Let 2014 be the year of purpose, not position…

So much happened this year…

So I went for a ski today in my backyard (which happens to be in the Swiss Alps)

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and it got me to thinking, as being in a beautiful place can do.

So much happened. So much tragedy. So much triumph. I watched that video above five times and couldn’t get through it without a lump in my throat. Is that what your school year felt like? Was it inspirational? Did it have new beginnings? New frontiers? Or was it just another year with pretty good I.B. scores and relatively happy parents?

After five years in the Alps, I have decided to move on. There were plenty of new frontiers since 2009, many new beginnings, a few triumphs, and definite tragedies. It was a lifetime lived. When I went to see my boss, I told him my goal four years ago was to ‘work myself out of a job,’ to make the people around me better, to hire the best talent I could find, and then to let them go. It was not easy at all, but we finally reached that zenith.

And now after twenty years in the business, I am taking the time to reflect not just on the next position, but the purpose. This is not an easy thing. It’s akin to stepping off a moving treadmill. I’ve been on many interviews and a finalist at three. But something is missing. Everyone seems so earnest and hard working. But the questions keep coming back to the same themes.

“How do you improve I.B. scores?”
“How do you take a good school and make it great?”
“What part does God play in your leadership?” (Yes that was an actual question)
“What are your thoughts on performance pay?”

I guess these are all legitimate questions but in my mind their purpose did not inspire me (even the God question). There is so much going on in the world that is moving so fast, we need something other than the same but “better.” I recall a recent lecture I heard on innovation refer to this as ‘sustainable change.’

Believe me, this is not easy. It is so easy to stay comfortable in international ed. It’s a pretty nice gig. You choose the country, target a few schools, and enjoy a decent lifestyle with pretty good kids. Who wants to change that?

I guess I do. So, while I walk the idyllic, evergreen lined roads of the Alps, wondering how on Earth I could walk from such a comfortable lifestyle, I listen to podcasts like Education Next and Ted Talks Education as well as The Meet Education Project and they get me to thinking…A lot of us are doing our best. But it’s not enough.

I had good answers to the above questions. But it spoke to the position, not my purpose.

Good luck to those of you attending the job fairs this year. Keep that purpose in mind. I know that the beach and those mountains are beautiful. But the students and what they need to make a difference in this crazy world are far more important.

Make it count. The world needs this generation too much. Do it because you have purpose.

I’ll leave Bono and Mary J to say the rest. Have a purposeful 2014.

On Average

It’s Saturday and night and I am writing letters…the same kind of letters that so many heads and principals in international schools are writing… letters of recommendation for just about anyone we have ever worked with who wants a new job. And of course this is a valuable ‘report card’ for the schools seeking to fill vacancies. It’s a reasonable practice, if all involved remain thoughtful and ethical.

But what is NOT reasonable is the double standard that we are asked to apply to teachers versus students in this teacher form of a ‘summative’ report card.

Despite the now long standing practice of working from standards- based curriculum, that final ‘report card’ for kids is all too often an ‘average’ – be it numerical or narrative- of the learning over a whole reporting period…and sometimes over an entire year. I think we all know what averaging is; it combines evidence from the beginning of a period of learning with where they eventually arrived and everywhere along the way. It is one of those practices which NEVER should have been established, NEVER made sense and yet still today grips whole schools – even ‘enlightened’ international schools!

We in the learning business know better than anyone that learning is a process – a process of connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar, determining contexts in which those connections matter, practicing within those contexts, ‘failing’ many times, and making the new learning a routine part of our repertoire. It is a process which unfolds at a personal pace, odd and unpredictable intervals, sometimes as an ‘ah-ha’, sometimes bit by bit. -NONE of these match the ingredients needed to make averaging useful.

Averaging is not just an outdated process; it is actually inaccurate and even unethical, particularly now that learning standards are the norm. Surely we have the obligation to assist the learner in knowing to what extent a standard has been achieved, deemphasizing for the most part how long or how many times it took achieve it.

Serial ‘averagers’, (particularly those in secondary school) have a difficult time letting go. Somehow it is not ‘fair’ to those who learn early and well to allow one who learns more slowly – who EVENTUALLY learns and learns well- to end up with the same ‘grade’. Averaging values the ‘early’, more than the ‘well’. It seems more about ‘equity’ and comparing kids to others than about progress in learning. Essentially, averaging holds kids hostage to early learning attempts and teaches them that failure to learn RIGHT AWAY is a serious offense that they will pay for over and over.

