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.

Results 2021: What It Takes to Get THE Perfect Score

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Earlier this week the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (grade 12) results were published. Our school students made us proud with amazing results, the highest was the perfect score of 45/45 (100%). Amidst all the celebrations I reflected on the students who got the perfect scores. There are a few common behavioural characteristics and approaches to learning that I was able to identify. Knowing these attributes can clearly help high achieving and their teachers to get the perfect score or perform to the best of their ability. Here are my top 5 tips for getting the perfect score!

Intrinsic Motivation

A perfect score is more than ability, it is about interest and motivation. The motivation is not linked to materialistic interests rather linked with an innate desire to be better and know better. Students who choose their subjects as per their interests and abilities stay motivated throughout the journey as they truly seek to understand the complexities of the subject matter. Hence, they are intrinsically motivated in spite of challenges even failures, these students always bounce back and get the perfect score.

Teachers also have a big role to play when it comes to keeping students intrinsically motivated. They must focus on positive reinforcement and value addition to the students’ purpose of learning. This fosters a sense of working towards a bigger perspective or a meaningful goal that is above and beyond the perfect score. Here I would like to reinforce that grades or scores are a result of achieving the actual purpose of learning, not the actual purpose in itself. Hence the reward for the student is to achieve satisfaction and self-worth.

Superior Self-Management Skills

Thomas Edison quoted a long time ago, “there is no substitute for hard work”. This applies even today. Hard work in today’s context means being ahead of the curve by developing superior self-management skills. For example, always completing work on time; always being well prepared for lessons; always organizing work effectively; always managing time with a rigorous plan; always creating a strategy to avoid burnout. The word ‘always’ is necessary as consistency is key.

Teachers can help students to organize themselves better, for example, by sharing effective planning tools, using cloud space for increased accessibility from anywhere, anytime; initiating the good practice of using the calendar to set reminders; introducing them to tools like Evernote, OneNote, Dayone, etc.

Quality over Quantity

Students must know to prefer quality over quantity. Instead of searching and using many sources and texts, they need to use one recognized good quality source for practising their academic skills. Sometimes students antagonize using expensive textbooks or online resources, they look for cheaper options, this approach needs to be curbed. They need to invest in themselves. Quality resources come at a price and are worth it. Having one go-to resource also saves a lot of time which is usually spent in finding free resources or texts. Remember higher the investments, the higher the returns.

Teachers should also set the bar high with resources. Make sure all textbooks are available to students, hardcopy and softcopy both. Make a case for purchasing quality resources for students. While assigning tasks keep in mind to prioritize the purpose over the amount of task. This helps save a lot of precious time, quality of task over quantity of task.

Debug Distractions

Design thinking routines help to get rid of bugs in the design cycle, similarly, students who practice enough to remove distractions are better geared towards the perfect score. These students are able to remove any distractions that divert them from their objectives. This is an essential skill to be academically successful, firstly identify the bug or distraction and next get rid of it. For example, some students mute notifications on their devices when doing intense creative and cognitive work. This is a great strategy to be in the present moment and deal with the task at hand without thinking about unnecessary matters.

Teachers can help by teaching students to increase their attention span, for example, plan for activities like meditation and yoga as a warmup or unwinding activity. These not only help to increase attention span they are also great stress busters. Technology can also come to the rescue, it offers great apps like Headspace, Calm, Unplug etc for meditation and mental relaxation, teachers must make good use of it.

Feedback Focus

High achieving students always ask for feedback and work on it to improve. This quality is rare in adolescents, but much required. Senior students like to believe that they know everything, or they know the best, thanks to their raging puberty hormones. Those who are able to win the battle over their id, ego and superego tend to seek advice and feedback from experts like teachers and parents. This quality is a defining attribute and those who have it have the edge over others.

Teachers have the responsibility to give meaningful feedback, it is what leads the student to the perfect score. Feedback aids in providing direction, solving problems and making meaning of learning. Feedback is the catalyst for students to apply their knowledge to solve real-life problems and gain understanding. I strongly believe focused feedback and focus on feedback are the two secrets for a perfect score.

As an educator, I do not set a goal for achieving higher grades only, in fact, the goal is always to gain understanding. But the students who gain understanding and go the extra mile, get the perfect score. Hence my translation of the perfect score is perfect knowledge and understanding.

