All posts by Shwetangna Chakrabarty

Shwetangna Chakrabarty is an International educator currently working in Guangzhou, China. She has 15 years of experience in teaching different curricula in different countries and continents. She has held multiple responsibility positions as an international educator; Curriculum Coordinator, University Counsellor, Extended Essay and Personal Project Coordinator, CIS/NEASC/IB Accreditation Coordinator, IBEN Member. She teaches mathematics and business management to the International GCSE and International Baccalaureate (IB) students. Her education credentials include MBA, PGCE(I), B.Ed. and BCA. She writes blogs for The International Educator and the IB. She is also the contributing author for international publications like 'Bringing Innovative Practices to Your School' a Taylor & Francis Group and Routledge publication and 'Educational Reform and International Baccalaureate in the Asia-Pacific' an IGI Global Publication. She is passionate about developing a culture of internationalism and be a change-maker and thought leader in international education.

Teaching teachers

Poster created by teachers at the author’s school during a collaborative meeting

Teaching teachers is one of the hardest jobs in my profession, due to the sole reason that teachers have been hardwired to teach and not learn. With the paradigm shift in education, teachers have to be lifelong learners rather than lifelong teachers. This is possible through peer collaboration; teachers may initially resist collaboration but will have the epiphany that collaboration creates an amazing work culture and school environment. My leadership approach is to share best practices within the team instead of just holding them to yourself. In international schools, it is a challenge to work with a diverse group of people, but as a teacher, we must remember that our main goal is to get the students to learn and at the same time learn ourselves. Hence, teachers have to overcome differences to support students by creating a culture of collaboration. Teacher collaboration needs to be intentional. Sharing is the key, collaboration can create lifelong learners. 

The best way to teach teachers is to do it their way. Here is an interesting strategy I recently used, a unit plan to teach teachers. As the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) Coordinator, I organised a whole team collaboration meeting to discuss the new interdisciplinary unit (IDU) guide. It was run like a lesson plan:

UNDERSTANDING MYP IDU NEW CRITERIA LESSON PLAN

Objective: To understand the new IDU criteria for creating meaningful IDU units​ for MYP students.

Set up: All teachers from different disciplines are seated in groups of 4 (total 52 teachers). On each desk, they have the new IDU guide, the IDU flowchart, the old and new criteria, markers, pens and a big manila paper.

Prior Knowledge: Teachers are asked to discuss the IDU units they completed last year and in groups write down the challenges and strengths of the units and then take turns to share with other groups (Think-Pair-Share).

Starter Activity: The first activity is a deep dive into the changes in the IDU criteria and process. The task is to compare and contrast the old IDU criteria and the new ones to create a poster clearly identifying similarities and differences. Teachers will create a visible thinking wall with their posters. (Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication). Here are a few examples of teacher-created posters, an example of the creativity that teachers bring into mundane everyday affairs.

Poster created by teachers at the author’s school during a collaborative meeting

Plenary: All teachers will take a tour of the visible thinking wall and summarise their learning of the new IDU criteria.

IDU Process in each Discipline: The next activity is to sit in subject groups to use the IDU process flowchart and identify the stages that each department has completed and aligns with (Skills: Transfer, Reflective and Critical thinking). Once each subject group has finished discussing they will use markers to highlight sections of the flowchart that they completely align with and share with other disciplines.

Plenary: After discussion, create agenda for department meetings next week. Review/create unit plans for IDUs to align with the new criteria.

Summary: Each department shares its takeaway points as a reflection. Teachers shared that this was a very successful session as it helped the experienced teachers to understand the changes and the new teachers to learn about the IDU requirements, planning process, assessments, and delivery of an IDU unit. Overall, the big takeaway was teachers collaborating and sharing best practices to discover relationships and interconnectedness between subjects.

My Takeaway

Teacher collaboration is crucial to restructuring the way teachers need to teach. But teacher collaboration faces a lot of pushback in schools. There are many ways recommended to promote and encourage teacher collaboration, one of the ways is to think of creative ways to engage teachers like teaching teachers with their tools-a lesson plan.