I find the ritual of writing recommendation letters the quintessential opportunity to help teachers better understand why this practice of averaging MUST be fully eliminated. Pretty simple really. To those still wedded to the averaging process for kids, I reply: Yes, I will write you a letter. And it will describe the ‘average’ of the teacher you were in the first year together with all the other years -NOT the brilliant teacher you actually were when we finished our work together. Still want the letter?

How to Change a Nation

Eight years ago, Prince Saud bin Khalid Al Saud of Saudi Arabia founded and funded a new international school, the first of its kind geared to the needs of Saudi K-12 students.

Until the creation of Advanced Learning Schools (ALS), all Saudi nationals living in the country were required to attend a Saudi curriculum school. By contrast, ALS was founded and developed as an IB school system, with the IB’s international, English-language curriculum from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

The success of ALS to date has led the Saudi Ministry of Education to change the laws, and permit new international and/or private national schools to enroll Saudi nationals.

Right now in fact, many of the students at ALS come from the Royal Family. When they come of age, I am certain many will have a major part to play in turning their nation into a modern, progressive state—with equal rights for women.

This is how you change a nation! Through education.

 

Learn more at http://www.alsschools.com/

The Leaning Tower of PISA

I doubt I am the first to come up with that title, but I liked it so much.

The results of the PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) have made headlines once again, and the leader of the free world (America) is being publicly berated for its declining education system and for having to explain why it is ranked below places like Poland and Estonia. The Estonia Phenomenon?

So, I looked up the data and found a couple of things that I found noteworthy. First of all, it is well worth it to read a variety of analysis of the data, my favorite being Yong Zhao test scores vs entrepeneurship, who has done a nice job pointing out the negative correlation between high PISA scores and low GEM (Global Entrepeneurship Monitor) ratings. Hmm, maybe there is hope for the place that created I-Pads and Google.

For those of you not keeping track of the changes happening in education, there is a seismic shift taking place in the judgement around what is a good education. Strangely, these outcomes are not found on PISA. In fact, the schools with the high PISA rankings are lamenting the fact that they don’t have higher GEM scores, while the countries with the low PISA scores (America) want to be more like them!

China, for example, is not resting on its PISA laurels. They are in the process of building ‘international schools’ within their schools to enhance creativity, entrepeneurship, and critical thinking, all the things that the so called “West” seems to excel at but does not show up in PISA. So, while the West drives education into the ground with state mandated testing and mind-numbing data (read: The Massachusetts “Miracle”) to climb the PISA ladder, countries like China are already starting to run a different race. Who doesn’t want to claim the next Steve Jobs?

Here’s another astonishing fact indicates why this is not a race that can be won by a well-intentioned democracy:

“Each country is responsible for recruiting the sampled schools.”

Yes, that is an actual guideline for the PISA test. And you wonder why America is 26th? While America spends billions on mandates like No Child Left Behind and the requirements of special education laws, much of the world is not only leaving children behind and ignoring that special education exists, they are climbing the rankings of PISA.

My son goes to school in Switzerland. They are ranked #10. The newspapers are lauding this accomplishment as yet another reason why they are leaders in the world economy, etc. My son’s experience in school goes something like this:

1) At grade seven, students are separated into “college bound” and “vocational bound.”
2) The “college bound” students are put into large, drab classes that remind me of the duck and cover videos of 1952 in America, taught by teachers who use overhead projectors, and drilled and killed in the basics until their eyes bleed. My son’s school does not have wireless and his friends on the “vocational track” are never heard from again, let alone allowed to take a PISA test.

3) I visited his school for parent night. The building was a rectangle structure of drab, grey cement. Nothing hangs on the walls inside except a plastic world map featuring Yugoslavia and a divided Germany. (for those of you wondering why he is not at my school instead, it is because ours is only a secondary school and he’s not old enough).

This is what the U.S. is chasing?

If it wants to continue ‘killing and drilling,’ shave off the top five percent for score reporting, deny that special education exists, and give the false illusion that these rankings can determine what education should look like in the 21st century, then it can keep doing what it is doing to try to catch up.

Dan Pink famously said that we are exiting the information age and entering the dawn of the conceptual age. He’s right.

Steve Jobs said he was not interested in what people wanted. He was interested in telling them what they wanted. That didn’t work out so bad.

Is there a test for that?

