Follow the evidence, do the right thing – at your peril.

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Some behaviours are worth imitating but be mindful of the negative impact of overimitation

I’m curious about a behavioural science phenomenon called “overimitation”. As you would expect, it describes the behaviour of imitating too much. You can find a deeper explanation of this theory and how scientists tested it out here. Of course, social imitation brings benefits to society. But overimitation is the problem. There will be situations when it is going to cause things to go awry. For example, if you hear that a bunch of other people are doing a bad thing, you are also more likely to do that thing, without even realising it.

What’s this got to do with teaching and learning?

It’s because it reminds me of a story that I heard many years ago. A story that reveals the implications of overimitation.

A lead teacher decided that the school should invest significant amounts of money and resource into an external programme because it was thought that it would have significant benefits to the learning of all the students. The programme was very prescriptive in its requirements and required significant levels of teacher and parent input.

The uptake of the programme was almost universally supported. Barbara* was the only dissenting voice. She tried to make the point that there was little, if any, scientific evidence to support the programme and that it was increasing her work load without providing sufficient learning benefits to the children.

In the end, Barbara felt that it was just easier to suppress her rational thoughts and join in the imitation behaviour. Being ostracised is a powerful motivating force for social creatures, as humans are. Interestingly, some years later when the team leader had moved on, new discussions regarding the benefits of this “essential” programme surfaced. Strangely enough, when the teachers were invited to speak freely, not one spoke in favour of retaining the programme. It was immediately and completely abandoned. “I never said I wanted to do the programme”, said the teachers in unison. Really.

Barbara described how she felt vindicated by this decision but also noted that she was never acknowledged for her willingness to take an evidence-based approach to the issue in the first place. The change came about by accident rather than design. Barbara went along with the ‘group think’ because it was “safer” and expedient to do so. For me, this is just another example of how it has come to be that we have a school system that is stuck.

The footnote to this story is that Barbara is no longer a teacher. That’s unfortunate. Because schools need more teachers like Barbara. Informed, effective and, gone.

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*Barbara is not the teacher’s real name – in keeping with the policy that all content on this site will be identity free. You will not find any reference on this site to individuals past or present.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Teaching to the 100% – a model to help teachers and students move beyond surviving, to thriving.

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The teacher’s role of bringing out the best in everyone needs to be enshrined.

I was reminded recently about the impact my approach to teaching and learning has had in allowing all my students to achieve excellent learning outcomes on a consistent basis. This success all stems from my determination to ensure success for every child in my class. That is, 100%. But to get to this level of success I find myself having to forgo the familiar way of teaching, and instead, forge a pathway based on evidence and research.

The 100% target is quite an exacting standard to impose on a teacher but I have come to appreciate that it is only by having this target that best teaching practice will reveal itself. Solutions to seemingly intractable problems are available if one is willing to dig deeper and take on a long term problem solving approach. Unfortunately, this approach is neither common, nor encouraged. To do so requires blind determinationhigh levels of social and emotional competency and a willingness to explore the beliefs and biases that are a part of human nature. It’s hard. These human skills are not taught at teacher training school. And it’s easier to go with the flow, to not rock the boat. It’s easier to blame the students, or poor parenting skills, or social inequality. That is, blame anything and everything, other than teacher failure.

There would be very few classes I have taught since beginning teaching that have not included at least one child who is not “school ready”. The behaviour of this child (this is not a reference to a particular child, but a composite) is extremely disruptive and it displays behaviour that impedes the learning and (sometimes safety) of the other students. This type of child I categorise as the 1-5%. There are also students that I categorise as the 5-20%. The behaviour of students in this category may not be as severely disruptive or violent but they have a negative impact that is felt by the teacher and the other students. If left unchecked the behaviours displayed by these students will make the school year a less than pleasant one and will likely compromise the quality of learning that is able to take place in the classroom. And this is a failure that will end up costing us all. These are the students that help teachers make the decision to quit teaching.