The highschool hangover

We all know what a hangover is, and we all (almost) know how to get over one. But there is one hangover that stays forever, I believe it is the high school hangover. You suffer from the high school hangover if you have the following symptoms:

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  1. Tendency to keep comparing current education trends with personal high school norms; 
  2. Critiquing your child’s teachers and comparing them with teachers of your own time;
  3. Forcing your child to learn the way you learnt “back in the day”;
  4. When discussing pedagogy most of your sentences start with; “in our times”; “the problem is”; and “the standards have fallen”,
  5. Most importantly you are out of high school for over a decade and also have an obsessive-compulsive disorder of tracking, tracing or following high school friends (pun intended)!

If you have the above symptoms, you should continue reading this article or consider teaching as a career as these are the only two ways of getting over the Highschool Hangover (take it with a pinch of salt!).

Jokes apart, I have picked up this important issue as education has become the hot topic of discussion in recent times. Whilst it is good to have diverse perspectives and feedback on educational trends, it becomes frustrating when people start comparing with schooling in their times and education trends 10 to 15 years back or even before that; the high school hangover is rampant and real. It is dangerous as these discussions also continue at home without censors in front of the school-going children making them confused and cynical about schooling. Some common behaviour at home that actually ruins a child’s high school experience: blaming the school or the teacher for the child’s undesirable behaviour or performance; criticising school communication and expecting a minute-by-minute update from the school administration; demeaning the purpose of schooling by always evaluating school experience with school fees; comparing child’s performance with outdated benchmarks, for example, expecting them to memorise all mathematical formulae or all capitals of all countries! 

I hope you see where I am going; to make it more precise I quote one of my personal favourite, the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore: 

“Don’t limit your child to your own learning, for she was born in another time” 

And in the simple words of an educator, do not compare your schooling to your child’s, it will always be different. Do not expect your children to learn the same way you did, let them discover how they learn best or how they want to learn. Do not dictate career choices for your child just because you are successful in yours; let them explore. Do not force your child to take up classes just because they are in demand, let them explore their interests as per their skills. Do not let your high school hangover get into the way of your child’s schooling. Learn with your child, grow with your child. Next time you discuss 21st-century pedagogy or education trends make sure to avoid comparison, it will give you the purpose to find out more and learn more. 

Lifestyle desk. (2020). Rabindranath Tagore Jayanti 2020: Inspirational Quotes, Messages, thoughts that celebrate the great poet. Indian Express Archives.

Coaching & Mentoring: Need of the New Normal

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Recently our school had to close for two days due to the resurgence of COVID cases. This caused panic attacks and PTSD across the staff and student population. Even though the past year taught us well to mask our fear and anxiety, literally and metamorphically, the stress and anxiety reached new levels. This new normal has clearly led to a fragile emotional state. The only hope is that things will be back to normal soon, without realising that these chances are the new normal and things won’t be back to the same as it was before the pandemic.

We are experiencing the new normal, we are not prepared for it as the new normal is dynamic in nature. Change is the only constant in new normal therefore decisions are fluid and unpredictable. A need for an emotional anchor is essential for the sanity and mental wellbeing of staff and students. Coaching and mentoring is a great way to establish emotional resilience and moral support.

Many schools have well established coaching and mentoring programme; I have been fortunate to have worked with one such school. The coaching and mentoring programme is a framework to look after the mental wellbeing of staff and students. There is a difference between coaching and mentoring even though they are applied in conjunction, I will explain it based on my experience with coaching and mentoring and the professional development I did with Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Coaching is more suited for new staff and students to assist them with the expectations of the new environment in a structured manner. The purpose of coaching is to be school-ready within a period of time. It is usually planned and led by the coach who identifies the goal and ways to achieve it. For example, a new student coming into school in the middle of the year is assigned a teacher coach who can guide them to be at par with the rest of the class within a time frame by completing a set of tasks. Similarly, staff who are new to a particular education framework or programme are assigned a coach who guides them to identify areas of improvement and work on them.

Mentoring on the other hand is an ongoing process, where the mentor and the mentee collaborate for the professional or academic growth of the mentee. It is an informal process based on feedback and reflection. For example, every senior student is assigned a mentor who can meet with them on a mutually agreed time to evaluate academic performance and growth. Similarly, a senior leadership team member mentors potential leaders for future roles by assigning them tasks or projects to evaluate their leadership skills.