Another good way of encouraging collaboration is to create interdisciplinary units with teachers within the department, for example, a unit with Geography and Economics or Biology and Chemistry. The success lies in discussing the instructional design that lays the foundation for collaboration and individual teachers may agree to disagree on certain elements of their practice. ”Collaborative teams must approach these conversations non-judgmentally, striving to remain open to the ways that other teachers think about their work” ( Tran, 2015). This is also the process of lifelong learning. The idea is to break out of silos and come together for the common good of the student as teacher collaboration is a crucial factor in a student’s progress and development.

 Tran. (2015). If you want better collaboration around STEM, build infrastructure. 

Assistive technology for inclusive pedagogy

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What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology includes a wide range of strategies from assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices and other resources used to compensate for the lack of certain abilities. In an inclusive classroom, there are needs that have to be met with specific resources, for example, for students having specific learning disabilities educational software can help in skill-building with multisensory experiences and individualized instruction.

Why Use Assistive Technology?

Inclusive pedagogy focuses on identifying and overcoming barriers in education. It provides the least restrictive environment (LRE) to include students with special needs and disabilities. Hence there emerges the need to plan for instructional strategies in an inclusive classroom. Assistive technology is also known as technical aids or assistive equipment. For example, students with dyscalculia can use onscreen calculators that are integrated with the online assessment task, other examples are speech to text and larger font size options.

Similarly, teachers can use assistive technology to address diversity challenges, for example, if a student is ELL/EAL they can be allowed to use an online translator to translate content and tasks, also use speech to text software for capturing teacher lectures. Assistive technology connects a student’s cognitive abilities to an educational opportunity that may not be accessible due to their disability. This tells us that assistive technology in an inclusive classroom can have multiple ways for students to articulate their understanding and complete tasks with more agency and accountability.

How to Use Assistive Technology?

There are many ways to use assistive technologies in an inclusive classroom. Assistive technology can enhance the basic skills of students with needs to be part of the classroom by being able to access the materials and resources which were limited due to their needs. Teachers should consider a list of factors in order to select the type of assistive technology, some of which are; determining the specific student need; identifying the student’s strengths; engaging the student in the planning process; choosing the assistive technology which is affordable and easy to use. Other guidelines include choosing an assistive technology that suits the student, not the other way around. The instructional strategies should be allowing students to learn the technological skill, this also requires the teacher to be up-to-date with the assistive technology available in the market.

What type of Assistive Technology to Support Inclusion?

There are many types of assistive technologies available nowadays to successfully manage an inclusive classroom:

  1. Written Assistive Technology Tools: students struggling with writing skills can use spell-checkers, proofreading tools, speech recognition and speech synthesizing tools.
  2. Reading Assistive Technology Tools: students with reading challenges can use online documents to increase the size of text, phone recorders or variable speech control (VSC) technology, optical character recognition devices(OCRs).
  3. Mathematics Assistive Technology Tools: students with dyscalculia or dysgraphia can use online calculators, others struggling with math can enrol for Khan Academy video lessons.
  4. Listening Assistive Technologies Tools: students with listening disabilities can use speech to text, listening devices and recording devices.
  5. Memory Assistive Technologies Tools: students struggling to remember can use graphic organisers, glossaries, personal data managers to be able to retain information.

The use of assistive technology (AT) in an inclusive classroom is necessary to support students with learning disabilities. AT can help students function without any hurdles. The AT tools range from technology to tools to props to anything that helps the students to feel included. Even though the AT tools do not take away the disability or learning challenge, it supports the student to access the teaching and learning in the best possible way.

Bibliography

Adebisi, R.O., Liman, N.A., & Longpoe, P.K. (2015). Using assistive technology in teaching children with learning disabilities in the 21st century. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(24), 14-20. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1078825.pdf

Ahmad, F. H. (2015). Use of assistive technology in inclusive education. Transcience, 6(2), 62-77. Retrieved from https://www2.hu-berlin.de/transcience/Vol6_No2_62_77.pdf

Dean, M. (2019). 13 ways to incorporate assistive technology into the classroom. Retrieved from https://www.classcraft.com/blog/ways-to-incorporate-assistive-technology-into-the-classroom/

Safety first

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We feel, therefore we learn; learning is an emotional journey. But what if all we feel is, threatened, angry, scared, sad and unwanted, then what do we learn?