The point I am trying to make here is that, the prevalent teaching model, even if it was effective, is only catering to 80% of the class. That is, every student’s learning is going to be compromised to some extent. I describe this as a model of surviving, rather than thriving. The day I decided to aspire to a thriving teaching model was the day my teaching practice changed forever. Targeting success for the 100% forced me to look for answers that were within my control; to keep questioning myself and asking those difficult ‘how and ‘why’ questions in order to get to a solution that dealt with the root cause. But once again, those questions are generally not welcome or well-received. Because to follow the best answers to their conclusion, ends up colliding with the status-quo.

I have discovered that the solution lies in focusing on social/ emotional learning first and foremost. The academic learning is not neglected but the social/emotional learning is given immediate priority. And the thing is, if you are a proponent of the power of student agency like I am, for that to happen, the teacher needs to be in control of the class to allow the students to be effective self-learners. Without that control, the teacher will have to rely on the “students learning despite me” model of teaching. To do so, the focus needs to be on the learning of all students. Built on a foundation of strong relationships, I ensure that behaviour and academic expectations for every child are high and consistent. Of course there is a need for variability. It’s progress in attainment that is the key metric being measured. Clear and consistent expectations are matched by my unwavering support and desire to see every student achieve success in self-managing. The students who are already self-managing rarely complain that they are given more self-directed learning time.

I am pleased to report that by the end of term one, the classroom culture is now strong and cohesive and there exists a secure platform in which to launch into effective academic learning. The social and emotional learning will be maintained continuously. I continue to give the students opportunities to practice engaging in pro-social behaviours. Slowly but surely all the students take on more active roles as directors of their own learning. I keep tweaking and modifying the learning environment based on the interactions that I observe and the evidence that it reveals. It is the future of learning.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Is your mindset holding back your students’ learning?

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Check your mindset.

Managing behaviour in the classroom is a topic that interests me and one that I have spent a lot of time exploring and trying to develop expertise in. That’s because I see it as a critical element in achieving the best learning outcomes for all students equally. If it’s true that the best learning takes place when students are the agents of that learning, then it makes sense that, for it to happen, students need to be able to self-manage.

It came as a surprise to me recently when I heard an “expert” on behaviour make a statement that contradicted my experience and knowledge. It required me to stop and reflect on my practice. Maybe I was getting something wrong. Was I guilty of contravening this advice? The message went something like this.

“It is not appropriate to punish a student’s bad behaviour by excluding that student from an event outside of the classroom; something like a sports event, or anything that the student would find enjoyable, or was good at”.

Let’s break it down. On the face of it, this seems to make good sense. There is an obvious lack of connection between the misbehaviour and the event the student would be excluded from. This is the same argument I use to explain why the giving certificates at a school assembly held fortnightly will have minimal impact on modifying behaviour in the classroom. So what I see here is a case of good science being applied randomly and/or inconsistently. This is a complex situation that needs to be understood fully in order to be effective. The science needs to be applied consistently to be effective.

However, alarm bells really started to ring for me when the following explanation for this rationale was provided.

“It’s not fair for a student, who may not be experiencing success in the classroom, to be excluded from an activity that may be the only place that the child gets to experience success”.

Unfortunately, I see this as an example of the deficit thinking that is prevalent in education, and society in general. To believe that the child will only ever experience success in a non-academic way is an example of how negative belief systems undermine efforts to improve learning outcomes for all students. It’s a case of the teacher being misinformed and putting the focus on achievement and results rather than on growth and improvement. It is in these situations that teachers need to be reflecting on in their teaching practice. As in, “what can I do to engage with that student more effectively? Or how can I help that student to be better at self-managing; to recognise that effort will result in improvement; that effort, whether it be on the sports field or in the classroom, will result in improvement?”

It’s quite possible that a teacher’s compassion for under-achieving students is actually doing students a disservice. The answer lies in getting along side your students, individually and collectively, building a relationship with them, understanding them and helping them to bring out their best. Students need high expectations, compassion and expertise in teaching and learning. Get the learning environment right. And get your mindset right.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

For an example of how mindset can have an impact on learning outcomes, check out psychologist Carol Dweck in this Ted Talk below….(16 minutes in, though I would highly recommend listening to the whole show).