The coaching and mentoring framework should be applied in each school especially in the current situation. The benefits I have experienced reinforces my confidence in coaching and mentoring as the answer to the challenges of the new normal. Coaching and mentoring will certainly build a human bond outside the digital realm leading to healthy mental wellbeing. Other benefits include establishing trust between colleagues, peers and creating a culture of collaboration. With professional development going completely digital, coaching and mentoring is a great way to share knowledge in person with a person. The most significant benefit is a stress-free approach towards achieving professional or personal goals.

If the new normal compels us to be dynamic, then change management can be nurtured with coaching and mentoring. This will allow participants to discuss multiple perspectives and make quick decisions as well as develop resilience to change. This could open up an entire new diaspora of skills to explore by all stakeholders in education. 

In summary, coaching and/or mentoring: either receive or provide.

Service for Wellbeing: The Strategies for Navigating the New Normal.

Service for Wellbeing Framework

I had the opportunity to present at the IB Asia-Pacific conference in April 2021. My topic was Service for Wellbeing: The Strategies for Navigating the New Normal. The new normal is the paradigm shift in education. The need for wellbeing is the topmost priority for me and for a lot of other colleagues who are dealing with inexplicable difficulties due to separation from family members and restrictions imposed due to Covid19. 

I collected data from a group of teachers across the world and found out the common challenges of the new normal:

  1. All of us are unknowingly suffering from pandemic side effects like fatigue, lack of motivation, uncertainty about the future and weight gain. Yes, stress eating has silently but surely skyrocketed.
  2. Our social and community links have become fragile probably on the verge of a collapse and we are unable to find ways to strengthen them.
  3. Even though the blended learning environment is a reality, not many teachers are trained for this new reality. Training and development for the blended learning environment are in their infancy stage.
  4. Managing the feeling of being left behind; there is so much to catch up; online conferences and workshops; e-assessments for the virtual platform; changing instructional strategies for the blended learning environment, and the list goes on…

As a result of all the above, well-being is compromised. The question arises how do we successfully navigate the new normal?

I found the answer in service-learning. Whilst still nursing the pandemic wounds I found solace in service. After critically reasoning possible solutions for the wellbeing deficit I thought of applying the same strategy at work, using service learning for mental wellbeing. Being the service-learning coordinator, I focused on wellbeing as the main objective for all service projects and activities.

Together with a team of very talented teachers, I was able to map service-learning opportunities in various disciplines; the next step was to create a framework for wellbeing. This framework was created with a design thinking routine:

  1. Empathize = Wellbeing as the objective for all service projects.
  2. Define = Challenges due to Covid.
  3. Ideate = Brainstorm solution or ideas with teachers and students.
  4. Prototype = Service for wellbeing framework
  5. Test = Case study of the school’s service-learning programme

This helped me to design the Service for Wellbeing framework. With my experience in teaching, I was able to identify the important parameters for the service for wellbeing framework. Service-learning must be linked to the curriculum, with a strong link to a discipline. Service-learning must have a global perspective like the UNSDGs, this brings purpose to action and keeps everyone motivated to achieve the learning target. The service-learning programme must start with small group projects, especially to combat the stress of uncertainty and social distancing. Group projects bring people together in a non-threatening environment and foster collaboration. The most important parameter, service for well being has to integrate student choice and voice, to allow them to own their learning as well as enjoy the process. 

Start with small group projects.

I would strongly advise everyone to try it. The next time you feel stressed, think of ways to engage in community service. Look into your subject area, find service links, think of a task that can be created to align with a global perspective or objective and then share the idea with your students. Trigger their critical reasoning by asking them to come up with service-learning activities linked to the subject and start projects to achieve the target. Try it and let me know your success in fostering wellbeing and establishing service opportunities.

Nothing micro about microaggressions

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Microaggression is an attitude of silent aggression, apathy, hate, discrimination towards minority or lesser represented communities. These silent acts are mostly non-verbal; talking in a different language to exclude people of a certain minority; ridiculing people with an accent; never acknowledging the success of people of colour. It is also verbal in the form of racial insults, culturally biased comments, and derogatory comments about citizenship and nationality. 