How to Enjoy Life Abroad after the ‘HoneyMoon’

We came to live in China as a family, full of hopes, a few expectations and a real sense of adventure! For the first three months, everything was new and exciting and we had our explorers’ hats on. Fast forward four months and I would start to wake up in the mornings, missing home, missing family and craving all the foods that are hard to get here.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter how wonderful your time away is, how great the experience, it is totally natural to feel that deep sense of wanting the old familiar and to be back at home.

When I started to feel homesick, I started to make sure I did the following and perhaps, if you ever have those feelings, you could try some too!

1. I LOVE it when I receive post or an email but of course I need to make sure I keep in touch too. I wrote to lots of friends and family telling them how I felt and also my news… and then throughout the week, I kept receiving different messages from each one, all assuring me that life was the same back in the UK and to try and enjoy my time here with my little family – it helped enormously!

2. Ask for post and parcels! I asked my mother to send me some bits and pieces (and was very specific) – and a few weeks later, an enormous parcel arrived for us all filled with joy and treats! I read her letter over and over and we all are continuing to enjoy the benefits of that parcel. Sending post overseas is pricey (her package cost about £70!) but you can always offer to pay the postage price and/or for what you have asked for. I love seeing an email in my school inbox from our wonderful receptionist telling me to pop on over to collect a parcel! It makes my day, enables me to feel connected and sustains a feeling of happiness that transcends getting the material goods… it is the thought that really does count! My brother once sent me a tiny package with a few grains of rice in as a joke… it sure made my day still and I was smiling all week because of his thoughtfulness.

3. Hang out with your new family. We are all in the same boat. Most of the staff in the school have travelled overseas, some with children others not, but being together, eating meals, planning events, traveling in the holidays and going for a coffee after school are all helpful ways to keep the feeling that you are not alone out there – you have friends and they might not be blood relatives, but most of them if not all would do anything for you if you needed it! One of our friends is travelling abroad for the winter break and she has kindly offered to let us use her apartment whilst she is gone so we can cook in her oven (most people don’t have an oven here!) It’s these small acts of kindness that can warm the cockles of the heart.

4. Allow yourself time to feel sad… then get moving! I feel quite lucky that I have my daughter and husband here – they are both amazing! I also try to see our time here through their eyes – my daughter is having the best time and my husband is making the most of not working to serve the school community and our family by washing, cleaning and cooking -priceless service! So I take time every day to look around and to count my blessings and to be grateful for all we have – a really lovely and spacious apartment, friends, good food (albeit not the pie and mash and gravy I am craving but still!) the chance to learn more about this wonderful culture and more time than we ever had in the UK to spend time together as a family.

5. Become involved. Whatever the school is doing, whether it’s Secret Santa, a staff do or an outing… go for it! Loneliness can bring about more loneliness and sometimes you just need to say YES! I WILL go on that trip… I WILL make a dish for the potluck and go to that concert. Reach out to others… let them know how you feel and don’t suffer alone. You are one of a few people who get up from their couch and venture to another part of our small yet vast world – it’s amazing what you have already done and just the act of you travelling to this country has enabled others in your home community to feel inspired. I only know this because every now and then, someone from home reminds me of this!! And that makes it even more worthwhile – some think it’s selfish to travel but I feel it can affect everyone in a really positive way. You create ripples, you bring opportunities and if other people allow themselves, they can be motivated to make changes too.

My Dad wrote me a very special message the other day in an email which made me feel SO happy and glad that we took this step to come here. He said that our daughter would one day have an amazing scrap book of memories to look back upon… so if you’re feeling homesick, focus on the positives, try not to dwell too much on your favourite shop at home (that is what I have been doing the past few weeks!) and keep reminding yourself why you travelled in the first place!

My daughter and I taking part in school Halloween celebrations!

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Holiday Magic

So it’s official…I have the holiday spirit! There’s something about this time of the year that puts an extra spring in my step, and puts an extra large smile on my face. I’m not sure if it’s the excitement of the upcoming holiday break, or the fact that we’ve had such a fantastic first semester but as I sit here and write this post (with my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree lit up in front of me) I feel as jolly as old Saint Nick. I have so many amazing memories of my winter breaks growing up…memories all tied around friends and family and traditions, and I’m sure most of you do as well. I love thinking back about the magic of Christmas time when I was a kid, and how desperately sure I was that Santa was going to somehow squeeze down through the chimney. I loved how everyone seemed to be just a little bit happier, and a little bit kinder, and a little bit more willing to give….it really felt like a magical time growing up, and to tell you the truth, in many ways it still does.