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Beliefs and biases – the biggest challenge faced by education

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via Spencer Rowell

Some years ago I learned that a research based, evidence informed teaching pedagogy, that would vastly improve learning outcomes for all students, was readily available for all teachers to pick up and adopt immediately. Imagine it? A road map for effective teaching had been provided and was just waiting to be utilised. If only. The unfortunate reality is that this pedagogy is still only of interest to academics and a small group of dedicated teachers. And it’s this disconnection between the research and everyday practice that interests me the most these days. That is, my focus has gradually gone from exploring the features of “best practice teaching” to exploring the beliefs and attitudes of teachers that appear to be stopping them from taking up this amazing offer. My attention has shifted from education practice to one of human psychology. I wonder if it will ever be possible to get a sufficient number of teachers on board to create a “tipping point”? If so, what will it take to make that happen?

Experience tells me that, by and large, teachers are in the business of teaching because they care. It’s a “calling”. There is immense satisfaction in having a positive impact on a child’s education during their formative years. But these days I am more inclined to think that the potential to have a positive impact on student learning is, to a large degree, being squandered. So why is it that teachers would spurn the opportunity to make a positive impact on the students they are teaching? I am not the only teacher receiving the regular memo or attending professional development courses that implore teachers to help fix an education system that is failing so many students. The only difference seems to be that, upon receiving these requests, I started a personal inquiry into how I could make this happen. And let it be known that it was personal by default, not choice.

I found out as much as I could about this ‘magical’ pedagogy. I immersed myself in the research and began to trial it in my classroom. I had to. I had no choice. I had students in my class who were bright and articulate but were unable to engage in the standard learning programme that was expected to be delivered. The only alternative would have been to exclude them from the classroom. But that would be akin to giving up on them. Our judiciary system seems to work in that way. I definitely don’t want our education system to be the same. So I chose to meet these students where they were at. But I had to change my practice in order to get them to where they needed to be. It soon became apparent that this new approach worked for them and for every other student in my classroom. I liked what it was delivering. The children liked what it was delivering. It was delivering exactly as the research said it would. By that, I mean there was significant learning growth taking place. Better still. I had become aware of it and aware of what I was doing to make that learning happen. It was at that point that I felt compelled to share this experience; this new reality.

As well as benefiting the students, it has made my life as a teacher less stressful and more satisfying. But in other ways it’s been harder. Biases are hard to recognise, let alone shift. Teachers are not immune to this reality. It’s naive to think teachers would be any different to the general populace. When I started changing my teaching practice, based on the research and the evidence that was being presented to me, I naively anticipated my achievements would be fêted. Quite the opposite was the reality. It became apparent that applying a tried and tested, yet unfamiliar pedagogy, sets you on a collision course with the prevailing forces of the “status quo”. The default setting is to “shoot the messenger”. The silence, the lack of curiosity, the absence of critical discussion can be deafening. “How dare you challenge our beliefs about teaching or about the children in my care”, can be conveyed equally effectively, in subtle and less subtle ways. But regardless of how it is conveyed, it takes a personal and professional toll. Meanwhile, this incredible pedagogy that I witness on a daily basis never strays beyond the four walls of my classroom. Not for want of trying I hasten to add.

Once again, I sought solace in Hattie’s research. He says, “the biggest collective impact on student learning (effect sizes 1.3+) happens when teachers are able to share their learning and openly discuss their evidence”. That’s the theory. As you will have noted, making that happen in reality has proven to be a significant challenge. To do so teachers would need to leave their beliefs and biases at the door. And in order to do that, they would have to be aware of the existence of those biases in the first place. Maybe Hattie is as naive as I am. Back-slapping and high-fives is evidence of a cooperative environment. This should not been confused with a collaborative environment. Rigourous, managed debate, centred around evidence of learning growth is the hallmark of collaboration. Those with the most compelling evidence are the voices that need to be encouraged to share. An environment needs to be created that allows ideas to be tested in order for the best learning outcomes for all students to be achieved. Strong, confident, informed leadership is a prerequisite. And high expectations. Likewise, a no-fail and supportive approach needs to be in place to ensure all teachers are able to participate in the journey too.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that our education system, like our political system, is very resistant to making any material changes. It’s called inertia. Tinkering at the edges is currently as good as it gets. Fads and fashions come and go. Compliance and process are valued ahead of innovation and achievement. But the point needs to be made that unlike politicians,  teachers are in no need to be looking for votes. Teachers are well-paid professionals. They are impartial. They owe a duty of care to offer the best outcomes for all their students and need to be prepared to be challenged. Politely and professionally. They need to be reminded that they are in fact required to deliver best learning outcomes for all. To do so will require best teaching practice. Qualities of being caring and showing good intentions need to be converted into great learning outcomes for all.