The first thing to consider for education organisations is safety! If safety is compromised, learning is compromised. Safety is everything, a child and even an adult learn only when they feel safe. Some common threats to safety seen in many schools are:

  1. Abusive language
  2. Bullying
  3. Racial discrimination
  4. Gender discrimination
  5. Microaggressions
  6. Body shaming
  7. Lack of health and safety, child safeguarding policies
  8. Patriarchial dominance
  9. Digital safety
  10. Lack of emergency protocols

While some of the safety issues are taken care of by the following state, country or international standards for safety; emergency protocols, health and safety, child safeguarding policies are mostly covered under the authorisation of a school or educational institute.  But alarmingly many other issues are still prevalent and more threatening.

Let us focus on some existing issues; firstly it is hard to identify these silent safety risks, therefore educators need to be very vigilant. Here are a few ways of identifying safety risks:

  1. Some teachers in your school use abusive language when disciplining students.
  2. Students form cliques and always work in cliques never allowing “others”.
  3. There is a culture of favouritism, supremism and indifference.
  4. Your school does not have a social-emotional learning (SEL) programme and/or coordinator.
  5. Your school does not have diversity in teaching staff.
  6. Student agency and student voices are not valued.
  7. Undesirable behaviour is always punished but good behaviour is never acknowledged.
  8. All important positions are held by the male gender.
  9. There are no firewalls for digital content accessed by students in school.
  10. All decisions are made by heads of sections without any input from teachers, students or parents.

There are many more ways of identifying an unhealthy environment that leads to students feeling anxious, unsafe and distant. There needs to be a unified approach to creating a safe haven for students.

Firstly, schools and other educational institutions need to hire diverse staff, representing different genders, colours, accents, interests and experiences. This creates harmony in the school culture as there is always that one person a student can find who speaks their language or has the same interests. Students can connect better with people around them as they get used to differences. They learn to agree to disagree and most importantly they learn as they feel safe.

Next teachers have to model caring and mindful behaviour. Use of anger and foul language should not be allowed or tolerated. Teachers’ arrogance, anger and rude behaviour are one of the main reasons students fear to share ideas and even ask questions. If schools can have zero tolerance for plagiarism, they can also enforce zero tolerance for rude behaviour! Another prevalent issue is reprimanding students for their mistakes and never rewarding their efforts. After some time students run into the danger of not caring about it and there comes a breaking point after which students do not care at all about anything. This leads to poor self-esteem and hidden insecurities which become massive identity issues as they grow up. Always encourage when learning, never discourage when teaching.

Finally, students should be discouraged to be part of strong cliques, this leaves out shy or new students, leads to bullying of students who are not in the clique and changes the behaviour of students on both sides, in the clique and outside. Students need to be made comfortable with handling unknown and unfamiliar circumstances so they won’t try to get into a comfort zone to try to “fit in”. I still remember one of my students confiding in me about vaping in school; the reason shared by the student was that she was trying to be normal to “fit in”. Therefore mixing students into different groups in the classroom really helps them to get comfortable with the unknown and unfamiliar.

Safety first is not only a requirement it is a necessity. A student who does not feel safe tells us many things about ourselves, our systems, and our culture. Create a happy space for a happy learning experience to foster a happy person who will create a happy future and a happy world.

Future of Assessments: AUTHENTIC Performance-Based

The Future of Assessments

Performance-based assessment requires students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and strategies by creating a product or process; it requires students to perform the task instead of writing about it or answering questions about it. For example, an authentic performance task in sciences requires a student to conduct research on the impacts of fertilizer on local groundwater and then report the results through an informational brochure. These assessments are authentic as it imitates real-world scenarios and issues.

With the socio-economic demands for a highly skilled workforce, teachers need to design performance-based assessments. Another pressing reason is the paradigm shift in approaches to teaching and learning; with hybrid and online teaching, assessments need to be performance-based to be authentic. Traditional paper-pencil tests are obsolete and archaic, hence the future of assessments is performance-based authentic assessments.