What I love most about this time of the year however, are the opportunities that we all have to give of ourselves to others, to reconnect with the people that we love, to reflect on the year that was, and to recharge and refocus for the upcoming year and semester ahead. We also get a chance over the next few weeks to share a little holiday cheer/spirit with others, and to spread some of that magic around to everyone we talk to. I guess I just want to casually remind you all of the beauty of this time of the year, and even though we have a busy last week ahead, take some time over the next five days to slow down and take a breath, and soak up all the positive energy that is spilling out from our students…..let’s smile a bit more, give out a few more hugs, and spread that holiday magic around!

I want to also wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season, and a happy and prosperous New Year. I’ve included a great link below to one of my favorite memories of Christmas time as a kid (John Denver and the Muppets), and I’ve also included a link to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech from 1994, as I know that we’re all thinking these days about what a remarkable man he was, and how he forever changed our world for the better……talk about spreading magic! Finally, I hope you enjoy the following poem by Bessie Rayner Parkes…..with a new year comes endless opportunities, so celebrate the good, learn from the bad, and reflect on how you can make 2014 your best year to date. Have a wonderful final week of the first semester everyone, and remember to be magical for our kids, and magical for each other.

New-year’s Eve and New-year’s Day
– Bessie Rayner Parkes

Good bye, Old Year!
And with thee take
Thanks for the gifts to every land
Thou broughtest in thy bounteous hand,
And all that thou hast taught to hearts thy lingering steps forsake.
Good bye, Old Year!
The Past awaiteth thee.
Who ruleth in her power alone
The kingdom of Oblivion.
Silent she sits in ebon chair;
Falling mists of dusky hair
Veil her dark eyes’ glorious shine,
Full of wise help, and truth divine.
Silent, unless a fitful sound,
As from some cavern underground,
Steal from her lips; the company
Of ancient Years that round her be,
Then chanting, one by one, give tongue
To old experience in their song.

Good bye, Old Year!
Thou goest forth alone,
As we shall do: thy pages gay,
Seasons and months who round thee lay,
Attend thee to Earth’s farthest verge, then back! to greet thy son.

Hail, New-born Year!
Cradled in morning clouds
Golden and white. I cannot see
Thy face–’tis wrapp’d in mystery;
But Spring for thee is painting flowers,
And Summer decks her woven bowers;
Rich Autumn’s sheaves will soon be reap’d,
With store of fruits in sunbeams steep’d,
And one by one with gentle hand folds back thy sunlit shrouds.

Hail, New-born Year!
Shining and beautiful,
Thou wilt step forth in plenitude
Of youth and its rejoicing mood.
Last child of the half-century,
And time of coming victory
Over the spirits of night and sin,
Whose howlings of defeat begin:
Thou bringest hope, and labour bless’d
In visions of successful rest,
Bringest great thoughts, and actions wrought
In fire upon that forge of thought,
And with the soul of earnestness I think thy youths are full.

Hail, New-born Year!
My utterance is too weak
To tell of all I think thou bringest,
To echo back the song thou singest;
But the very winds of Heaven for those who listen to them, speak!

Quote of the Week…….
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
– Nelson Mandela

John Denver and the Muppets – 12 Days of Christmas (an oldie but a goodie)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDBMzGq1vhs
Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration Speech
http://www.upworthy.com/on-may-10-1994-nelson-mandela-silenced-the-world-with-these-inspiring-words
TED Talk – Boyd Varty
http://www.ted.com/talks/boyd_varty_what_i_learned_from_nelson_mandela.html

Timing is Everything

It’s 8am, Monday.

“Okay, everyone, sit down and take out your books and go to page 37 and do the exercise B now. Why aren’t you listening? Richard, please sit down. You don’t have your book? Why are you late?”

And so on. And so on.

Why is it that we educators insist that our students tune into what we want our students to do at the exact time or moment that they need them to? How many of us can do that? How many of us switch between various tasks (and usually end up on email) when we just can’t do that thing at that specific time?

So, what are you saying? Just let students not pay attention to what you are doing?

Well, kind of. I know this is difficult to understand, but learning is becoming less and less about YOU. By the end of this blog, I think you’ll be thanking me, although it is still a scary thing to comprehend. From DuFour to Marzano, the research tells us over and over and over the importance of the learning climate and learner engagement.

I am a Principal who also teaches a class called digital literacy. No, the seniors don’t care that I am the Principal. They still come late, usually holding a coffee, at times out of uniform, and often texting while I am talking. Yes, I get annoyed and tell them to close their devices, but since the class is called DL, I have a love/hate relationship with allowing them to keep said devices.