At least I no longer assume that change will come automatically, be easy or, be championed by every teacher. There is unlikely to be a safe and easy pathway. But on the positive side I do think I have uncovered the circumstances that allows for the disconnection between research and practice. Beliefs and biases – that is now the focus of my attention. Wish me luck.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Is it ever ok for a teacher to use physical force to correct a child’s behaviour?

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Image via Bluestone Productions

The Scenario

Four distressed boys complain that a child dragged them through mud and grass and threw stones at them. When the child fails to explain his actions to the teacher, the teacher tells the child to go to the principal’s office. The child does not comply with that request so the teacher resorts to physical force to get the child to the principal’s office.

The Consequence

The teacher involved is found guilty of misconduct by a Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal. The report says the teacher was in a difficult position because the boy had a history of behavioural problems and might have hurt others. “….the combination of the student’s behaviour on that day and his known history placed the teacher in a difficult situation in determining the best intervention to protect other students from physical and emotional harm,” the tribunal said. The report said all parties agreed the teacher’s actions added to the student’s distress and that the teacher had used force to correct a student’s behaviour. This decision generates discussion within the teaching community. Teachers and school leaders are concerned about the ramifications of this decision. They argue that this decision may result in teachers being overly scrutinised in every situation in which physical restraint is used.

The Critique

There is so much wrong in the way the teacher handled this situation. And the report acknowledges that fact – “The teacher’s actions added to the student’s distress….” A teacher’s primary goal in this situation is to deescalate the situation. The first steps should always be to ensure that the harmful behaviour is stopped and to check on the well-being of the victims. Any physical intervention could only be justified if the the student didn’t stop the harmful behaviour at the teacher’s request. In no circumstances should the teacher be demanding an explanation from the student in the heat of the moment or demanding the child to go to the principal’s office. That is a recipe for escalation in any situation and even more so if the child has a history of behavioural issues. As I have described previously, a teacher’s best friend is rapport. If there is to be any training offered to teachers in how to manage difficult behaviour, it needs to be focused around the role of rapport. Teaching is about relationships. That’s what the research confirms for us.

The Conclusion

Unfortunately, there are teachers and adults who are lamenting the Tribunal’s decision as just another example of a world that is too “PC”. Instead, I suggest that we see this as an opportunity to inject some humanity into the education system. Teaching needs to be about engaging with students in creative and dynamic learning environments, rather than trying to fill compliant, empty vessels with facts and knowledge in order to pass assessments. Teaching is a human endeavour. Effective teaching and effective behaviour management hinge on strong, healthy, constructive relationships with all students. It is from that base that effective learning will take place for all students. For that to happen, teachers and adults will need to think differently. And although systemic change may be a long way off, it is possible and it is a goal worth pursuing.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Stop blaming the children. Start fixing the system instead.

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A climate of fear tends not to encourage the best learning.

I love sharing and reflecting on the magic taking place in my classroom. My hope is that it can inspire fellow teachers to reflect on the impact they are having on the social, emotional and academic well being of the students in their care. My hope is that it will eventually provoke an honest and considered conversation that will lead to better learning outcomes for all students within the education system. Yes, I appreciate that that’s a lofty goal.

But despite what we wish to tell ourselves, all is ‘not well at mill’. That’s why it’s critical that we move beyond the personal and speak in a way that puts the wider education interests of our children at the forefront. Not a day goes by that I don’t dispair at the enormity of the problem we are facing. Systems are notoriously difficult to change. But that should not stop us from facing up to the reality. Sure, celebrating success is essential but let’s not avoid tackling the core issues as well. Those unconscious biases run deep.

So as I continue along the path of delivering a reflective, evidence based teaching programme, I will also continue to be the conscience of educators. And just because you may not witness personally the issues that are being referred to, it does not mean they do not occur. Finding examples is easy. But addressing the problem? Not so easy. Maybe it helps to appreciate that it is not an issue solely for educators to deal with. That it needs to be seen as a human rights issue as well.

