Educators work hard. Really hard. Teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, principals, vice-principals, and superintendents spend countless hours to make a difference for students. We are good at planning and presenting. We go to professional learning sessions, participate actively and feel energized. We read inspiring books on education or leadership and make concrete changes to our practice. We plan, we write, we reflect, we ponder, we read, we collaborate, we observe, we care. A lot of effort is focussed on what we do.
Do we spend as much time focussed on what students are thinking and doing?
One chapter of the book Instructional Rounds in Education is dedicated to the instructional core, or the relationship between the teacher, the student and the content. (The School Effectiveness Framework from Ontario also shows the importance of the instructional core.) In the centre of the instructional core is the instructional task. We know that task predicts performance. A worksheet to practice addition facts or an algebraic algorithm will not lead to the same learning as a rich open ended question where students have to create knowledge. In addition, many educators are experimenting with student inquiry and how to “build on students’ natural curiosity about the world in which they live” and to “place students’ questions and ideas, rather than solely those of the teacher, at the centre of the learning experience. Students’ questions drive the learning process forward.” (from Natural Curiosity)
I wonder what would happen if we focussed less on what we do as educators and more on what students are doing and thinking in our classrooms. If time was spent on the partnership between student and teacher, and we used student interest coupled with overall curriculum expectations, then maybe there would be less educator time planning, creating and presenting. And maybe, just maybe, students would be the ones planning, creating and presenting.
I listen regularly to a CBC podcast of the excellent Radio 1 show “Q” with host Jian Ghomeshi. On January 16, 2014, Jian explored the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It was a fascinating conversation with both journalist Allan Schwartz about the huge increase in prescriptions for ADHD in the last few years and with canadian medical researcher Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Maté believes that the higher incidences of attention difficulties in both children and adults are a cultural problem. He talked about the constant use of screens throughout our day, whether gaming, reading, writing, watching TV and movies or communicating, not to mention the constant stimuli these create. Very few us are mindful of what is in front of us.
Let me ask you a question: how often do you do just one thing? If you’re like me, the answer is probably “very rarely.” When you sat down to eat dinner (if you sat down) were you concentrating on your meal? When you drove to work, did you watch the road and other others around you or were you on autopilot? When you checked your email, were you focussed on reading, writing and replying? I admit that I find it hard to concentrate on one thing with all the possible distractions around. Candy Crush, anyone?
We can all own this problem, and it is a problem. At meetings, many leaders and school educators are doing email or texting while information is being shared or discussion is happening at their table. It’s so easy to do and to justify – I’ve done it! When I do, I’m not engaged, and I don’t really know what’s going on.
Howard Rheingold takes on the importance of mindfulness in his book Netsmart. He talks about his conscious decision to be vigilant about attention. It’s essential to “control your own focus” and not allow it “to be captured by peripheral stimuli”, whether online or in your personal life. (p. 42) We all need to move from understanding attention to controlling it. He also talks about the definite possibility of compulsion in social media – why else do we constantly refresh our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds?
I tried a little experiment with mindfulness last Friday. I was at a district Math learning session with the schools I supervise and instead of sitting back to observe, I moved from table to table throughout the session. And I left my phone in my bag. It was great. I listened to caring and passionate teachers talk about Math and their students. I heard them wonder out loud about the best way to approach representations. I played a Math game with two teachers. I heard feedback about next steps.
In short, I met new people, reconnected with principals, and learned alongside educators about Math.
Paying attention really paid off. Is there an area in your life where you can do the same?
Aviva Dunsiger very kindly nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award a few days ago. (Her post is here.) I was flattered and humbled, since I’m fairly new to blogging, and Aviva has been on the blogging scene for quite some time. Being such a newbie, I’d never even heard of the Liebster Award, so I did a little digging. I found this post to tell you more about it: Sopphey Says. It’s really a sort of blogging chain letter. I love the concept, so I’m in.
Here are the rules for the award:
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.
2. Nominate 3-5 blogs with less than 3 000 followers.
3. Answer the questions posted for you by the nominator.
4. Share 11 random facts about you.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6. Contact your nominees to inform them of their nomination.