Microaggressions are like dementors, from the Harry Potter series, they suck away the happiness, ambition and zeal to succeed, from the people of colour and minority. This silent killer leaves them with no other option than to perish silently, never raising a voice or even trying to make a difference. In fact, it is such a silent killer that it has become an accepted norm across the world to call it ‘systemic racism’ and completely ignore the root cause. Unfortunately and dangerously the attitude currently is, “yes it exists, deal with it”!

Being a woman, and a woman of colour I have learnt to recognise microaggressions. Here are a few types of microaggressions that I have experienced.

Gender biased microaggressions: Professional development is always prioritised for men as “they need it more”, this is a classic case of silent gender-biased microaggression. Another classic example is the office dress code that mandates the length of the skirt, type of shoe, ‘no spaghetti tops’ etc only for women. While for any other gender it is limited to ‘dress formally’. Women are labelled desperate, needy and narcissists if they post about themselves or their achievements on social media, but men are rewarded with words like great communicator, successful, positive networker and very active on social media. The same act has different connotations for different genders. 

Culturally biased microaggressions: People of colour or minority are often asked this question, “How long have you lived abroad?” This clearly indicates the presumption that people of colour or of different religion do not or cannot belong to the same country as they look different or have different beliefs. Recruiting people of colour in international organisations is still a distant dream, even further away is the reality of having leaders of colour. I say this as microaggressions throttle the very desire, right at the beginning, they snatch away the pleasure of having ambitions and dreams and leave people of colour or minority with no desire to compete.

Racially biased microaggression: When a racially different person enters a public space, they are always asked for an ID. There is an assumption that people of a different race can be criminals or have an ulterior purpose to be in public space. Recent episodes of racially biased xenophobia is a very good example of underlying microaggressions. In the most developed countries of the world, we saw Asians being attacked, black lives being taken away, foreigners being segregated, children being alienated and yet we keep quiet. All of this is happening openly and the perpetrators are finding ways to exhibit their microaggressions violently under the pretext of nationalism and economic stability.

I consider microaggressions the most crucial link in the fight against inequality and discrimination. It is the very root of all issues in the world. As educators, we have to eliminate the root cause. We need to teach our students to avoid microaggressions. As educators, we can check for microaggressions and nip it in the bud.

Educators themselves have to audit their microaggressions, do not preach or practice bias. For example, I remember a teacher refusing to participate in Remembrance Day as it is a western tradition; a Head of School making a remark that Indian sweets will ensure a visit to the dentist; a PE teacher forcing a student to swim during Ramadaan. We need to face our insecurities and biases so that we do not make the mistake of harbouring microaggressions and passing them on to the youth. They will model what they witness.

Educate students to check for microaggressions and reduce them. Discourage bias, encourage brevity to stand up against bias. The trauma students endure due to the segregation by nationality intentionally or unintentionally needs to be checked as it further manifests into racism and apathy. 

Overall, there are many ways to reduce microaggressions; the difference lies in the intent. The lack of intent is the most dominant problem and this needs to change. Remember there is nothing micro about microaggressions.

Iterate to Innovate: Design Thinking in hybrid classrooms

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The COVID19 pandemic has ushered a paradigm shift in pedagogy and technology; educators need to change strategies to cope with the demands of this paradigm shift. Unlocking this paradigm shift will compel educators across the world to reevaluate curriculum design to cater to a world where problem-solving and critical reasoning will be highly required skills. Pedagogy has to equip students with divergent thinking, out of box thinking and in contemporary terminology- design thinking (DT). 

The future is closer than expected; schools around the world are now struggling with this change or paradigm shift. The solution is to learn and teach a strategy that will equip students with problem-solving strategies-design thinking. DT will help teachers to create tasks that require students to think critically and creatively to solve problems by following the design thinking framework.  Another significant reason for teaching design thinking strategies is to meet the global skills deficit and to adapt to the dynamic needs of an ever-changing and dynamic world. A small change in pedagogy can be the key to future preparedness.

The five stages of the design thinking framework are; Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. The whole process engages the participant in looking for solutions. The DT framework is human-centric approach with strong focus on empathetic study of the problem. It is a very hands-on approach to problem solving. Here are a few ways it can be adapted to pedagogy.