I for one, am hopeful that the victims of historic abuse in state care will get the justice they deserve.

Or how can a 4 year old boy run over and killed by a lawnmower in a public park be described as no more than a tragic accident?

In a New York city school, a teacher was videoed terrorising the children in her care during a maths lesson. I note that John Hattie says that it is very difficult for teachers to stop a child from learning. I think the teacher in this video makes a very good attempt to prove that theory wrong.

Or in 2017, it came to light that a New Zealand school was utilizing a ‘seclusion room’ as a way of dealing with ‘difficult behaviour’. I wonder how the Ombudsman’s Inquiry into the issue is progressing? I don’t recall hearing a great deal of contrition being offered by the school when this issue came to public attention.

And back in 2015, a group of teenagers got to speak publicly to the New Zealand parliament to describe their negative experiences in the classroom. They described incidents of being bullied and mistreated by their teachers; of being told they were unteachable; that their work was described as ‘shit’, then ripped up and put in the bin; of being told to stay in at lunch time and do it again.

I also wonder whether classroom culture played some role in the death of Aryan Banerjee in a New Zealand school in 2015. Aryan was left unattended in the class to finish some writing while the teacher took the rest of the children out to play. Why was that? Was Aryan, in effect, being punished for not completing his writing? Is that best teaching practice? Is this a reminder that it is time to put a halt to the overused practice of exclusion in schools? In the end, the school managed to have it presented as a health and safety issue. In the end it would appear that the caretaker was made the ‘fall guy’ for failing to ensure door handles were on the toilet cubicle doors at the time.

It’s too easy to blame the children for failing. Instead, we need to be providing an education system that works for everyone. And the cool thing is, there are already successful working models in existence that we can rely on to lead the way.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

A close up and personal view of successful learning.

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Give a child some time and space and witness the magic.

A child enters the classroom at the beginning of the year. The child is lively, funny, gregarious, intelligent, precocious, articulate and creative. Everything that you would hope and expect from a normal 5 year old. But school environment doesn’t seem a good fit for this child. The child has trouble focusing, or staying on task for even a short periods of time. It becomes increasingly apparent that, without some specific and tailored input, this child is looking unlikely to attain the established academic standards.

The child’s teacher realises the challenge at hand, and gets to work establishing the deliberate acts of teaching that need to be implemented. A long term personal commitment is made to address the identified issues. Fortunately, the NZ Curriculum document is non prescriptive. It places no specific requirements on the teacher to teach in a particular way. It seems to encourage innovation and a problem solving approach to learning. Prior successes in similar circumstances reveal that a positive outcome for this child is all but assured. But it will be a challenge. It will be a test of skill and a test of confidence. For a while at least. Previous experience reveals that it could take a week, or it could take a year. Or somewhere in between. That’s because the best solutions are typically the easiest to deliver but also the slowest at delivering the best results. But the rewards will be huge. The pay back will be worth the effort.

As I argued recently, rapport may be the foundation stone of a super charged learning environment but there is more to it. Rapport on its own, it is no guarantee that effective learning will take place. It’s what’s done with the rapport that is the critical factor. Rapport gives the teacher a clear and well researched pathway. It’s a credit source that can be drawn on. It allows the teacher to engage with the child in an effective and productive way. It is premised on a healthy and constructive mindset. Rapport conveys a message from the teacher that, “I care”, and, “I will work hard.” But more than that, it’s a message that needs to implore the child to care just as much, and to work just as hard.

Expectations must be high. Teacher talk time needs to be short, prompt and focused. Expectations on students to listen and engage during that time also need to be high. The child’s opportunity to demonstrate an appropriate response and understanding is equally short and focused. This process is enhanced by ensuring that only activities with sufficient levels of context and relevance are on offer. Insight is gained through the regular dynamic interactions that take place between teacher and student or student and student. These interactions are prized possessions. They are utilized by the teacher. Formative assessments are made and are ongoing. Next steps are formulated. High fives are offered generously for every recognition of constructive effort expended. The child gradually becomes aware that their effort is linked to their achievement. Intrinsic motivation may be an abstract concept to a 5 year old but its presence is clear and invaluable. The child is now entering the pathway to becoming the director of its own learning.