Performance-Based Assessments

Performance-based assessments are a very effective way of assessing and teaching. These assessments engage the students in hands-on activities and help them develop skills by solving real-life problems. It aligns with contemporary learning theories and also helps teachers employ best practices in teaching and learning. Performance assessments reflect how students acquire and use knowledge, they can include research projects, STEM investigations, mathematical and computer modelling. This approach helps to foster critical thinking skills and conceptual understanding while providing an authentic learning experience to the students.

Three Big Ideas 

Here are three big ideas for designing performance-based assessments tasks:

  1. Focus on the purpose of the task: Since performance-based tasks are dynamic and can be created to suit the learner’s needs and context, I would advise new teachers to focus on creating tasks that enhance the students conceptual understanding of the subject. 
  2. Design student-centered or student-led activities: Performance-based assessment tasks should be completed by students to demonstrate what they know about a given topic. The difference between this type of assessment and the traditional method is that students can better communicate what they know and how they know it.
  3. Define the criteria for success: Once a teacher has listed the learning objectives and the performance assessments tasks that can be done to achieve the objectives, they should list the criteria for success. The criteria should define everything that is expected from the students through the performance-based assessment. For example, the material required, the content knowledge, the online resources and the ways to get the task completed. Without defining the criteria a teacher cannot successfully implement performance-based assessments.

A Few Roadblocks

Teachers might find it challenging to design and implement performance-based assessments. This is mostly because these assessments move away from traditional types of assessments and sometimes teachers are not trained to create such tasks. A big challenge is the lack of teacher training, therefore schools and organisations need to invest in teacher training for addressing challenges related to creating authentic assessments.

Another major challenge is the time and effort required to create these tasks. Some strategies to overcome this challenge is to plan in advance and focus on achievable goals instead of starting a huge project that takes up a lot of time and students lose interest.

Useful Tips 

Here are my top five tips for designing authentic performance-based assessments :

  • Align performance-based assessments with learning objectives to make them meaningful for the students as they understand the purpose.
  • Make the assessment realistic, relevant and contextual, students are quickly disengaged if the task is not age-specific or at par with their ability.
  • Keep the assessment student-centred, they should have an option of how they want to complete it and articulate their understanding.
  • Plan for group tasks, students get an opportunity to discuss, collaborate and complete the task without anxiety or stress.
  • Allow students to reflect on their process of learning, this helps them to identify how they can learn best.

Design the future of assessments by designing authentic performance-based assessments.

Gender Disparity in STEM

Women are considered to be less interested in STEM subjects and careers. While much research has been done to attain a better understanding of the gender disparity in STEM, one reason comes up again and again and it is the bias and stereotypes associated with genders. A recent study found that both men and women were twice as likely to hire a man for a job that required math (Hill et al., 2010). Here is an attempt to understand why this gap exists and how can teachers contribute towards reducing the gap. Gender disparities continue to be a defining characteristic of STEM education, as per the research done by Kenney-Benson et al. (2006) female students’ STEM grades are equal to or better than those of their male classmates in elementary and secondary school. Yet when it comes to gender equality male dominance is seen in all fields of STEM. 

Our society has created gender stereotypes since ancient times when humans started farming and the role of physical rigour was assigned to men. Gender role stereotypes convince us to allow the male gender to be agentic, take the lead to inquire and explore and find solutions to problems. This has manifested in the male gender made to conform with cultural representations of math and science. Even the attributes of a STEM learner are problem solvers and innovators which are associated with role stereotypes of the male gender. This itself proves that we orient our thinking towards STEM to be a masculine subject. Gender bias comes into play when assigning tasks for problem-solving. Typically in many classrooms across the world, girls are given the task of decorating or designing, while boys are given the task of research and investigation in a task. This is due to masculine stereotypes prevailing in the teaching of STEM, peer expectations, and lack of fit with personal goals (Dasgupta & Stout, 2014). This type of bias makes girls move away from STEM fields creating a huge gender disparity in STEM.