Empathise: The very foundation of the DT framework is built on empathy; empathy towards the students needs. In a hybrid classroom, this is where a teacher has to understand the students online, their needs, their preferences and their personalities. Teachers have to be open-minded and willing to get insights from students that illustrate their needs. Some strategies for practising this human-centric approach are via informal Q&As with students and asking open-ended questions. Remember DT compels the design thinker (teacher) to listen and not to judge. This is a stage for the teacher or the design thinker to frame design questions to understand the students and their needs.

Define: After understanding the hurdles and challenges of the students in a hybrid classroom the next stage is to define the problem. But the major difference in the DT approach is to define the problem in terms of the students. The design thinker, in this case, the teacher, must synthesise all insights to frame a solution-oriented question, for example, ‘How can we…?’ One strategy for defining the problem is through structuring insights to create a problem statement.

Ideate: In this stage, the teacher needs to brainstorm tools and strategies with students to generate ideas stimulated by the challenge or problem. Some strategies to brainstorm solutions are 30-circle exercises, word ball, mind mapping, sketching, storyboarding, worst possible idea, etc. Encourage students to think divergently, any solution is a step towards solving the problem, even solutions that don’t make sense are important in the process of design thinking. Collaborate, collate, and eliminate to come up with the best solution to answer the ‘How can we…’ question.

Prototype: From identifying the potential problem it’s time to identify the best possible solution. Prototyping helps to create a new and better version of the solution. The teacher can experiment with the new strategy or solution at this stage to observe students’ responses to the new solution. Remember to keep it simple and allow iterations to come up with an innovative solution. 

Test: The most decisive phase where the teacher puts the solution in action and gets feedback from students to get a better outcome for all. This stage decides the future application of the solution. The teacher tests the new solution/idea and goes live with it, the students complete the action stage and give feedback to the teacher, which is used to inform the different stages of the design thinking framework. This iterative process starts at the end of the testing phase, hence it is necessary to ‘iterate to innovate’.

Design thinking is a dynamic, human-centric, collaborative and iterative process of finding solutions to the most impossible problems. Teachers need to try it, especially considering the new set of challenges being thrown at them in a hybrid classroom. An example is the problem of summative assessments, where students are in all different parts of the world in different time zones and teachers need to ascertain that the work is academically sound and permissible. In this case, a simple solution is to design assessments that do not require students to do a paper-pencil test, an online oral exam is a possible solution that has worked for me. This solution was brainstormed with students in the hybrid classroom environment and they suggested this to be the best approach to avoid plagiarism or academic malpractice. I am in the testing phase, based on the success of this solution I will make changes to this mini-DT approach to assessments in a hybrid classroom. I encourage you to join this iterative process to innovate solutions to problems in your milieu. 

Identity Texts: A Pedagogy for Self-Discovery

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In a world that is becoming more and more globalised, there is an emerging tension clearly visible in the definition of identity. While we have managed to travel around the globe, experience diverse cultures, food and fashion, we also seem to have developed an identity crisis. By ‘we’, I mean all people who identify themselves as global citizens but fail to identify themself. For example, my son represented Tanzania on International Mother Language Day at school even though he is an Indian citizen. Some argue, citing this as an example of global mindedness, the way students/children can adapt to diverse cultures and appreciate them. But on the flip side, these global citizens find it extremely difficult to develop a well-defined identity or a sense of belonging. I find students struggling with the idea of identity when related to language, culture, race and nationality, to the extent that they feel completely alienated. How do we instil a sense of belonging in our students when we want them to relate to every culture they experience? How do we identify a global citizen or how do we create an identity for a global citizen?

A simple idea that I recently came across is integrating Identity Texts into the narrative of global citizenship. Identity text is a way of creating a sociocultural space in the pedagogy and curriculum that can facilitate the learner to share their experiences and identify their natural inclination to their preferred cultural and linguistic context. Students get an opportunity to express their learning approaches and experiences by writing about themselves, their cultural identity, as developed by their experiences. Identity texts can be written, spoken or visual and even musical. They are pieces of evidence from a students cultural heritage, language, ethnicity and race. Identity texts help students to tell and share their stories with their peers and teachers. Identity text is not a pretence rather a prerogative. A simple example is asking students to write about their life journey, family and friends. Students are prompted to share this journey with the rest of the class in the form of a research study, this not only builds vocabulary but also makes the student feel included within a very diverse classroom. Being able to share their stories allows students to go on a journey of self-discovery, which in turn leads to developing an identity in the beautiful but chaotic fabric of diversity.

