it resonates even more deeply with me now in 2023. Seriously, If you haven’t read this book yet then you should, and if you have, then I’m encouraging you to read it again because the world has changed drastically over the past 5 years, and much of our thinking around the issues that we are all facing in today’s global environment need to be filtered through a different and updated lens. 

Rosling, and the information that he presents in the book absolutely challenged my thinking, and my biases, and ultimately drove me to change the way that I view the world. It was also helpful for me because the book highlights the tendency that we all have as people to believe that we know what we really don’t know, and to believe that our individual “truth” is the actual truth, when oftentimes it’s not. This book will absolutely disrupt your thinking, and it connects perfectly with many of the themes that were discussed throughout the EARCOS conference. Themes that are just too big and urgent to ignore, and ones that need to be discussed deeply in every educational setting across the globe. 

Two of these urgent themes, and the ones that had the biggest impact on me as a leader, revolved around the deep and ongoing need to embed a culture of belonging within our schools, and of course, how Artificial Intelligence is rapidly changing the global landscape of education. We will all need to approach and manage these conversations not only contextually, but with a focus on systems thinking, data analysis, and pacing with regards to change management. 

This book will also help you to think about the human instincts that we all have, which can ultimately distort our views of the world. Instincts that can blur our focus as we step into some really important work. Some examples of these instincts that are outlined in the book, and ones that have resonated deeply with me are below…

Straight Line Instinct –  The tendency to assume that a trend line will just continue straight and ignoring that such lines are rare in reality. (Think population growth as an example)

Fear Instinct – The hardwired tendency that we have as people to pay more attention to the frightening and negative things that we see in the world, rather than the positive.

Generalization Instinct – The tendency to mistakenly group together things or people or countries that are actually very different. High context versus low context cultures for example.

Destiny Instinct – The idea that innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions, or cultures; that things are as they are because of inescapable reasons.

Single Perspective – Our tendency to focus on a single cause or perspective when it comes to understanding the world. (Relying only on the media for example).

Blame Instinct – The tendency to look for a clear, simple reason for why something bad has happened. It’s never as simple as you think. 

As you can see, Factfulness has much to unpack, and all of it is worthwhile. In fact, after reading this book I’m sure that you will want it included as mandatory reading for all High School students, and I agree. Anyway, we really are living in a time of incredible change and it’s exciting in so many ways. In other ways it’s scary and daunting, knowing that the work ahead is in many ways uncharted and foreign to us as educators. The work is full of purpose and hope however, and we are up for the challenge I know. We just need to make sure that we enter into it with the right world view, the right lens and perspectives, and with all the facts. Have a wonderful week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Cultures, nations, religions, and people are not rocks. They are in constant transformation.

– Hans Rosling

Related Articles –

Your Brain on Bias 

Are You Aware?

Data Driven Culture

Trusting Your Gut

OECD A Sense of Belonging

TED Talks – Hans Rosling

Inspiring Videos –

The Weekly Breakfast

Taking Flight

10 Things That Made Us Smile

Bill Gates on Factfulness