Shouting, name calling, not listening, speaking over others, rudeness, criticising, blaming others, lying, insinuating, undermining, casting aspersions and basically behaving badly. This is a reasonable description of a terribly behaved class, a class so difficult as to exasperate the most patient of teachers and even the Dalai Lama himself. The kind of behaviour leads to poor social cohesion in a group, emotional stress to all involved and nothing productive getting done. It is the antithesis of what we might call a good classroom.
However, this description was not of a class I have ever taught (although I reckon I had one which was close), it was in fact a description of Prime Minster's question time that I listened to on the radio on my drive home tonight. If kids in my class behaved in such a way as these elected officials did in the course of their political debate, I would have kept them all behind, talked to them about basic respect for other humans and called in their parents.
How are we supposed to instil values in our children when the people running the country act like petulant brats? And I am not taking sides here, this was bipartisan idiocy and frankly a painful embarrassment to listen to. The PM referring to "a holocaust of jobs" (could he choose more inappropriate vocabulary) and the only answer to any question being name calling and a blame game. No one was standing up for the big picture of Australian politics, nor even arguing their own policies. Both sides spent all of their energy blaming the other side for every conceivable ill whilst never taking a productive approach to constructing a better future and forget any kind of collaboration towards a goal. I was ashamed and angered by this cacophony of buffoons and even the Madame Speaker was losing her voice and sending brats/MPs out of the chamber for misbehaving. An example of a teacher having lost control of their class if ever I saw one.
I despair at this behaviour and feel the deep irony that my 9 year old son is studying Australian politics, federation and the role of government this term. He is even off for 5 days to Canberra on camp where he will visit Parliament House. I only hope that he is not exposed to the terrible influence and example that is the Government and the Opposition.
Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post which, for me, was a real watershed in my understanding of how to make learning visible. I had been mulling over my burgeoning understanding of the SOLO taxonomy (often over a beer with the inimitable Darren Mead) , a paper written by David Leat about the role of kinaesthetic card activities called "Brains on the Table" and an activity my colleague Damian had developed using hexagonal shaped cards when I felt I had arrived at a nexus of ideas. I have written quite a bit about this in this very blog, and I invite you to read this, followed by this and then this co-authored post with Tait Coles.
The truly powerful aspect of bringing together kinaesthetic, open ended card activities, the SOLO taxonomy and the irresistibly tessellatable hexagons was that not only did it give me a way to see what learners thought through the final outcome of the activity, but I could see the process of their thinking, the ebb and flow of their growing understanding and the quantity and quality of connections they were building. Having the SOLO taxonomy as a language to describe these different stages makes it easy to talk to learners about strategies they can use to move from a multistructural understanding to a relational one and beyond. It allows thinking to be made visible and formatively assessable in a way no other activity I have found does.
To see the many examples of people applying this strategy to make learning visible, just Google "solo hexagons" there are tons of great applications. Also check out the guru of SOLO and hexagon afficianada Pam Hook and her website pamhook.com .
So if you enjoy the mind-numbingly yet strangely calming activity of cutting out lots of hexagons and are willing to undergo the scissor callouses necessary to really see your learners' thinking, then give this strategy a go. Now there is such a thing as hexagonal post-its but they only stick on two edges and therefore curl and also hexagonal paper punches (which are too small), but where is the fun in that?
So I have had a great day at swimming sports today with the whole school at the outdoor pool for interhouse swimming. A beautiful 32 degrees centigrade, blue skies and great camaraderie. I am grateful for today.
One of the things I am fascinated by is how do we make learning visible? How do we see the machinations of a learner's brain, observe the connections they make and the understanding that grows within? I want to write a few posts exploring some strategies I have tried to help make learning visible, but I thought this short post might provide some stimulus photos to get you thinking about how you might observe the difficult to observe; learning.
So mindfulness is basically some kind of hippy sh**, psycho babble hypnosis thing, yeah? Well these were (more or less verbatim) the words running through my head when our wonderful Chaplin Daryl introduced Dr Craig Hassed from Monash Uni to a professional learning session last year. But, yet again, I am grateful for being wrong.