Identity texts can be used in any classroom particularly in a diverse inclusive classroom. In a diverse classroom, students are from different cultures, nationalities, socioeconomic background, hence they can use their context for learning to feel included. There are opportunities to include identity texts into pedagogy; while activating prior knowledge; when providing a rich contextual background to make the input comprehensible; actively encouraging comprehensible output; drawing the student’s attention to the relationship between form and function, developing learner independence. The whole idea is to make it an integral part of pedagogy, this will also have academic benefits; students will take ownership of their learning; improve communication; learn vocabulary. This is an approach to the holistic development of the student. 

Let me explain with a personal example, I speak four languages, but being multilingual has been very challenging. I think in one language and communicate with another, I even switch to a particular language when I am stressed or angry. Rewinding to my early years, I spent my childhood in the beautiful country of Bhutan, I started my schooling in school in a town called Wangdue Phodrang where the medium of instruction was English. After completing my primary and middle years in Bhutan my family moved back to India where I started school in the Indian system. Though the medium of instruction was English the methodology was very different, and I had to learn a new language-Hindi. Even though I was in my home country India, I felt like a misfit. This experience evoked a sense of wanting to go back into a very diverse classroom with friends who would look different, speak different languages and yet have a sense of camaraderie, belonging and understanding each other’s differences. I had to adapt to this new system without questioning or asking for help as there was no system in place that helps students to transition and adapt to a new environment. I struggled the first few years due to a lack of support for cognitive development and negative stereotypes towards students not fluent in Hindi. My parents hired a tutor to teach me the language, even though I picked it up I struggled with it even through high school. For most of my school life, I focused on improving on Hindi while I could have used that in subjects that mattered to me. I could have benefited if my curriculum included a provision for identity texts. If I was allowed to share my story, I would have felt more included in my school and probably learnt better. Identity texts did not exist in pedagogy or curriculum.

Respecting cultural identity improves teacher-student interactions and peer-to-peer relationships. This also allows the development of language, vocabulary, identity and self-esteem. The use of identity texts can improve cognitive engagement and identity investment (Cummins, 2001). Identity texts will help students in their journey of self-discovery.

Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society. 2nd Edition. Los Angeles: California Association for Bilingual Education. 

#ChoosetoChallenge GENDER GAP: Don’t just mind the gap, Mend the Gap.

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8th March is celebrated as International Women’s Day. It was first observed in the United States as a remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. This has evolved through the years into a plea for equal rights. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China declared March 8 an official holiday (scmp.com); in 1977 the United Nations declared March 8 to be the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace. 

As per the above evidence, we have been minding the gender gap since 1908. Its time to mend the gap. The pitch for international women’s day this year is to; celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, take action for equality.

This also means we have not made enough progress in the above areas, hence the need to challenge stereotypes. To choose to challenge is to come up with an action plan for every woman out there. This has to be done by women, as lack of the female voice and choice has increased the gender gap. All we have managed to do in the past century is to mind the gap, bridge the gap, but never to mend the gap. 

Interestingly our students are ahead of us, at least I have experienced multiple interactions where students have challenged stereotypes with passion and purpose. Recently while discussing ideas for celebrating International Women’s Day, there was a suggestion of a dress-up day- ‘dressing like a woman’. This did not go down well with most students, the idea was vehemently argued by almost 60 students in the whole year group (grade 11) as stereotyping what women need to or should wear. They even went on to discuss other gender stereotypes like the signages across the globe on every building that defines male and female. I am very glad that my students think this way, they are actually mending the gap by participating in discussions on gender equality; practising plurality of perspectives; preventing stereotypes and discouraging toxic masculinity or feminity. In fact, the Millenials don’t consider gender as a constant in the equation of equality and equity, they consider it as a variable that can change as they discover their identity. This approach is empowering and can actually reduce gender inequality and discrimination. 