So, I had a class meeting one day. Ever have one of those? They can be quite liberating. “I know this is hard for you,” I started. “But I need you to listen to me for a minute. This is what is not working for me today.” (And I listed a bunch of stuff). Then it was their turn. What came out of it was startling.

“You don’t trust us to do our work. You think we’re always slacking where you just need to tell us what to do and we will get it done. Maybe we just have something else we need to do at that time.”

“Why do we always have to do what you want at the exact moment? We will get to it, we just have so many other things we need to do right now, like a big project next class I am worried about.”

Now, I know where some of you will go with this, allowing a bunch of seniors to turn my class into a study hall where they can do what they want with no accountability. I couldn’t help but think of the reaction to Khan Academy when it first started.

Today we had our final projects. The girl with whom I have had quite a few challenges with texting during class, you tube videos, online shopping, and goodness knows what other distractions during class, had done exactly as I had asked. In fact, her digital portfolio was one of the best. She gave me a “told you so” smile at the end of her presentation. I was astonished.

I don’t know all of the implications for classroom management or control. What I do know is that we have to accept the humbling reality that the teacher cannot be the center of attention in the 21st century. Maybe you’re not the most important thing at that particular moment. And God forbid, maybe what you’re insisting is the most important thing at that particular time, just isn’t. When you are mixing dangerous chemicals, it is probably a good idea that you are the center of attention. Otherwise, start changing your skill set or you’re going to keep handing out a lot of detentions and completely missing a lot of learning opportunities.

5 Tricks of the Trade for Substitute Teachers

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By Kailie Nagrath

As an intern my primary role is to be the ‘go-to’ substitute teacher for classes in grade levels from Preschool to grade 4.

They didn’t Teach this in College

So far, I have subbed for all grade levels, and have found that one thing is for sure, with all the training we get in college – from classes in education and psychology, to student observations and field practicums – nothing teaches you how to handle this!

Learn as you Go

At first it felt like being thrown into the deep-end of the ocean, but I am starting to see the light and have actually figured out a few tricks of the trade which I will summarize here.  Subsequent blogs will delve a bit deeper into each strategy, but none of these are etched in stone.  As teachers we learn as we go, and one important learning method is to talk to other teachers.  So teachers, please feel free to add your tips and tricks to the list!

Five tips to help anyone who has to get up in front of a classroom and say, “Good morning class, I’m your substitute teacher today!”

1.) Know thy Subjects – I am not referring to content material although that’s important, I’m talking about the kids in the class.  Get to know them and connect with them, the best and first step in doing that is to learn all their names.

2.) Know the Classroom Culture – Just as every school has its own unique culture, so too, does every classroom. The teacher will have set the tone from day one and it’s your job to know the classroom expectations and what the students are working on.  Being consistent not only supports the teacher you’re filling-in for, but it makes your day, and the student’s day run more smoothly and productively.

3.) Embrace the Co-teaching Model – If you have teaching assistants in the classroom take advantage of their skills and ability to provide consistency and support.  If not, seek out other teachers in your grade level and have them co-teach lessons, or team-up on outings or activities.

4.) Do Your Thing –Have your own unique go to prop, activity, or story that shares with students a little bit about who you are as a person and what your interests or personal style is all about.  This relates to the first strategy of getting to know your students. Building a relationship is a two-way street and it’s greatly enriched if your students feel they get to know a little more about you. This of course does not mean revealing things from your personal life, but it means sharing your passions.  This could be anything from a love of poetry, to an obsession with birding, or an interest in music, the arts or sports.  Is there a poem or a song or a sports fact you can teach the students by the end of the day?  If so, it will make your time with students more memorable and will prove helpful if you’re coming back tomorrow or later in the year!

5.) Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – If you’re having a difficult time getting through the lesson plan, take a deep breath and relax.  A more experienced teacher gave me advice that I can’t repeat here, but the gist of it is to go with the flow and try to have fun with the students. If they see fear or nervousness, or impatience than you will not be in control of the class.  If you must, let go of the lesson plan and find fun ways to connect and allow students to learn.

Any other ideas are welcome!

Brain Breaks

So back in September I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to Judy Willis present about the science of learning, and I’ve been intrigued ever since. Her presentation has energized and inspired me over the past few months to look deeply into the workings of the adolescent brain, and how this incredibly interesting research pertains to student engagement and achievement. Even though she covered a number of different topics and research findings throughout that conference (such as mindfulness, mindsets, the power of the video game teaching model, the importance of constant and meaningful feedback, and so much more) the biggest take away for me was the notion of “Brain Breaks”……and I’d like to talk a little bit about that this week.