This has multiple ramifications, for example, female students of colour (SoC) struggle to complete STEM experiences, which becomes a barrier to shaping identity and academic success (Jones, 2019). Multiple frameworks highlight the lived experiences of female SoC in STEM including identity theory, and intersectionality. It demands consideration be given to the space, community, and present structures where identity work is produced. The decline in the number of female SoC graduates in STEM disciplines is partly due to discriminatory approaches by public universities, schools and colleges of race-based affirmative action. Till this date, many educational institutions require students to declare their race, ethnicity, religion even before getting an admission offer. Furthermore, STEM programs are often structured in a way in which students have to essentially prove their intellectual worth to stay, they may be forced out if they don’t meet high academic standards. Minority students already face unfair stereotypes about being intellectually inferior, and this is likely exacerbated in STEM programs, according to the study (Jones, 2019).

Teachers Can Bend The Arc

Since stereotypes and biases still exist, teachers need to make a conscious effort to bend the arc towards gender equality in STEM. For example, practising a pedagogy to instigate an inquiry mindset in young girls. Inquiry-based tasks that teachers create by understanding the student’s needs is a great way of including girls and students of colour in STEM learning. Also, teachers do not consider the need to address the lack of interest in STEM subjects by girls. If they were made aware of this as an epidemic plaguing the education world, they will guide the girl child towards inquiry or problem solving or experimenting.

Furthermore, STEM integrated with authentic science projects engages learners, hence girls can be engaged in activities that they would usually not be interested in due to societal stereotype or bias. Planning group work for fostering peer support for female SoC is also an effective strategy as peer support matters to participants’ success in critical ways both academic and social. The group work fosters safe, engaging climates for asking questions. 

In summary, equity, relationship and students’ interest should be the core elements and practices for encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects. Teach them to ask uncomfortable questions, create a space for them to discuss uncomfortable questions and teach them to bend the arc.

References

Dasgupta, N., & Stout, J. G. (2014). Girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: stemming the tide and broadening participation in STEM careers. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(1), 21–29.

Hill. C., Corbett, C. and St Rose, A. (2010) Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Amer Assoc Univ Women, Washington, DC).

Jones, T. C. (2019). Creating a World for Me: Students of Color Navigating STEM Identity. The Journal of Negro Education, 88(3), 358–378.

Kenney-Benson, G. A., Pomerantz, E. M., Ryan, A.M., Patrick, H. (2006). Sex differences in math performance: the role of children’s approach to schoolwork. Dev. Psychol. 42

technology vs teachers-an International teacher’s day debate

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Technology is a game-changer, it has helped teachers to create active learning environments, increase assess to content, differentiate for varied student needs and very recently even teach remotely. Throughout the history of technical innovations, technology has aided the art of teaching but not yet replaced the artist, in this case, the teacher.

On the occasion of International Teacher’s Day on 5th October, a question was discussed: Can technology replace teachers? in a professional learning community (PLC) forum. The overwhelming response was in favour of teachers and almost everyone believed that technology cannot replace teachers. Ironically, in this very forum, we all are learning sans a teacher! This made me realise that teachers have been replaced from their traditional role of lecturing, teaching and being the knowledgeable other by technology. As professional development has increasingly become technology-driven, a lot of learning is happening without the teacher.

Let us examine the current teaching interface in many schools and universities across the world. Students use a computer to log into a website, download content, check the assigned tasks and complete the tasks with the help of technology or through online research. So where is the teacher? There might be a facilitator, not a teacher depending on the nature of the topic/subject. There are many teachers at this moment completing professional development delivered without a teacher, there might be an instructor or facilitator to manage the logistics of the online modules, but mostly all learning takes place without a teacher. Therefore, is it accurate to say that technology is replacing teachers? Moreover, with artificial intelligence barging its way through every threshold, it is a matter of time that teachers will be completely replaced by technology.

There is another way of looking at this developing scenario. The teacher as a human being. We cannot overlook the social-emotional benefits of having a human leading the job of teaching. Teachers do more than one way or one task at a time. The job of a teacher is not just to deliver instructions, it is also to gauge the students’ context, ability and interest in the topic to modify it constantly. As a teacher, I always keep changing plans in the classroom to be engaging and responsive to my students’ needs. In a real-world scenario, things evolve and change every minute, therefore being dynamic and constantly improvising is a teacher’s job. One cannot rely on pre-programmed instructions to think independently and find instant on the spot solutions. One thing is sure, technology may not replace teachers but it will replace teachers who cannot harness or use technology.