The learning environment the teacher creates is positive, familiar, predictable and visible. It is that kind of environment, in which eventually, the learning pretty much takes care of itself. That’s because a similarly high level of expectation of self management and effort is placed on all children and is evident in all daily interactions – whether the interactions are teacher led or child led. Increasingly, as the year progresses, the teacher’s presence becomes less obvious in the classroom. The result is that every child manages to succeed. Some just needed a little less direct input than others.

And as for the target child? When the results are in, the child is indistinguishable from its peers. That’s the measure of success. That’s what makes teaching more than just a job.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

The role of rapport in creating a super charged learning environment.

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Rapport: are you looking for the next best thing to a ‘silver bullet’?

Have you ever walked into a primary school classroom and seen all the children sitting on the floor in front of a teacher, except for one? And that one, is sitting on a special seat and looking like the proverbial “cat that got the cream”. That scene is probably replicated in the majority of primary schools throughout New Zealand. The child on said chair is more than likely enjoying the opportunity to be the ‘Star of the Day’ or ‘Teacher’s Helper’ (or any variation of label thereof). This is most likely an example of a strategy often employed by teachers as a way of managing student behaviour. It is used as both an inducement, and as a reward. It’s a pretty effective strategy because most children are motivated to sit in ‘that’ chair. Mostly.

For some students, inducements or rewards are just a bonus. They are already internally motivated and able to self regulate. For others, it will operate effectively at helping them move towards internal motivation and self regulation. For some children though, being chosen to sit on the special chair is not a sufficient motivator to get them to do, or behave as the teacher requests. That’s why it’s important critical to be able to determine the intent and impact of using particular behaviour management strategies. Is the intention to achieve compliance or self regulation? Of course, the target of any intervention should be about helping children to self regulate, rather than simply creating children who are compliant. That’s because self regulation and internal motivation are the foundation stones of effective learning.

I think it is also worth stepping back and seeing this from a wider angle. The real problem here is that this is not just a child’s problem. That is, for most normal human beings, self-regulation does not come easily. But so often I conclude that adults place higher expectations of self regulation on children than they do on themselves. As far as I can see, I suspect that the society we live in is run by adults who, by varying degrees, are poor at self regulation and display a considerable paucity of emotional intelligence. So while it is honourable to have these high expectations, these need to be matched equally with support, guidance and opportunities to learn how to self regulate. As I have said before, first and foremost, teachers need to be mindful of their own mindset.

Over recent years, I have become better at choosing and adapting the strategies I employ to manage behaviour. That’s come about as a result of applying a research/evidence based teaching practice. I am always seeking an honest answer to the question: “How am I/we doing?” The best solutions/pedagogy come about by responding to the needs of the children, rather than by blindly following the received conventional wisdom. In terms of managing behaviour effectively, expectations of how to behave and how to engage need to be clear and consistent. That’s why I am always looking for opportunities to reinforce these expectations. And that’s also why I am willing and prepared to play the ‘long game’. The research reveals to us that the best learning for all students is self generated and takes place over a sustained period of time.

The research is now also making it abundantly clear that the level of rapport in the learning environment is the closest thing teachers can have that represents a ‘silver bullet’. Based on my own personal experience of testing the research in the classroom, I can unequivocally claim that there is a clear and undeniable link between the level of rapport and the quality of the learning taking place. Is it the cause or simply a correlation? I’m not sure and it may be difficult to prove but I for one, would be very keen to find out. By implementing the research and making this self discovery, it has given me more confidence to play around with how I approach my role as a teacher. It has resulted in me embracing this teaching manifesto with open arms. One of my primary roles has now become one of creating a learning environment that is full of joy and empathy.

As a result, my teaching day looks very different to what it used to. The day starts with singing and dancing. In fact, singing and dancing feature regularly throughout the day. I have also managed to democratise the process of managing behaviour. Happy children are contagious. Empathy loves company, it would seem. A primary focus of mine these days is to have a conversation with the children about how we are all part of a learning environment that values respect and kindness; that we are a kind and caring community. The day is full of opportunities that I have created deliberately, to put these values into practice. Pro-social experiences is what I call them.