After combing through loads of websites, blogs, and research articles all about the importance of these “breaks” to enhance learning, it appears as though these opportunities to re-focus and re-energize your students should happen every 30 minutes or so. “Brain Breaks” are essentially a purposeful time out from instruction for your kids…strategically designed exercises or movements or activities that alter and refresh a students current state of mind. They should only be a couple of minutes long, and they don’t require much planning or preparation on the teachers part once you’ve familiarized yourself with the many simple and useful examples that are found in the resources below. This all stems from the current research that suggests that a young persons brain begins to lose focus, or gets temporarily maxed out, or becomes easily distracted or disengaged after approximately 25-35 minutes of focused instruction…so it is paramount to pause the instruction and give your kids a chance to take a break from the learning and re-focus.

The research that I’ve come across lately has many implications with regards to lesson planning, scheduling, and teacher instruction so I’m keen to dig even deeper over the next few months to see if we can (or need to) make any easy changes in our own approaches to help maximize the learning of our student body. At the very least it is incredibly interesting in my opinion, and certainly worth your time to go through the links and take a look for yourselves. I’ll present more on this topic at the next round of our School Improvement Program (SIPS) after the holiday break, so you have a bit of time to sift through the websites and articles over a cup of coffee or two. I know that a few of our current colleagues have already begun thinking about similar approaches to “brain breaks” with their interest in Yoga for classrooms (http://www.yoga4classrooms.com/) and student mindfulness (http://mindfulnessinschools.org/what-is-b/) thought provoking stuff indeed, and wonderful opportunities for professional dialogue and discourse in our upcoming curriculum team and grade level leader meetings.

Anyway, only two weeks to go until our much deserved holiday break so hang in there and finish strong. We’ll have an extended brain break shortly so please be your best for our kids over the next 9 and a half days of school. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week………
And still they gazed and still the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew.
– Oliver Goldsmith

Brain Break Articles –
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=mental-downtime
http://healthland.time.com/2013/01/31/how-your-brain-tells-you-when-to-take-a-break/
http://www.backupcare.org/blog/18-blogs-explain-brain-breaks-and-why-they-are-important/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabrielle-bernstein/michael-eisen-youth-wellness-network_b_1076416.html?ref=healthy-living-spirit
http://www.bottomlinepublications.com/content/article/self-improvement/why-you-should-take-brain-breaks

Brain Break Websites –
http://brainbreaks.blogspot.com/
http://www.pinterest.com/jenbass/brain-breaks/
http://energizingbrainbreaks.com/
http://www.gonoodle.com/home
http://teachtrainlove.com/20-brain-break-clips-fight-the-fidgeting/
http://www.learningstationmusic.com/blog/2013/01/16/brain-breaks-regenerate-refresh-and-refocus/

Best Practice?

KDE Best Practice Strategies Nomination

 

How many times have you heard the term ‘best practice’ uttered at a Board meeting, a workshop or a conference presentation? Too many, I am afraid. In a profession enamored with buzz words, this one gets used with the frequency of ‘awesome’ and shares the same shallowness.

The term best practice is used like a master key. You just need to invoke it and the draw bridge comes down, and everything opens. But ‘best’ according to whom and in relation to what?  How can anything be a ‘best practice’ when it is void of social, cultural, and historical context? Is best practice in a Baltimore middle school the same as one for an American school in Barcelona? Can a best practice ever become a bad practice or a mediocre one? It’s not that I doubt that there are many unique and effective practices out there, it is just the use of the superlative that makes me squirm.

Best practice has a way of designating itself as superior by virtue of being a best practice. The logic is circular.  The problem with ‘Best’ is that it comes off as imperial. It leaves no room for alternatives. It eschews variety, gradations and plurality. Why not call these emerging practices? We never talk about the change of seasons or a savory meal as best. Isn’t all effective education something that is fluid, protean and evolving? 

Like our omnipresent ear phones and head phones, we should have our critical antennas up whenever the word is uttered. The superlative is a tense that does not belong in education. Rather, let’s take the work or program in process, the draft and the evolving idea. It feels more authentic, resembling the messy and often improvisational nature of life in school. Best practice connotes white coats and flawless data. Emerging practice signals something iterative, evolving, and like our students, in a time zone of constant adaptation.

We should care as much about language and how that shapes our perceptions as we do our test results.