An automated teacher robot or artificial intelligence would be great to deliver content, but it will not be able to make decisions or judgements related to human emotions, for example, sometimes students are too tired to solve problems hence reinforcing concepts is a better strategy to teach tired brains instead of introducing new concepts. These decisions that require humans to consider emotions and feelings cannot be mastered by the robot. Even though in recent years artificial intelligence has taken over a lot of iterative mechanised jobs, it is yet to start teaching full time in a classroom. One can use technology to aid the process of teaching but not completely replace a teacher’s cognitive, intuitive approaches to teaching.

Teachers take on the caring role of a parent’s stead, they advocate for students who might be otherwise forgotten, and they shape a nation’s future (Fedena, 2018). Therefore it might be even dangerous to hand over these crucial responsibilities to a machine or an interface. With a geometrical progression in technology, machines might soon be able to develop the ability to be just like humans but not humans. It is therefore a responsibility as humans to make an ethical decision of how much to give to the robots or how much to replace humans with robots. “Many education reformers outside of Silicon Valley say no. The people in the Valley think technology will solve everything. It won’t. There’s a human side to education that won’t go away” (Norris & Soloway, 2016, p. 63).

In summary, the decision to replace a teacher in the classroom with a robot needs ethical considerations, as we are interfering in the process of character building early on in the formative years of young children. If we want our children to develop kindness, emotional intelligence and empathy we need to model it the human way, not the robot way. 

References

Fedena. (2018).Technology vs Teachers: Can technology replace teachers?  https://fedena.com/blog/2018/05/teachers-vs-technology-can-technology-replace-teachers.html

Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2016). Uberizing K-12: Use Software… But Keep the Teachers, Too! Educational Technology, 56(1), 61–63. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44430450

TEACH FOR PEACE: international day of peace

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21st September is celebrated as the International Day of Peace. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.

Peace is the key to surviving the next decade. With pandemics, wars, natural disasters, conflicts, political power play and most importantly lack of education, observing peace even for 24 hours seems unimaginable. This is the state of the planet!

The UN celebrate international days and weeks to give us time to stop and think about issues that matter the most. This is also an opportunity to educate on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems. It is also a way of celebrating and reinforcing humanity.

As a teacher, I know that academic organizations go out of their way to celebrate UN International Days as at the core of the philosophy of education lies the betterment of the world and its people. Surprisingly it is not a pressing agenda for most organizations, corporates or governments.

Interestingly it does bother the young minds as they see and experience violence, discrimination and hatred every day, thanks to the media. Some questions that my senior students asked when discussing ways to celebrate International Day of Peace, come to my mind.

  1. Is it only the responsibility of academic organizations or organizations like the UN to care about world peace? Why do other organizations, who dominate the world markets, not take an initiative?
  2. Why does peace have to come at a cost, but violence is free?
  3. Why are women and children subjected to the most violent acts?
  4. What persuades humans to act likes animals? Or are we just animals persuaded to be humans?
  5. Can we teach peace? If yes, then where are we failing?

To promote global solidarity for a peaceful and sustainable world we need to change our ways every day, not just one day. How do we do this?

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

“If we want to reach real peace in this world, we should start educating children.”

A goal to educate all people in the world is truly global peace. The ability to coexist needs to be taught, hence investing in schools should be a priority for every country, every organization, every human. That would be a concrete step towards world peace. Teach for Peace should become the mantra.

In international schools, there are many innovative projects happening to instil the value of a shared planet and to take care of the shared space. For example, privileged schools supporting the underprivileged, Model United Nation (MUN) conferences, mandated community service programmes, celebrating diversity, raising voice against discrimination, building resilience against change and most importantly valuing global peace or delivering education to make the world a better place.