Mindfulness, in its most basic form, is about bringing your mind to focus on the here and now by anchoring yourself in the moment through focussed breathing, the acknowledgement and dismissal of distracting thoughts and sounds and the active and attentive noticing of things like your physical feelings. The very act of being mindful means that you do not future focus on things over which you have little control in the present moment, as these can be great sources of anxiety. If you keep your attention in the present, you are much better able to notice the positive things going on around you and be able to quickly act on the things that may be causing you distress. Studies into the length of telomeres (Telomeres are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces) found that in 239 healthy women, those who tended to keep their focus in the present had longer telomeres than the women who tended to let their minds wander to future anxieties. Basically
“A present attentional state may promote a healthy biochemical milieu and, in turn,cell longevity.” Epel ES, Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn E, et al. Wandering Minds and Aging Cells. Clinical Psychological Science 2012, in press.
So we as individuals and our students and children in turn can benefit from mindfulness at a physiological level. More over in our frantic and data rich world full of distractions (see previous posts here and here and here) we fool ourselves into thinking that we can multitask on quite complex things. It is a total misnomer to say that we are multitasking (i.e. completing both tasks simultaneous) what we are in fact doing is task switching very rapidly. This means that while you think you are driving and talking on the phone simultaneously, you are in fact rapidly "blinking" between the two tasks. This essentially means that you are only giving half of your concentration to both tasks which can be very dangerous!
There is also research that suggests that this supposed multitasking can be detrimental to our IQs;
“In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard, and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.”
Christine Rosen, “The Myth of Multitasking.” The NewAtlantis thenewatlantis.com. Spring 2008. Web. 14 Apr.2011.
So if you are reading this blog post and trying to roll a joint at the same time, you are in serious trouble...
I have been doing guided mindfulness with my mentor group every Monday (Mindful Monday) since the middle of last year and I did the first session of the year with my group this morning. It was amazing to see a group of 15-18 year olds settle in to this mindset so quickly again and one of the girls told me that she loved these sessions to start her week. We even end our weekly staff briefings with a mindfulness reflection led by the Boss (he has a great voice for radio).
So go be mindful and enjoy the present moment.
I have been working on developing my gratitude and it is a little overwhelming to see how much I have to be grateful for. In my personal life, my family and friends are better than anyone could ever ask. For that I am truly thankful, but this post is about work and in particular how to do things better at work.
I became a Google Certified Teacher in 2013 at the Google Teacher Academy in Sydney. Whilst the event itself was nice, more impactful were the connections I made and the inspiration that came from the organisation. I was lucky enough to meet Suan Yeo who is the Evangelist for Google in Education, a wonderful advocate for innovation in education and a thoroughly nice chap. I was also lucky enough to spend some time at that Academy with my very good friend Tom Barrett. After a few conversations about how the Google Teacher Academy could be even better, luck struck again and NoTosh and in particular Tom were contracted to redesign the Academy and I relished the role of being a critical friend on that design. There are a number of posts out there from the 2014 GCTs detailing the newly design thinking infused academy and I am not going to go into too much detail, I simply want to start the new school week refocussing on one of the touchstones of the newly designed academy - 10x thinking.
10x thinking comes from the type of thinking that has made Google one of the most innovative companies in the world, the kind of thinking that put a man on the moon. Although most of us are comfortable with 10% thinking where we know we could find 10% of things to improve, it takes bravery and creativity to be as bold as to seek out 10x.
As a mentor of 6 diverse and highly talented teachers, my role was to constantly challenge. Ask why? Prod and poke at ideas and suggestions, give kind, specific and helpful critique and ensure that while the ideas they generated were pragmatic, they were absolutely focussed on making change which was 10x better, 10x bigger, 10x more impactful and 10x greater than any incremental step. Now this is not a mathematical formula, but rather a mindset, a way of seeing the world.
If you were to look at your lesson planning for tomorrow, I am sure that you could find lots of little tweaks you could make that would improve learning for young people. You could maybe add colour to your slideshow, or bring a video in from YouTube, you could peer assess and group work or take your class outside into the playground. Whilst each of these increments will surely help to improve learning (Google some of the work being done on marginal gains in learning to see some great examples), what would happen if you applied the 10x mindset? What would happen if you designed your lesson with the same mindset that allowed Google to innovate in the technology space, producing things like self-driving cars, Google Glass, Project Loon, Google Maps (remember the world before Google Maps?). Maybe, just maybe, we could blow kids' minds with a 10x lesson. So while not every lesson of every day is going to be 10x, do you think you could design just one session of learning this week that is? Go on, I dare you.
The world is a highly connected place. Information is truly at our fingertips and yet we still focus on assessing knowledge as our primary tool for judging our young people. We rank them based on high stakes tests, leaving winners and losers, haves and have nots. This is not unsurprising. Society needs to teach young people their place in the world, teach them to conform to that place and not to cause problems. Educations should be about opening young people's minds, but schooling is often about closing them.
I try my best to open young people's minds, but I am part of that society, I have a place that I fit into and I do not cause too many problems. I like to think of myself as an innovative teacher, but I am not disruptive enough. True innovation disrupts the status quo, but I spend my time preparing learners for a world where their exam scores matter as an indicator of their life chances. No wonder we have so many mental health issues amongst our young people if this is the case.
The tension between being part of the system and railing against it is a constant and challenging one. I want to disrupt learning, I want my students to be designers, thinkers, innovators and creators, but I want them to do well in their exams so they can access the courses at University that will help them disrupt. But at University, the focus changes and working hard at uni will help them get a job and be part of society. Once in the work force and receiving income, people no longer want to disrupt, risk losing their job and destabilising their family. So where is the room for disruption? Where is the right place to step out of the line and tread your own path? I don't know and I struggle with wanting my son to be a successful member of society whilst at the same time hoping he will be braver than me, hoping he will disrupt society in a way that makes it better. I don't have an answer to this issue, but I won't stop looking for one and I hope if I don't find it, he will.
Learning is an ongoing process. By definition, there is a continuity, the more we learn, the more there is to learn. But to be truly immersed in learning, we need to have the humility to embrace the process, to realise that we are not know-it-alls and that there is always more to discover.
I am pretty smart. I am pretty good at seeing connections and joining the dots and after 36 years worth of experience on this pale blue dot, I know lots of stuff. However, I also realise that I know so little about so much that it is in equal parts exciting and terrifying. I see young people at my school learning about maths and science that is totally alien to me, I see teachers talking about concepts I have never come across and meet Nobel Prize winning scientists who are thinking on a different plane. This could be overwhelming for me, but in fact I revel in it. I revel in the fact that there is so much more to learn and I know that I will never learn it all, but every day, in every way I learn a little bit more.
I am not sure whether it is my recent focus on mindfulness or just a dawning realisation that it is all about the process, that everything is part of the process, but I find myself noticing the connections between everyday activities and my ever deepening understanding of the world around me. By accepting that I am not an expert, by accepting that I know very little and by accepting that it is all about the process, I feel a renewed curiosity about the world, a new and constant desire to discover more. This is what I want for my students and my son; a deep curiosity, a desire to discover more and the humility to accept that we will never quite get to the end. But I am more and more convinced the end is not the goal, it is all about the process.
So day 5 and maybe, just maybe, a habit is starting to form. I caught myself thinking about the positive things I wanted to share today and the one negative that helped me see the positive with even greater clarity.
But before I start...I am grateful to the kids who thanked me for their first learn2 design think lesson as they left this afternoon. I am grateful to my co-teacher who, despite being the first time we had ever taught together and the first time she had ever taught learn2, made it so easy to work together through her patience and passion. I am grateful to my wife who always makes time for me.
So the warm glow left behind by Hugh was still evident in school today. People were using the language of mindfulness with even greater purpose, they were focussing on the positive and they were looking at others with renewed empathy.
It made me think of the video he showed yesterday and that I had seen doing the rounds a little while ago on social media of one of the worlds greatest violinists, Joshua Bell, playing in the Washington DC subway. The vast majority of passersby ignored him. They were not present in the moment. They were most likely planning their day ahead, worrying about their train being on time, reflecting on the night before. They were mentally everywhere but the present moment. Ironically, they were ignoring a maestro in the metro and yet the going rate for a ticket to his sold out gigs is over $300. Maybe they threw a few cents in his violin case out of habit. Now there is nothing wrong with letting your mind wander, it can help creativity, synthesis of information and preparedness, but if it is our only state of mind, then we are missing out on the here and now.
So my super positive bubble was slightly pricked by a troll last night. On twitter a well known edutweeter who specialises on bashing every teacher who tries to innovate or uses any language (like child centred learning) which he disagree with, had a go at the #28daysofwriting challenge and also a Canadian learning and teaching framework which promotes authentic learning. Now sometimes I rise to the bait as this individual is judgemental, negative and insidious, but last night and this morning I actually started to empathise with him. Not his point of view nor his manner, but the fact that when I scrolled back through his tweets, there was so much negativity and pessimism. It made me feel sorry for him and made me feel grateful for the things in my life which keep me happy and optimistic. So I stopped worrying about what he said and returned to the moment.
Again, I do not want to regurgitate everything I learned from Hugh yesterday, as I think you should get him into your school if you are serious about developing resilience in your learners and teachers! So go to his website and connect with him and his team. http://theresilienceproject.com.au.
But something I am going to explore that he left us with are Karen Reivich's 7 learnable attributes of resilience;
So, to check out my character strengths, I took the VIA character strength survey and can anyone guess what my top 5 strengths were??? I will let you know some other time :)
Thank you for giving up your time to read this.
Today was a good day. I am grateful for having the whole day to learn with my colleagues, I am grateful for being part of such a supporting team and I am grateful for having met Hugh van Cuylenberg, Director at The Resilience Project.
After 2 hours spent drilling down into the School Strategic Plan as a whole staff and developing our inquiries (which will continue over the rest of this term) we then shifted to our guest speaker Hugh. I have my reservations around the word resilience and the way it is sometimes interpreted, but Hugh clarified his meaning early doors. As a teacher in an impoverished area in northern India, Hugh saw real hardship including kids living on the street and young girls groomed into prostitution and yet, he saw much more than a glimmer of happiness born from resilience in these children. His curiosity piqued and wanting to know why, he investigated. Why is it that in Australia 1 in 7 primary school children have some form of mental ill-health. Why in 2013 did 54 primary school children in Australia see no other way out of their pain other than to take their own lives? What was the difference between these young people and the incredibly resilient children he saw in India? Well, as it turns out, it was quite simple and highly teachable. The children in India had a deep feeling of gratitude, high levels of empathy and a mindfulness which allowed them to be in the moment and appreciate the "small things" in life that we, in our privileged society simply miss. I shan't try to retell Hugh's stories here which illustrate these points so beautifully, you will just have to meet him yourself. But I will share some of the key points that really struck me. (You should also check out the beautiful photos his brother Josh took of some of these kids on Josh's website)
In 1992, 1 in 70 primary aged children had some form of mental ill-health in 2002 this was 1 in 50 and yet in 2013, it was 1 in 7. Is social media and information fatigue from the internet and multiple sources of incoming data to blame? Maybe. In 2015 an adolescent brain is receiving about as much information in a week as it was in a year 20 years ago. Not only is the amount of information immense, but the type of content has changed. In a recent survey, 100% of 14 year old Australian boys and 80% of 14 year old Australian girls surveyed had seen violent pornography. Multiple narratives, conflicting and "adult" input and the fact that adolescents naturally have approximately 72,000 thoughts per day is obviously going to be wearing. In fact the World Health Organisation says that in 2025 the major health issue which causes the most deaths world wide will be mental illness.
So how do we develop resilience in these young people? How do get them not only to bounce back from trauma, but also to bounce forward, to develop post-traumatic growth? Well Hugh and the research suggests that being mindful and developing positive emotions can in fact enhance cognitive change; having a broader attention span, increased working memory, enhanced verbal fluency, increased openness to information, increased creativity and increased engagement. Surely that is what we want for our children, and hell, that is what we want for ourselves!
I am running out of time and still have so much still to say! So let me leave this (now part 1) post by giving you the challenge Hugh gave us. When you finish reading this (and once a day henceforth) write down three things for which you are grateful today, three simple things that went well for you today. Research suggests that 21 days of this positive thinking rewires your brain to retain a pattern of scanning the world for positives and in 42 days, depression and anxiety decrease and wellbeing increases. Don't believe him? Give it a go.