As teachers and educators, we must tread cautiously as sometimes we tend to overlook sensitive issues related to gender. There are many characteristics specific to a gender that has to be acknowledged but it cannot be used to discriminate. As any inequality, in the large scheme of things, creates an imbalance. For example, a study in schools in America has alarming gender trends: 80% of high school dropouts are boys; 80% of all classroom discipline problems are boys; 70% of students with learning disabilities are boys; 80% of behaviorally disordered students are boys; 80% of students on medication for ADHD are boys; 44% of college students are boys (Coniglio, n.d.).

This is evidence of the negative impacts of inequality, inequality in the way we treat and teach. Surprisingly we have created a toxic stereotype of the male gender that has pushed our boys to behavioural, disciplinary and dropout issue. Celebrating International Women’s Day is about balance, balance in how we teach and treat all genders. 

Can we choose to change, yes we can, if we choose to challenge it. Happy International Women’s Day: Mend the Gap, Don’t just Mind it.

 Coniglio, R. (n.d.) Why gender matters in the classroom, the differences between boys and girls. TeachHub.com. K-12 Teachers Alliance.

The Changing Face of Feedback: Tools, tips and tricks.

Bitmoji Image
My Bitmoji for instant feedback to students.

Learning is an emotional experience and feedback is an integral aspect of the learning experience. It is a tool for knowledge construction and for making the emotional connection to learning. The hybrid learning model is changing the way we give and receive feedback, teachers need to learn to innovate feedback with the help of technology.  Feedback is the tool for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills; there are many apps, extensions and tools that facilitate ‘on-the-spot’, ‘continuous’ and ‘formal’ feedback. Here are a few tools, tips and tricks that will help teachers manage the changing face of feedback.

On-the-spot feedback: This feedback focuses on one area only to help the student master one component. This is useful for students who need to master basic components of the curriculum, some tools which I find useful for on-the-spot feedback are:

  1. Pear Deck: This is a google chrome extension and a web-based application, a very convenient and easy tool for immediate feedback in a hybrid class.
  2. Evernote: Captures and organises thoughts and voice notes for immediate feedback to students on their digital notebook. A google chrome extension that can sync with multiple devices. Useful in giving instant feedback, for example, annotating works that are still being produced by students.
  3. Kaizala: Mobile messaging app, useful for users of MS Office 365 email groups in order to easily message, share photos, audio recordings and videos, and run instant polls. Students needing instant feedback on their work can just send a photo and teachers can easily provide feedback.
  4. Mentimeter: This tool helps to create interactive presentations to get instant feedback. Teachers can involve students to contribute to presentations with their smartphones and show the results live. Great for online lessons where students tend to be bored.
  5. Bitmoji: A Google Chrome extension and mobile application, Can easily insert your own emojis to show your feedback to your student’s work. Very effective for younger students.

Continuous feedback: Also known as closing the loop feedback, it means providing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning or to submit their work with revisions focusing on learning; from product to process to progress.

  1. Kaizena: An add-on for google suite products; teachers can attach a rubric and give voice feedback, students can listen to the feedback over and over till they reach the objective.
  2. Edpuzzle: This tool is available on the app store, has desktop and tablet editors. It helps to crop, customize, remix online video content with an interactive tool and complete formative assessments while watching the video to record feedback.
  3. Classkick: This is a web-based application that allows for real-time monitoring, feedback, and assessment on student work and can be a bridge to more personalized learning in 1:1 online classrooms. It can be used from anywhere by anyone-parents, students, teachers!

Formal Feedback: Being a business management teacher, I would explain formal feedback as Kaizen-“change for the better”. Formal feedback is a process of improvement, beginning with goal setting and reporting on the extent to which the student has achieved the goals.

  1. Spiral.ac: Spiral requires no integration with the school learning management system and takes seconds for students to actively participate in live lessons and assignments. Spiral is free to support remote learning and has a range of formative assessment apps in one platform.
  2. Screencastify: A google chrome extension that records screen video feedback that can be instantly downloaded, shared and stored as formal feedback.
  3. Thinglink: A Web 2.0 tool used to annotate text, images and videos and record formal feedback. Runs on the cloud; accessible anytime, anywhere, and has desktop and tablet editors. 
  4. Poll everywhere: Allows to receive formal feedback from a live audience. Student responses are shown on the screen in real-time. A google chrome extension, add-ins to keynote or MS PPT, or a web tool.