If we don’t act urgently and immediately, we will continue creating humans with no humanity, orphans with no countries, and a planet with no peace. This will be our apocalypse, so let’s celebrate International Peace Day every day. Let’s be soldiers but soldiers of peace to protect our planet. Teach for Peace.

Breaking Boundaries

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This September, it will be one and half years since I crossed any international border. Being an international school teacher, one of the much-awaited times of the year is the summer or winter holidays, when expats like me cross many boundaries to reach our destinations. I remember a time when I took 14 flights in 40 days to cross some rustic, some familiar and some sought after boundaries. Many a time I was asked uncomfortable questions, like “How did you get the visa?” or ”Why are you travelling alone?”. There was even one time when my son and I were detained by the airport immigration authorities for 2 hours as they wanted to verify our details! Privileges I have enjoyed being a person of colour. Yet it still didn’t deter me or my family from crossing or I would say Breaking Boundaries

Incidentally, Breaking Boundaries is a Netflix series on safeguarding the future of the planet. I would like to use it as an analogy for safeguarding the present state of the planet. Boundaries were created to bring peace and order to the world, but have they? Boundaries have created weaponised armies, infantry and artillery, discrimination, xenophobia and genocide. This imaginary line has only severed the umbilical cord of humans from humanity.  It’s high time we consider Breaking Boundaries, literally and metaphorically.

Whilst we cannot get rid of this imaginary line, we can make it less rigid and easy to break through, and this has to start in our early years, as early as possible. Most of our formative knowledge is constructed in school, therefore, action needs to be taken in educating children for Breaking Boundaries. 

Language – Learning different languages is a great way of breaking boundaries, it teaches compassion, tolerance and a perspective to understand the world. We can never have one language for all and we can never learn all languages to understand all, but we can have one way of understanding all languages-empathy. The fact that at the core of every conversation is a need to be understood. Teach children to communicate and listen to other people, teach them to collaborate across boundaries to blur the lines.

Sports – The recent Tokyo Olympics has been exemplary in reminding us how team sports helps in breaking boundaries. It reminded us that borders cannot define us even though we are segregated, grouped and claimed by borders. The team spirit and the spirit of camaraderie wins the overall differences created by borders. Sports teaches us the value of sacrifice, the contentment in celebrating other people’s achievements and recognising the empathetic side of the human spirit.

Interdisciplinary teaching – Training the brain to bring in separate ideas is the main objective of interdisciplinary learning. It is the type of learning that breaks the subject boundaries to bring together separate disciplines around common themes, issues, or problems. If we train our students to learn from an interdisciplinary point of view, they will look beyond boundaries and come together to work around issues plaguing humanity. They will not hesitate in breaking borders for the better.

At the core of Breaking Boundaries lies a key message of action – come together for breaking boundaries that limit, discriminate and determine human identity. Don’t scar the Earth with ugly boundaries, blur the imaginary line to imagine new frontiers of friendship, collaboration, empathy and above all survival.

Are You a Reflective Practitioner?

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What does it mean to be a reflective practitioner?

A reflective practitioner reflects on practice in order to improve their performance. A teacher who develops a habit of reflection to get more knowledge and experience and apply it to classroom planning and instruction is a reflective practitioner. This includes critically reflecting upon their teaching practice to develop practical instructional strategies.

Why should teachers be reflective practitioners?

Teachers have a job of planning instructions and delivering them in the classroom. John Dewey explained this as theory and practice in education, he focused primarily on experiential and reflective learning. He explained that a theory cannot be understood unless it is practised hence experience is very valuable in practice (Dewey, 1923). Long before John Dewey, many educational theorists and philosophers like Lev Vygotsky and Confucius have written about the benefits of reflective teaching and experiential learning as the best strategy to attain knowledge and understanding.

Teachers get an opportunity to improve their teaching if they can look into their successes and challenges to make necessary amendments. This process is reflection. Since experience and reflection are interlinked, reflection denotes an experience as a reflective experience. “Reflection is a way of converting ready-structured experience into the newly structured actions we call the professional practice” (Silcock, 1994, p. 278).

Teachers should be reflective practitioners as they will be able to combine knowledge and expertise empowering themselves to be change-makers and thought leaders in education. Teachers need to be reflective for professional growth as well as for the growth of pedagogy.