The intention is to make the learning more meaningful and more ‘visible’. If we are going to make academic learning visible as a way of improving learning, then the same should apply to social learning. As a result, the positive impact of the ‘Teacher’s Helper’ role has become super charged. Previously, I used to choose the ‘helper’. I would pick the children who I thought were deserving. Now I choose the helper “randomly” so that every child gets to take a turn on a regular basis. This is a significant change in thinking and practice. I now realize that every child wants to be good and appreciated. It’s just that they may not have learned the skills of managing themselves yet. There are social skills that they need to learn. My job is therefore, to give them opportunities to learn those skills. They need opportunities to practice. Just like I give them all equal opportunities to learn to read and write and count.

I also added another element to the ‘helper’ role that contributes to the task of moving students to being internally motivated and self managing. I invite the ‘helper’ to come to the front of the class and invite them to seek feedback from fellow students. It means that everyone gets to hear positive comments about the person standing in front of them. At the beginning of the year I will most likely prompt the process by providing a model starter sentence along the lines of…”what I really like about Jane is….” But eventually it becomes a genuine child-centred activity. I note that some teachers choose to take a more hands on approach.

It is so amazing to hear what they come up with. Things such as, “She is a kind and caring friend and we are lucky to have her in the class.” “She is a good friend to play with and when I am hurt she takes me to the sick bay.” “She plays nicely with me and is a good reader.” Mostly it is variations on the same ideas of kindness and friendship. In effect, I have put these ideas and words in their mouth. Often when I hear their descriptions, I will reinforce their observation by agreeing with them. Sometimes I hear stuff that surprises me. Stuff that requires me to change my perceived view of that child. This process allows me to develop quite a different perspective of the children. It allows me to triangulate. That’s formative assessment at its best; quick, informative feedback.

I also notice that the children are incredibly honest. If they think another child is not so deserving of praise, I will hear a discussion and some murmurings. I think it is important for the child in question to hear that feedback directly and for the children to get a sense that their concerns are being heard. I hear this described as ‘Reintegrative Shame’. At the same time, children are incredibly forgiving. In these situations I will ask if we can give the person a chance to ‘join the fold’; to choose to get back on track, the answer is always a resounding ‘yes’. Being a helper comes with special privilege and expectations. And the good thing is, those expectations can be continually and gradually ramped up. This ‘system’ also provides opportunities to ‘induce’ improvement in other areas – those next steps – both academic and social.

I invite you to embrace the power of rapport. Play around with it. Notice the impact. How you choose to go about achieving it is not the critical factor. But build up those teacher/student relationships as well as the student/student relationships. And do let me know of your success stories or questions you may have. Love and laughter are essential ingredients for creating a great learning environment and great learning outcomes for the students.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Inspiration and analysis for this blog post come from “The Parking Ticket Experiment | The Science of Empathy”. Note the impact of language in creating an empathetic environment.

You may also be interested in reading about how effective teaching and effective interrogation share the common ingredient of rapport.

You can find the links below.

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What can the movie Monster’s Inc reveal about effective teaching?

Monsters2

“We scare because we care.” An example of ‘deficit thinking’?

Monster’s Inc is such a clever movie. I never tire of watching it. The first time I watched it, I was struck by the premise of the movie – that laughter could generate more electricity than scaring could. Yeah, nah, that’s just a silly idea from a kids’ movie, I hear you say. But please don’t dismiss it so quickly. When I discovered that making a classroom a vibrant, happy, positive place was an essential part of creating a great learning environment, both my teaching experience, and the learning outcomes for the students, improved dramatically. I’m describing an environment that is based on a foundation of positive relationships – teacher/student and student/student. And once again, it is not just a vague, warm fuzzy feeling that I am referring to. It’s an environment in which students have agency. The students are directing and managing their learning. The teacher is able to sit back, orchestrate and learn from the students. It’s dynamic and agile. I often find myself referring to this manifesto to keep things on track.