There are many other innovative ways of receiving and providing feedback through technology; choose the one that suits your context best!

Clientmoji
My Bitmoji reminding students to work on feedback.

Teachers burn out as they are burning alone

Teacher burnout rate has always been a concern. Teachers burn out as they carry the burden of the education system, policies, national ideologies, global perspectives, parental demands, societal pressures while doing their day-to-day job. Burnout is definite and drastic! Teachers burn out as they are burning alone, all other stakeholders in education are adding fuel to this burnout. How can important stakeholders help prevent teacher burnout?

Role of Society – Teaching is considered a noble profession but at the same time not a highly rewarding (monetarily) job. On top of that everyone has a say into the teaching business of teachers. Teachers groom the next generation of thinkers, doctors, sportsmen, artists hence they need the utmost reverence and respect. The respect in the profession will help in addressing the most important cause of teacher burnout-emotional or affective exhaustion, as teachers will feel valued and needed. A few things to be considered:

  1. Remuneration at par with other industries in terms of experience and qualification,  investing in education by increasing teacher salary will bring in the much-needed esteem and respect to the profession leading to self-actualisation for teachers
  2. Retirement benefits especially for teachers, this will keep teachers in their profession, and act as a retention incentive to prevent turnover or burnout.
  3. The societal value of the profession has to change, a country’s GDP is deeply connected to its literacy rate. Teachers have most of the responsibility for improving the literacy rate, hence society needs to invest in teacher well-being and value. As per World Economic Forum 2021, Finland has the world’s best education system as they invest in teacher training and value the profession (Colagrossi, n.d.); in fact, teachers has the same prestige as a doctor or engineer.

Role of School -The organisation that is responsible for educating the youth has to be responsible for the wellbeing of its teachers. Schools can play the most critical role in preventing teacher burnout. As a business management teacher, I am able to identify one of the main reasons for burnout is the lack of motivation, intrinsic or extrinsic. Here are a few things schools can do to avoid this:

  1. Invest in an experienced and supportive human resources (HR) department. A strong HR can ensure that teachers are supported with their basic needs, they feel safe, motivated and happy to work. The HR should also be responsible to create and maintain teacher professional development framework.
  2. A clear and detailed job description (JD) with an outline of expectations is another big necessity, this is also a requirement for getting an international accreditation. The JD should limit non-teaching duties and focus on the core skill of teaching. 
  3. A support system for teachers should be put together by the school, for example, hiring an adequate number of teacher assistants, meeting all software and hardware requirements, creating a culture of teacher appreciation and of course reviewing the salary scale to be fair to all teachers.

Role of Students – Students can act as a catalyst to break down a teacher. Disruptive, disengaged and disobedient students are a product of multiple failures of the school, society and parents; but the blame is always on the teacher. On top of it, teachers are victims of violence in the hands of students; from verbal abuse to physical abuse to being shot, teachers have experienced it all. Students need to foster a mutual relationship of respect and understanding as this directly impacts their future.

  1. Students should sign and comply with a behaviour agreement to be cognizant of their responsibilities in a classroom.
  2. Students should undergo orientation at the beginning of the year to be more accountable for their academic and non-academic performance in school.
  3. Students should be made to realise that their success is an outcome of a healthy partnership with teachers. 

Role of Staff – Teachers can get the most needed support from peers; #staffforstaff. Teachers understand each other’s challenges hence should offer solutions to common problems:

  1. Form support groups and professional learning communities to provide an open platform for discussing curriculum-related issues. Be a part of existing groups either within the school community or outside like social media groups.
  2. Create a teacher ready toolkit to ease the transition for newbies in the school or into teaching. This should have all necessary resources for effectively managing a classroom for a newbie, for example, a list of all staff with phone numbers or subject guides or past papers/assessments, unit plans etc.
  3. Encourage, motivate each other, a kind word goes a long way and comes back quickly; smile and say something kind to your peers and it will come back to you.

Teacher burnout can be prevented; if you are reading this, you have a part to play. Support the growth of the next generation by strengthening the foundation-the teacher.

Colagrossi, M. W. (n.d.). 10 reasons why Finland’s education system is the best in the world. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/10-reasons-why-finlands-education-system-is-the-best-in-the-world