How can teachers be reflective practitioners? 

Teachers can be reflective practitioners if they have developed a habit of documenting the teaching and learning process in three simple stages:

  1. Reflections before teaching a concept, content or competency
  2. Reflections while teaching a concept, content or competency
  3. Reflections after teaching a concept, content or competency

One of the tools that I use is Kolb’s Model of Reflection (1984). This model requires teachers to follow four simple steps to reflect on their practices:

  1. Concrete Experience: to answer the question what you did?
  2. Reflective Observations:  to answer the question what do you wonder?
  3. Abstract Conceptualization: to answer the question what you learned/so what?
  4. Application: to answer the question now what? 

The process of reflection helps in creating focused learning strategies for differentiation, addressing student needs, planning collaborative tasks, creating authentic assessments and selecting meaningful content. As practitioners of pedagogy, we need to reflect on our practice to ascertain if we are informing our pedagogy with our practical experiences in the classroom. In many ways, this is a design thinking routine that teachers should implement in their instructional planning.

The big advantage of being a reflective practitioner is the idea that the habit of reflecting on practice makes the teacher a lifelong learner.

References

Dewey J., (1973), Lectures in China 1919-1920, Honolulu, The University Press of Hawaii.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Silcock, P. (1994). The Process of Reflective Teaching. British Journal of Educational Studies, 42(3), 273-285. doi:10.2307/3121886


School Leadership: Predictive or Reactive

Image generated by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

In a recent senior leadership meeting, we were evaluating our leadership strategies amidst the Covid pandemic. It was interesting to note the complexities in leadership approaches especially considering the shift in perspectives due to Covid. This got me thinking about the current leadership decisions I have had to make and how it is very different from the way I made decisions in the recent past, just a year ago! The shift I have experienced is a move from predictive leadership to reactive leadership. This will come as a surprise to you but it is true.

Predictive leadership is based on experience, knowledge, and information. Predictive leadership focuses on problem-solving and analytical thinking. Senior management practicing this type of leadership are usually very calm, they take time to decide, they rely on their experience and on insights provided by the team. They think of the final goal and the bigger picture or why the decision needs to be taken. Predictive leadership aligns more with a global approach to a problem, accepted and ratified by most stakeholders.

Reactive leadership on the other hand is a more in-the-moment kind of decision. These leaders need to, have to, and do take decisions on the spot. There is no time to investigate data or research or past experiences to come up with a solution. Reactive leadership has to be creative to solve the current crisis as it is urgent and probably one of its kind, like the Covid pandemic. Reactive leaders are impulsive and confident as they are making high-risk decisions in a short period of time without consulting others.

School leadership in the last year and a half has been reactive; even though it is not considered a suitable leadership style, it is becoming more and more prevalent due to the way the education paradigm has evolved in the recent past. Leaders are required to make quick decisions relying on their gut instinct that it is the best possible decision. Instead of looking into the root cause of the problem the lens has shifted to finding the solution to the problem. For example, a reactive approach in leadership is to change the way they start a conversation; from “But the problem is…” to “The solution is…” A more solution-oriented approach, a more reactive approach. Even though it is the age of big data and data analytics, but it is not the time to depend completely on data. Data does give us a trend a possible prediction but human ingenuity and the ability to weigh out the best possible solution in a crisis is invaluable.

Being a reactive leader is something I have learned throughout the Covid crisis. For example, taking the decision to start online schooling, or not; decisions to reinvent the wheel, or not; decisions to advise teachers’ professional growth, or not; it is never an easy decision, but it must be made. And here are three things that have helped me to be a reactive decision-maker:

  1. Prioritize self-care and well-being, these are essential for making high-risk decisions.
  2. Create a culture of trust, your team needs to believe in you to buy in your ideas.
  3. Rock the boat if required, sometimes big decisions mean big changes, be prepared.

Decision-making in challenging times is hard; think of it as standing at the edge of a diving board, either open your arms to dive in or you need to step back. But unfortunately, there is no stepping back in crisis so embrace your reactive self and make the decision, right or wrong, data will tell.