I would encourage every teacher to move mountains in order to create this kind of learning environment. I have interpreted the Visible Learning teaching pedagogy as a ‘green light’ to do so; as a way of building student agency. There you go. That’s a licence for every teacher to change the way in which they teach. But to do so, really does require the teacher to operate from a growth mindset. Like in Monsters Inc, there needs to be a strong belief in the idea that laughter is in fact, more powerful than fear.

But really? Students can be trusted to engage in this process? Well, yes. And now we are starting to see the evidence to validate this. Economist Alexander Wagner conducted an experiment that concluded that 70% of people are good and motivated by altruistic reasons. (Refer to the link below). If that is true, then it has big implications for how we engage with students in their learning. I suggest that this knowledge is an essential resource for teachers to tap into. I witness the existence of this phenomenon everyday. I see the children in my class wanting to learn. I have practiced harnessing it, rather than stifling it. They are like sponges. They are curious and open to new ideas. Teaching under these conditions is a breeze. Teaching under these conditions is a positive experience. It becomes more about guiding and less about cajoling.

But what about that 30%, I hear you ask? I think I probably start the school year with about 30% who are not so altruistically inclined. Or at least, haven’t been given the opportunity to experience or demonstrate the merits of working altruistically. But that gets whittled down pretty quickly with the right pedagogy and motivators in place. It takes time, patience and consistency. Eventually almost all the children are on the proverbial bus together and participating in a supportive and collaborative learning journey – academic and social.

It is also worth noting that I have found it important and helpful to distinguish between students whose behaviours can be distinguished between behaviour that is:

  • challenging and provocative. eg. “This is boring”. I embrace comments like this. I reflect on these kinds of comments and try to determine their basis. It may well have some legitimacy. It’s an opportunity to find out more about the student and consider a modification to the teaching practice being utilised. In this scenario it is important to get the learning environment right.
  • under-developed social skills. If this is the case, there are strategies that are available to teachers that can help nudge the student towards displaying more socially acceptable behaviours. I would suggest that emotional competency is prerequisite to achieving full academic engagement. In this scenario it is important to provide positive and consistent messages and expectation.

Sometimes, both approaches will need to be taken in tandem.

If you still have some doubts about all this, I suggest you go and watch Monsters Inc (again). If nothing else, it will make you laugh.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

Inspiration and scientific analysis for this blog post come from economist Alexander Wagner’s Ted Talk, “What really motivates people to be honest in business”. You can find the link below.

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Are you ready to think differently?

GrwthMindset

Who is the target audience here – teachers or students?

It was when I became aware of the importance of my mindset that I noticed the magic really starting to happen in the classroom. I started to realise that it was the changing of my own mindset that needed to be the catalyst for change. It was through this shift in my own thinking that I realised it would be possible to create shifts in the way the children would think and operate. And it was this process that led to learning outcomes for all students starting to improve. It was then that undesirable behaviours started to disappear. It was that shift in my mindset that allowed for the natural curiosity, that all children possess, to come to the fore.

Every day I am discovering that we are all wired to be kind and compassionate. This human condition is innate but sometimes lies dormant. It may need a spark to be activated. It’s a condition that needs to be created deliberately. If done correctly, an environment can exist in which kindness and compassion will flourish. An environment that will embody dignity and respect. But it does take time.

There needs to be lots of conversations. Conversations that highlight the reality that, the classroom belongs to everyone. The teacher needs to convey the sense that everyone is important and equal; that a common goal exists. That’s because people are naturally more likely to invest in themselves if they believe that their community is willing to invest in them. It’s possible that this kind of environment can be made to become self-sustaining. Success will lead to success. There will be a sense that everyone is moving towards a common goal. Collaboration will be prevalent.

It is the teacher that has the power to make this happen. The teacher is the catalyst. Teachers need to be able to see the children as amazing beings, worthy of investing in. They also need to be agile and flexible and have a problem solving attitude. Solutions to problems need to be simple and sustainable over a long time. If punitive approaches to behaviour are being relied on, then something needs to change. The root of the problem needs to be found. It can be found if there is a willingness to look with honesty and integrity.

Of course, this all confirms the research. “Teacher/student relationship” is a key criteria for making learning effective. It really does make sense. And fortunately for me, I get to witness it everyday in the classroom.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.