My Answers to Aviva’s Questions:
1. What do you love about education that you hope will remain a part of it for many years to come? Why? I am passionate about public education. It’s one of the most important services a democratic society provides for its citizens. At its best, it ensures that all children have equal opportunities to grow, to learn and to work together with all kinds of people.
2. What are your future educational goals? I’m looking forward to having an influence in a larger sphere in education.
3. How do you bring about change in your school and/or in your Board? The best way to bring about change is through sustained, ongoing effort within the strong relationships I have built over time. Good relationships are built on trust. In addition, an understanding of change theory is essential so when you hit bumps on the road or just plain roadblocks, you are prepared and know what to do next.
4. What changes would you like to see in education? Why? A de-emphasis on the use of external standardized testing within districts is a necessary change. We need accountability, and we need to know how well students are learning, but the use of the pencil and paper standardized, multiple choice test needs to change.
5. What are your professional development goals for this year? So, I want to learn to use Prezis effectively, I want to inject creativity into my interactions and presentations, and I want to learn more about how to create the best conditions for learning.
6. What word would you use to best describe you as an educator? Why? Honest. I try to make my thinking and learning visible to others. I don’t shy away from feedback, either giving or getting. I share my opinions openly.
7. What word would your colleagues use to best describe you as an educator? Why? Global thinker. I have an ability to see the big picture in different situations, synthesize new information and adjust my viewpoint.
8. What’s your favourite educational quote? There are far too many truly outstanding quotes to narrow it down to one. I like to highlight a different quote every week for staff. In the past, I have posted it on the Monday Message and on my office door. Here’s one I like a lot: “If teaching were easy, we wouldn’t need teachers.” by Todd Whitaker.
9. What’s your favourite technology tool to use in the classroom? Why? It’s so important that we make technology work for us to create conditions for 21st century thinking and learning. It’s not about the latest shiny gadget, and it’s not even about 1:1. We need to teach creativity, collaboration, inquiry and critical thinking. I’m not in the classroom, but now I work with leaders who are trying to create those conditions. If leaders can use and model tools as they work on this, it may help move teachers who are fearful, anxious, or reluctant. Social media is one way: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or blogs. Our district has a fantastic blogging platform created by Jared Bennett and Aaron Puley called the HWDSB Commons.
10. Would you suggest that other educators start to blog? Why? Blogging is a great reflective tool. It brings order to all the thoughts flying around in your head after long days and nights at school. It provides an archive for you to track your ideas and growth as an educator. Even if you just do it once a month, it will add value to your life. Try it!
11. How do you remain positive in education? I remove myself from negative people. I empathize but offer alternative viewpoints if I hear negative conversations. I focus on what we’re here for. If a child can’t make you laugh aloud every day, there’s something wrong.
Eleven Facts About Myself:
1. I am privileged to have a job I love and find deeply satisfying. I look forward to work every day. Where else do you have such an opportunity to make a difference to someone?
2. I train for and complete a few triathlons every year. I love swimming, cycling and running. It gets me outside in all kinds of weather. Plus, when you set a goal and complete it in a race, it feels great.
3. I’m an avid reader with wide ranging tastes. Reading is both professional and personal for me. You can see my reading shelf at Shelfari.
4. My favourite colour is purple.
5. I love the woods. Next time you feel stressed out, go for a trail walk (or run!) amongst trees.
6. I started my career in French Immersion schools after a year in Paris, France as an au pair and degrees in French.
7. Fashion is fun! There’s no such thing as too many pairs of shoes. (Well, maybe there is.)
8. I’m not funny, but I love to laugh.
9. I love to travel. Whether it’s choosing a destination, anticipating the departure, experiencing what’s new or well- known or sampling great food and drink, it’s part of my privilege to see the world.
10. I’m a perfectionist. ‘Nuff said.
11. I use stories to understand the world, whether through novels, TV shows, movies, or listening to others talk about their lives. We have a common story (Joseph Campbell, anyone?) that can bring us all together.
Choosing nominations was difficult, especially since Aviva highlighted some that I would recommend as well. (See the Blogs I Follow page) I decided to focus on people in formal leadership roles. Here are my nominations: