Presenting at Angus Maths Conference 2018: (The link in this tweet to my shared OneNote still works!)
For those who attended #AngusMaths yesterday, this should take you to my Maths OneNote: https://t.co/L5VzRpwC7S. The OneNote contains the PowerPoint I used for my presentation on Cognitive Load Theory and also has loads of resources for Higher and N5 Maths. No login required.
And sharing blog posts from time to time, but not often enough:
I wrote a blog post about Cognitive Load Theory, based on my presentation from the #AngusMaths conference. I’m not an expert, but this is a summary of CLT from a maths teacher’s perspective. https://t.co/nGGLIAKjAA
Check out this Maths OneNote for Scottish Maths Teachers. Some useful ideas for how you might start using OneNote this year. Feel free to use the resources if you like the look of them. https://t.co/L5VzRpwC7S
I’ve been helping a first year class build their confidence with division over the past 3 weeks by using exploding dots. Beginning to show them the link between the dots and the short division algorithm. Making so much sense and building success. pic.twitter.com/4NOtK5BmSV
Sharing how to make a truncated icosahedron from toilet roll tubes: This is, by far, my most popular tweet. A cool wee project for current times, given that many people have a surplus of toilet roll tubes…
If you’re down and confused And you don’t remember who you’re talking to Concentration slip away Because your baby is so far away
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove And the eagle flies with the dove And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey Love the one you’re with
Stephen Stills, Love The One You’re With
I always thought this was a pretty pessimistic song. I wasn’t sure you should settle for the ‘girl right next to you’ just because the person you thought was the love of your life had kicked you to the kerb. It didn’t seem right. Surely you should hold out for True Love, particularly if what Sonny said in A Bronx Tale was true and you got three ‘great ones’ (I’m still trying to get over the rise of central locking and its detrimental effect on The Door Test, but I digress).
But what’s this got to do with education? I’m glad you asked.
Since the idea that schools were going to close over the coronavirus pandemic started to crystallise, there has been an urgency to enable remote learning through digital tools. Now, I’ve been part of an iPad rollout previously (and am currently about to be sucked into the middle of another one). They were meticulously planned months in advance and were phased in gradually after the infrastructure had been installed and rigorously tested. And it was still a really challenging task, with many unseen pitfalls.
That is, of course, not the situation we currently find ourselves in; trying to piece together in days what would ordinarily take months or possibly years to plan.
To further complicate issues, many digital providers (for a number of reasons) have been making their products available to educators for free. And some of these products seem really, really good – they might even be sector leading. A Great One possibly.
But I shudder when I hear people are jumping onboard with these without doing their ‘due diligence’. Every platform can bring its own issues, and whilst you may be happy to accept these (or happy to ignore these!) from a personal point of view it is a whole different ball game when you are accessing them on a professional basis, especially where parents or pupils might be involved.
Take WhatsApp as an example. Like many of you, I have it on my phone and it’s great. Keeps me and my pals who are spread all over the country connected, helps with sharing ‘Kodak’ moments with our families and it’s all very instant, easy and intuitive. So I can understand when you need to communicate quickly with a large group of employees or colleagues and you have access to all their mobile numbers that it’s a tempting choice to fire up a WhatsApp group and get texting. I’ve been added to a couple of groups like this over the years and whilst personally I am quite relaxed about it from a privacy/information security/safeguarding point of view it absolutely makes me shudder.
Sure, those people may all have individually shared their numbers with you and are happy to do so, but have they given you the okay to share it with everyone else in the group? Maybe there are people in that group who have some kind of conflict going on – are you sure you want to facilitate them having access to each other’s phone numbers? Or maybe there’s someone on there who has been fending off the romantic advances from someone else, and you’ve just handed out their numbers to each other. Doesn’t sound great, does it?
Plus, it’s Facebook who own this, and they don’t have the greatest record on privacy. Are you sure you want to expose the (private) business of your school to them? Me and my son were talking to my sister over WhatsApp about the story “You’re Called What?” (great story, by the way. Look it up) and one of the characters referenced is a Blue Footed Booby. Two minutes after the call ended, my sister tagged me in a screen grab of a post Facebook had just recommended for her all about – can you guess?
That may be a trivial example, but think of opening up your (private) school communications to that level of data-scraping?
And then there’s Zoom. I have heard and seen many teachers clamouring for their school or local authority to give them access to this, or who are trying to work out how they can leverage it into their digital offering. It’s a highly popular platform, it’s offering its platform for free and they think “Why not?” I also know adept and informed individuals who swear by it, but again I’m sure they’ve done their due diligence, assessed any potential problems and taken action to mitigate these. A headlong rush into the platform by educators looking to fill the gaps in learning caused by schools closing is none of these things. A colleague from the States shared an article with me on the phenomenon of ‘Zoombombing’. Let me share a small part of that with you:
The Conejo Valley school board’s first attempt at holding a public meeting via videoconferencing went horribly wrong Tuesday, ending before it even began.
As district staff was preparing to start the 6 p.m. meeting, which was hosted on the Zoom app to comply with coronavirus-related social distancing directives, one or more unidentified persons took over the online group chat, a practice known as “Zoombombing,” and began saying the N-word repeatedly. Among those logged in at the time: the board’s teenage student rep, who is African American.
As participants, who patched in via video, reacted with shock, the hackers took over the meeting’s center screen and began sharing hardcore pornographic images, including people having sexual intercourse and close-ups of male genitalia.
The person or persons, at least one who could be heard laughing loudly, also showed Nazi images, including a flag with a swastika. They threatened school board members, saying that if they could hack into a Zoom meeting, they could find the trustees’ home addresses.
The online trolls went as far as telling board members to kill themselves and threatening to hurt members of their families.
CVUSD meeting falls victim to “Zoombombing” Unwelcome guests unleash racist, pornographic barrage Thousand Oaks Acorn March 25, 2020 By Dawn Megli firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, if I’d set up such a meeting for my school – obviously with the best of intentions – and it had gone so badly wrong, I’d be expecting a call from HR for a disciplinary, or even my P45 in the post. And that’s without even thinking what would happen if when the media got hold of it. And in my imagined nightmare scenario it was only a staff meeting; multiply the horror by a million if parents or pupils were involved too.
So that’s where we come to a new found appreciation for “Love The One You’re With”
Glow has traditionally had a bad press. A very bad press in fact. But it actually does contain tools that will allow us to do what people want the bright, shiny other tools to do. In our authority it’s the Microsoft Office 65 tools – Teams and Yammer – but in other authorities it might be Google platforms. They may not be as flash, or as popular, or as intuitive but we should be able to get them to work. Sure, they might not be sector leading and have demographic appeal amongst startups, but they should be good enough for what we want to do.
Plus, they come with one *massive* advantage. These are supplied for you by your authority. They’ve been put through and passed a Privacy Impact Assessment. That means that providing you follow any guidelines laid down by your authority, if something goes horribly, horribly wrong then it’s not your head on the block. That has to be worth taking into consideration, surely? Would a disciplinary investigation take the global coronavirus pandemic into account when looking into your use of an unauthorised platform nd the repercussions of that, and if they did would they consider it enough of a mitigating factor to spare you from disciplinary action?
For me it’s a no brainer. “Use what you were given” rather than “Rung what you brung”, even if it isn’t your Number 1, tick all your boxes, absolute favourite. Even if you know something else that could do a better job – for the sake of your own job, learn to live with the shortcomings.
So, it’s safe to say that we are in pretty uncharted waters. I can’t think of anything that has had the impact on day-to-day life the way this virus has. All the advice coming out of government and all the film coming out of other countries should tell us that what we are being asked to do is necessary.
And that takes us to tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, the vast amount of school pupils up, down and across this great country of ours are going to be staying home. And not on holiday, as a safety measure. And because it’s not a holiday, parents and carers up, down and across the country are going to become involved in home schooling.
Now, many schools and teachers were pulling things together last week to try and help with this. There’s been packs printed, links collated, classrooms digified – loads of prepping going on. Plus, many educational firms have decided to allow access to lots of resources for free – nobody is likely to be short of stuff to teach with. But none of that’s going to help people tonight, as they sit stressing about what exactly they are letting themselves in for.
I hope that this might, at least a wee bit.
The first thing to remember is that I always say the first job of a teacher isn’t actually to teach, it’s to keep everyone safe, and that is what you are already doing by home schooling. Keep that in mind – safety first, which you’re already making sure of, learning a distant second.
You should also take a minute to acknowledge is that home schooling your own child/the child you care for is going to be hard. I don’t know that I’d fancy trying it with my own son, and these days I’d be considered an experienced practitioner. Being a teacher and being a parent/carer are totally different dynamics, and trying to do both is going to be difficult. You shouldn’t forget that your primary role is that of parent/carer, and you’re only covering the teacher role. you don’t want your relationship with the child to suffer – that relationship is far more important that any piece of work you may think needs to be done.
Now, school has probably changed since you were there yourself. It’s probably more interactive, more inclusive and definitely louder and more digital. You are not going to be able to replicate school, nor should you be trying to. Would you want to live in a school? Or turn your home into one? Didn’t think so, unless you’re a Potter fan and we’re talking about Hogwarts. Your child/the child you care for won’t want this either – and remember, they’re probably already confused and scared and upset about not going to school. Either that or they’re expecting this to be a bonus holiday where they get to go and see their pals and do whatever they want to. Either way, their behaviour is likely to suffer as a result of this upheaval when the reality of the situation kicks in, and no plan, no resource or no expert is going to be able to avoid this. It’s going to be about managing it (hmmm – where have I heard that sentence recently?)
So, how might you go about doing that?
Firstly, don’t overplan. As a student, I was often told that failing to plan was planning to fail – and there is some truth in those words. On the other hand, a mega-fantastic, minute-by-minute plan of creative, exciting and holistic learning would take ages to make. Plus, the pupil wouldn’t have read it, and wouldn’t be interested even if they had. Whilst establishing a routine is important, you want one that isn’t too prescriptive and has a certain amount of flexibility built in.
Instead, build the routine together. Ask how the school would do it and lean on that by all means, but harness interests to get started – some quick wins are important. Letting the learner lead or co-create the learning is good practice, so don’t fight it. Plus, CfE (the Curriculum for Excellence) is massive – there’s no way you’re going to cover it all, so don’t try to. Pick the bits they enjoy to start with, you can always fit some literacy & numeracy into them if you need to.
If something works, go with it. If something doesn’t work, don’t keep doing it. Find an alternative. Building perseverance can wait for a while. Don’t be afraid to give up on something that isn’t working and do something else instead. That’s something that can happen to any teacher in any classroom for a million different reasons.
What else can I tell you? Games are stealth learning, stories are your friend. Don’t be shy about using both. There’s screen time and there’s screen time – don’t dismiss the power of multimedia to help support learning. Young children in particular like to do the same/very similar things over and over – use that desire. Get them to set and beat targets. Measure improvements in times/scores/errors.
The last thing I would say is to take photos. This will help you remember highlights and provide a record of the learning journey that your child/the child you care for is about to go on, but they can also be used for reflection at the end of a morning/afternoon, day or week. As well as self-reflection being very useful, this also provides you with another activity!
Two final points. Firstly, try and have fun. Your forward planning doesn’t need handed in, you’re not going to have to do an observed lesson and HMIe aren’t going to turn up at your door, so you are getting left with the good bits. It can be difficult, but it can be such fun and so rewarding too.
Finally, remember to ask for help. There are teachers up, down and across our country offering it, so take them up on their offer. There are so many resources, challenges and activities going on you will be hard pressed to keep up – let the teachers be your researchers and your advisers – they are still working remember, and they haven’t stopped caring about the pupils just because they’ve left the building. This is new for all of us too remember, so we’ll be delighted to feel like we’re helping someone out. You are not doing this on your own, and we’re going to get through it together.
It’s not so much a case of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ but ‘Teaching in the Time of COVID’. Schools around the world have been moving to online learning and this has been a massive culture shock. Faced with the likelihood of having to teach entirely online, I put out a tweetasking for teachers who have already started this process for their advice, and the response from the edutwitter cavalry was impressive. Rather than write a piece giving advice when I haven’t yet moved to online learning (I start next week), I thought it would be best to share a collection of very useful blogs and resources that can help, wherever you are.
A good place to start is always something by @teacherhead Tom Sherrington, and his blog ‘Setting Work for a Long-Haul Shutdown’ is based on his experience of two previous shutdowns. It contains a lot of excellent advice on what is achievable, and what to be wary of. I also thought that this article by Sam Phillips (teaching in China) via @GovernorHub on primary teaching was particularly useful because that poses a very different set of challenges compared to secondary or tertiary teaching. Indeed, the problems faced and the need for low-tech approaches are emphasised in this blog by Solomon Kingsnorth (@solomon_teach).
When my school started discussions about a continuity policy, this documentproved incredibly helpful. It was written by Head of Dubai College Mike Lambert, @DCol_head, and was based on a similar policy by Kellett School in Hong Kong. The Principal at Kellett is @independenthead Mark Steed, and he contributed to this really useful page by the ISC working group for digital strategy during the shutdown. I also really liked this blog ‘Planning for the Gathering Storm’ by @Southgloshead for it’s clear approach to developing a whole-school strategy.
A lot of teachers are rapidly up-skilling in ed tech right now, so my go-to person on this is @ICTEvangelist Mark Anderson. He wrote an excellent two-part blog for the website Independent Thinking on effective T&L:
One of the most useful things I received was a great image which was created by Alison Yang of KIS International School in Bangkok. It sets things out very clearly so all teachers, pupils and parents can understand the school’s policy.
I was also sent a large number of useful videos, websites, links to apps and other suggested material that look good, but too many to condense down here. If you go through the full thread and subsequent RTs on my timeline you will find them all. The good news is that many apps are currently being offered for free (a selection can be found here), so this is a good opportunity to take them for a test drive. My thanks to everyone who shared their ideas and resources – I really appreciate this, and so will teachers all around the world.
And finally, if you’re wondering why I used a picture of the iconic ZX Spectrum for this blog, it’s because it’s useful to remember that ed tech is not a new thing. There is no such thing as a digital native. If you suddenly need to teach using it when you have never really engaged, shed your fear. It’s not as tough, or as bad, as you might think.
So keep going, keep sharing, and keep your head up. School might be closed, but learning never stops.
This is the text of a presentation I was due to give at Aberdeen University’s ‘Excellence and Equity’ weekend, 14th and 15th March 2020. Despite valiant efforts to keep the show on the road, it was cancelled, so I said I would challenge myself by spending the time writing up what I was going to say… apologies for any typos…
Meanings and relevance for practice: values
According to the model created by Schwartz (2012), values are essentially motivations. Values are what we hold on to as our most important priorities. They don’t always dictate our behaviour: indeed we often act despite our values, not because of them. Values are not always ‘pro-social’. As I will argue below, we are increasingly compelled to do things that do not represent our most cherished values, because neoliberal imperatives such as the market, managerialism, or corporate mindsets say so. I will argue instead that we need to focus our actions on the principle of social justice.
Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are a good example. It seems that the UK government is willing to risk the lives of its own population by experimenting with the dodgy concept of ‘herd immunity’, for which policy makers are yet to provide any evidence such as complex epidemiological modelling that might at least reveal what their decisions are being based on, allowing for peer review and scientific scrutiny. If the advice for such decisions are coming from the Behavioural Insights Team (Nudge Unit), and not from infectious disease specialists, I think we have good reason to be a bit worried.
It seems that these policy decisions are mainly motivated by economic concerns. This is not unusual, as many policy decisions are based around economics, including those relevant to education. In the case of COVID-19, what is notable is that people are choosing themselves whether to adhere to such policies. Despite the policy position to ‘delay’ social distancing (making the UK an outlier), public events are being cancelled, universities are choosing to move all teaching to online environments etc. None of this is coming from the advice of policy makers, as of yet. People are acting based on their own initiative and intelligence.
I am not saying we should always act in ways that contradict policy, but when policy lacks evidence and is untrustworthy, it is worth remembering that ‘policy’ is not policy if it is not being replicated in practice and in research. The same goes, I would argue , in education. Educators decide during every moment of every day how to interpret and implement policy positions. Focussing on values can help in that process.
Below is an image detailing how values are mapped in the Schwartz (2012) theory mentioned above (image courtesy of the Common Cause Handbook).
These values are not randomly arranged. They are data points based on samples from 68 countries (65,000 people). The closer the values the more aligned they are. If someone values one highly (e.g. excitement in life) they’re very likely to value the other highly (e.g. pleasure). The further away they are, the less they are aligned, so if someone values one highly (e.g. respect for tradition) they’re very likely to not value the other highly (e.g. freedom). The values move around between national samples, but what the researchers found is that there are groups of values that tend to cluster together. There are ten of these groups:
In general we find that values of self-direction, universalism and benevolence (‘intrinsic’ values) are strongly linked to ‘pro-social’ and environmental outcomes. When motivated by these values, people are more likely to treat each other with empathy, be cooperative/helpful, more likely to act in a sustainable way, supportive of gay rights, human rights etc. Most people are actually motivated by these values, but most people also THINK that other people are motivated by ‘extrinsic’ values such as power and security (see here for details of the study behind this). So we don’t seem to trust each other very much!
The research also tells us that behaviours are informed by the motivational conflict between opposing values. This means that values do not operate individually, it is the relative importance of values and how we overcome value conflicts that matter. This is why values are best understood as motivations and not dispositions – so get those behaviouristic ‘values’ such as kindness and respect off your school walls. They are important, of course, but they are not values, and they over-simplify how values work (click here to read more about values in Scottish education). Values are about what motivates people to be kind and respectful (or not, as the case may be).
Educators should note that the value of social justice (in the universalism group) is directly opposed to ‘achievement’ values such as success, ambition and influence. THIS is the dilemma posed to us by the challenge of achieving both excellence and equity: these principles, from a values perspective, fight against one another. I want to argue that we should ALWAYS prioritise equity over excellence – but that achieving both is possible. It should also be noted that values and outcomes do not always neatly align e.g. an artist can achieve success and fame, but that doesn’t mean they were motivated by those values, it is more likely in fact that artists are motivated by values as ‘a spiritual life’ or ‘a world of beauty’. Focussing on equity in education does not necessarily mean that we achieve less, but focussing on excellence at all costs will make the system less equitable (see Sahlberg’s 2016 discussion of this in relation to GERM: not COVID-19 this time but the Global Education Reform Movement).
Questions for consideration with relevance to practice:
What are the most useful values in the education system?
What are the least useful values in the education system?
Which values are educators compelled to uphold most often?
Meanings and relevance for practice: equity and social justice
Ainscow (2012) argues the following in relation to educational equity:
I describe Ainscow’s work as a pragmatic view. It is based on years of rigorous research that has been developed alongside teachers, which means it provides very practical insights. A pragmatic view recognises that teachers are required to ‘do something’ on Monday mornings, despite the significant challenges faced by educators (e.g. social and economic challenges, poverty, lack of funding and resources, increasing workloads). I want to argue here that the pragmatic view is needed but that we also need a critical view built around social and political theory. This is reflected in the point raised by Ainscow that ‘there is a danger of separating the challenge of school improvement from a consideration of the impact of wider social and political factors’ (p.291). This critical view is further taken up by Ward et al (2015) in their review of the ‘school leadership for equity’ literature from around the world:
Questions for consideration with relevance to practice:
How do the pragmatic and critical viewpoints compare?
What values are the pragmatic and critical viewpoints based on?
Ward et al identify three strategies used by educators to further the practice of school leadership for equity and social justice:
They also note the limitations of these approaches, identifying in particular that neoliberalism and new managerialism undermine these efforts. The leadership agenda or other practices such as school ‘consultations’, for instance, can easily become part of the neoliberal frame of schooling, which positions children and families as ‘stakeholders’ or ‘consumers’ of education, instead of subjects of equity and justice. They describe this as the ‘hegemonic trap’ of neoliberalism, but they also note that teachers retain the power to speak up against social injustice and to empower children to do so too:
This would suggest that critical reflection among educators can help to generate a counter-discourse to the neoliberal frame that surfaces issues of social justice and equity.
This raises the question of what do we mean by social justice in the first place. Moving towards a conclusion, I wanted to share two frameworks to help with this, by Smyth (2004) and Westheimer and Kahne (2004), focussing on ‘socially just schools’ and ‘justice-oriented citizens’:
Questions for consideration with relevance to practice:
What is needed to enable teachers to engage in critical reflection (e.g. time, trust permission, an external viewpoint?).
What prevents teachers from engaging in critical reflection, and what can be done to address this?
Does your school and the mode of leadership pursued within it promote the models of ‘socially just schools’ and ‘justice-oriented citizenship’?
It is not possible to be ‘value neutral’. Values are inescapable and they are at work all of the time. Having an awareness of how values are motivating us, including those values that can move us away from social justice, is vital to the task of making informed and reflective leadership decisions. Neoliberalism represents a ‘hegemonic trap’ from which it is difficult to escape. This, I argue, takes us away from social justice and the true meaning of education.
Educators are at the vanguard of protecting the very essence of education from a predatory policy environment (the GERM). Educators are being increasingly required to act as pragmatic ‘problem solvers’ who must produce apolitical technical fixes that compensate for social problems such as poverty and inequality. Some pragmatism is needed here, but it should not eclipse the need to address social and political problems head on. It is all too easy to play the role of uncritical ‘overt apologists’ who go along with unjust policies, or who accept injustice as inevitable and view education simply as a way of enabling marginalised and stigmatised children and families to work their way out of social problems for which they are not responsible. Similarly, it is easy to act as ‘subtle apologists’ who recognise that injustice is wrong and preventable while failing to interrogate the causes of these problems.
In Scotland this is becoming increasingly pressing but increasingly possible with the upcoming incorporation of UNCRC. We must take advantage of this opportunity and ensure that educators are properly empowered to act as advocates for children’s rights, even if that means contesting policies that perpetuate injustices. This is not easy. ‘Doing’ social justice work in education is a struggle, not a catchphrase, tick-in-a-box or a slogan. It should feel difficult, messy and risky. You’ll make life-long allies and you might even make short-term enemies. School leadership characterised by neoliberalism or new managerialism works against these ambitions – let’s be active in our efforts to avoid this.
Social justice is about creating social arrangements that enable ‘parity of participation’, achieved by economic redistribution (of resources e.g. challenging poverty), cultural recognition (of difference, status and rights e.g. challenging racism) and political representation (of interests e.g. challenging a lack of democracy) (Fraser 2013). All of these dimensions of justice – economic, cultural and political – inevitably come within the purview of education. This means that critical reflection, social justice practices and justice-oriented citizenship is needed at all levels. That can be a driving mission for a mode of school leadership in which equity is prioritised and excellence is still achieved.
Being critical or justice-oriented doesn’t necessarily involve stinging like a bee. Small actions such as discussing among peers, quietly challenging an orthodoxy or offsetting new managerialism with empathy or even a bit of skilful gallous humour can create waves: so flap those butterfly wings. I have come to think of the ‘hegemonic trap’ of neoliberalism and the gaze of new managerialism in particular as being like a security camera. Have you ever seen security camera footage of a butterfly? Me neither.
I am rarely lost for words. In the past I have sometimes found my voice taken away from me, through anxiety or frustration or an inability to articulate sadness.
But mostly I am a wordsmith, able to talk and write at length.
This afternoon I feel a quiet calm and a focused sense of enthusiasm that is almost beyond description. I have just completed the Head Teachers’ Leadership Academy with Columba 1400, an organisation established 20 years ago by Norman Drummond and since developed by him and his team into an international charity and force for good. The organisation has as its purpose to enable both young people and educational leaders to be the people they were born to be and to find answers to three simple questions.
Who are you?
Why are you living and working in the way that you are?
What might you yet become and do with your life?
The work is all based around the Columban Core Values of Awareness, Focus, Creativity, Integrity, Perseverance, and Service.
You don’t have to read far back in my writing to see that I have a tendency to ponder the big questions in life and to reflect on and re-examine my values and purpose on a fairly regular basis. You may also know that I have, in occasions, written and spoken about the need for us, as educators, to develop instruments of power to help us through the sometimes challenging landscape in which we work:
And it is true to say that, lately, I have been wondering about which path within that landscape I take next. The reasons for that are complex and stem partly from reaching a milestone birthday last August.
But whatever the reasons, the gentle pressure on me by my friend Christine, a previous Columban graduate, and my reading of Norman Drummond’s book, the Spirit of Success, had made me sign up for four days at Ardoch, Columba’s spectacular venue by the shores of Loch Lomond.
I won’t tell you what we did in terms of activities. There is a sense that what happens at Columba stays at Columba, but there is more to it than that. Describing the activities would take away from the experience of being there because being there is about the relationships developed with the eight other attendees, the care, attention, and love shown by the tutors and the space and opportunities to explore things that really matter.
Columba is about turning up, being present, giving, digging deep, and getting back immeasurable amounts from those you are with.
It is about remembering why we work in the field of education and why we need to ensure that every single child growing up in Scotland has the best start in life that education can provide. It is about making sure that we live the values of our profession, of our Curriculum for Excellence and Equity and that we do more than laminate those values.
It is also about taking the time to fill our own cup so that we are able to give back to the children we serve: we were looked after in luxurious surroundings with beautiful accommodation delicious food and breathtaking scenery all around.At first, many of us still found ourselves scuttling away to our rooms to check emails and found it hard to disconnect all mines from every day realities. But as the days went on, we realised that this disconnection is a crucial part of going back and being more connected with those we serve.
In addition to learning from Norman and John, our two fantastic tutors, inspiration from many other great thinkers and leaders was shared with us throughout the week.
There were two quotes, in particular, that resonated:
“Our task is not to put the greatness back into humanity but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves: “who am I to be brilliant ,gorgeous, talented and fabulous”. Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel unsure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do.”
Norman left us today with nine simple words:
Life is good.
Let it go.
Be happy now.
If you are in need of an experience that will help you to work out how to live by those words, I would fully recommend that you sign up for the Columba 1400 Leadership Academy.
Others have told me that the experience has change their lives forever. Sitting here now, I feel pretty certain that my forever starts right here.
Thank you Norman and John.
Thank you, myquite amazing team of eight.
Thank you, Christine.
And thank you to Steve and the team at home for letting me go.
This blog was written for the Voices in Education Series and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Odgers Berndtson.
This Spring Term the Schools Practice at Odgers Berndtson is pleased to present the second series of articles for its Voices in Education initiative. These articles are written by a number of leading voices across the schools sector. They have been written to start conversations about important challenges, opportunities and ideas within the schools sector today. In this article, Robin Macpherson, Assistant Rector at Dollar Academy, writes about the importance of understanding memory as teachers.
“Memory is the residue of thought”
Daniel T. Willingham
“The aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory. If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”
Sweller, Clark and Kirschner
I’m a teacher, not a psychologist. If you work in a school it’s unlikely that you know much about psychology either. It’s doubtful that you did any cognitive psychology in your training to be a teacher, as this is largely left off the curriculum. So why then should we all be spending a lot more time looking at cognitive psychology if we want to be better teachers?
The first thing to make clear is that this isn’t a new thing. It may be a recent addition to pedagogy in school classrooms but as a discipline it’s well over a hundred years old. Ebbinghaus produced seminal work on the ‘forgetting curve’ in the 1880s and 1890s, which showed that memory traces have a half-life, and in order to be strengthened we need to retrieve the memory to refresh and strengthen it. In 1967, Ulric Neisser wrote one of the most important books in education history, simply called ‘Cognitive Psychology’. In academic circles it pushed the science of learning more towards internal mental processes and away from behaviourism, which sought to explain learning through responses to external stimuli. Essentially, it means people in universities knew – more than half a century ago – that it was possible to measure brain processes in order to advance our knowledge of how we learn.
What accelerated this was the development of computer technology. It’s often said that our brains are like computers, but in fact it is more accurate to state that computers are like our brain. Cognitive psychology is about the architecture of memory: we process information through our working memory (which is very limited) and store it in our long term memory (which is potentially limitless). We can bring back information from storage into the working memory in order to use it. Computers process things (measured in RAM) but store things on a hard drive which is much bigger in scope. The analogy seems to work, even if it breaks down when you explore the mechanics, but there is no doubt that as we started to build artificial brains (computers) we developed a better understanding of our own minds.
Incredibly, it has only been in the past decade that scientific findings in the field of cognitive psychology have begun to shape classroom practice on a wider scale. This has much to do with the disconnect between the research that is produced in academia and the professional knowledge and practice of teachers. Thankfully, we’re getting much better at this.
The breakthrough can be attributed to a number of books but I think a key text is ‘Make it Stick’ by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. In 2002, Henry Roediger was appointed to head up a team of eleven psychologists (including Mark McDaniel) by the James S McDonnell Foundation in St Louis, Missouri. Their task was to lead a study in applying cognitive psychology to educational practice. A decade later, their work was ready. However, unlike previous studies, this one made its way into mainstream education in schools. Roediger and McDaniel teamed up with journalist Peter Brown and wrote ‘Make It Stick’, and finally there was a volume that took high end, rigorous scientific research and made it accessible to teachers. It was a watershed moment.
There are many other books that we could point to here: Daniel Willingham’s ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ (2010) is arguably the true pioneer, and Benedict Carey’s ‘How We Learn’ (2014) is also wonderfully accessible. However, the overall point is clear: in the past decade the science of learning has infiltrated the classroom and this quiet revolution is to be embraced. If you are a teacher reading this and are thinking “I know nothing about cognitive psychology” then the good news is that you can get up to speed very quickly. You don’t need to be a scientist, you just need to open your mind and read one of these books. Another, more recent, classic is ‘Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide’ by Weinstein, Sumeracki and Caviglioli, who are members of the excellent Learning Scientists collaborative. Get on their website as soon as you have finished this blog.
So what does this actually mean for classroom practice? Crucially, it means structuring learning around the architecture of memory. Awareness of the limitations of working memory is vital. Current thinking is that we can hold at best 4 pieces of information in our working memory at a time, and to try to cram more into this will overload your pupils’ capacities – no matter how bright they are. When I started teaching less able pupils were described as those who had problems with working memory. Newsflash – we all do. None of us has a great working memory. This is why Dylan Wiliam described Sweller’s cognitive load theory as being the most important thing any teacher can know. I think about 95% of the PowerPoints I see teachers produce – and the way they deliver them – violate this key principle. There’s a brilliant blog entitled ‘Clean up your mess’ by Robert Macmillan (@robfmac on Twitter) based on his talks at researchED Scotland if you want to see how to do presentations properly.
Further evidence is provided in a key paper by Dunlosky et al in Scientific American Mind called ‘What works, what doesn’t’ (2013). This explores the methods used by students to revise for assessments and how effective they are. How often have you had a pupil bemoan a poor test score, pleading that they worked really hard? No doubt they did, but they used ineffective techniques. Using highlighters and rereading notes – beloved of many – are an almost total waste of time. Retrieval practice – known as the testing effect – is extremely effective. Teachers who make use of this in everyday lessons build highly effective long term memory and can achieve outstanding results with pupils of all ability ranges. This is important – it can be an absolute game-changer. If you want to know more, read Kate Jones’ excellent recent book ‘Retrieval Practice: Resources and Research for Every Classroom’ (2020).
So, what we’re faced with now are the massive opportunities afforded by over a century of scientific research, all of which is very actionable in the classroom. As I mentioned before, most universities completely ignore it in their teacher training programmes. I am hugely in favour of connecting research about education to the practice of teachers, and things are moving in this direction. However, it is a slow burn process and if you’re a school leader you will need to think carefully about how to embed this in the culture of learning in your unique context. A whole school approach works much better than individuals ploughing lonely furrows. My advice is to get reading, share with colleagues, and see the benefits for yourself. Teaching, in truth, is not a fully research-informed profession. Cognitive psychology shows us what might be possible if we can connect schools and universities in a genuine partnership about the science of learning.
I don’t want to lose the essence of what I said so I am putting it here too. (Just to clarify, which I didn’t on Twitter, this is about more than just the one “very good friend”.)
I heard this quote at a recent training event and it has been rattling around in my mind ever since. Until recently, I had always thought that one person can make a difference if they work hard enough and argue persistently enough: 1/6
A very good friend of mine had lived by this alternative quote and fought and fought to make things better, even though she was part of a very small group. But eventually the bigger group around her got the better of her and she broke: 2/6
I had previously thought that a lone voice in an otherwise trauma-uninformed setting might be ok, as long as they have support through virtual connections like Twitter….that if the wider landscape is fertile, then the drought in the local context might be tolerable….3/6
(And maybe it can be for a short period….if we are willing to live by Nietzschean principals, trust in a higher order and delay gratification.) 4/6
But we also have to be aware that over time, seeds on dry ground shrivel and die. That trauma-informed workers trying to work harder and argue louder get exhausted and hoarse. That the quality of the garden directly outside your back door really matters. 5/6
Let’s make sure that we are creating environments where seeds of hope, connection and healing can grow and flourish. Because the alternative is no longer an option. 6/6