Is Great Teaching Found or Fostered?

There have been a few posts of late highlighting that technology in the classroom can make a positive difference. For example, Simon Crook states:

If teachers and students use technologies to capitalise on the unique opportunities they provide, rather than as a gimmick, it has been demonstrated that teaching and learning will improve.

Jane Hunter explained:

Common to all four of these teachers was a deep fascination with technology. They did not use it for all learning, but most of the time over the school week. Their approaches varied, but they ended up in the same place: engaged classrooms where students are empowered and given a voice to take control of their own learning. Teachers stepped out of the way.

While Jose Picardo explains that,

Using technology well to support teaching and learning is a feature of great teachers, yet there appears to exist the commonly held notion that digital technology and teaching are mutually incompatible.

The challenge seems to be about getting technology in the hands of the right teacher, those ‘great’ teachers who confidently capitalise on the potential of technology. This raises the question, should our focus be on the right teacher or in developing the right teacher?

It can be easy to argue that sometimes a certain teacher is not the right fit for a particular school. Maybe they have pedagogical beliefs that are in competition to the wider organisation or they seen to hold certain values that may not fit the particular status quo. Associated with this perspective, it is often claimed that there is no point ‘watering the rocks’. The solution for such a situation is to get another teacher. This time, the ‘right’ one.

The problem with picking the right teacher is that there is no definitive means of finding such a person. This right teacher implies that we are fixed in everything that we do and think. In addition to this, the ‘right’ teacher for today, may not be the ‘right’ teacher for tomorrow. Another alternative is to provide the conditions for the right teacher to develop and grow.

Focusing on the right conditions has its own challenges, the greatest being time and commitment. See this post from Paul Browning for some insight. The problem with implementing any technology, or pedagogical practice for that matter, is that they cannot simply be taken off the shelf and placed into a school, let alone a classroom. This is my concern about arguments around ‘best practice’. Too often they are picked up and placed in schools as panaceas, yet I have seen schools spend years forcing teachers to fall in line. When it comes to technology, the answer is often SAMR, with the question being why every teacher is not ‘redefining’ their practice, when ironically the idea of redefinition is continually changing.

The challenge seems to be to develop systems that begin with context, starting with the learners in mind. One way to do this is using something like the Modern Learning Canvas to create a picture of practice, which then starts a conversation that provides the means for teachers to take control of their on craft. This captures some of the complexity involved in the educational assemblages, where difference is celebrated and ideas are engaged with to make them better.

Claire Amos recently wondered whether schools have failed to show enough empathy in starting where the learners are. While in a post on innovation, Katie Martin suggests that schools that show the most movement are those that work around common goals and involve sharing strengths and weaknesses. Zachary Herrmann argues that if students are to flourish then it needs to start first with teachers flourishing first. Although this flourishing is often bottom-up, it is often made more possible when given the right conditions, a point made by Cameron Malcher in regards to the often unrecognised acts of leadership.


So what about you? How do you go about developing pedagogical practice? Are there teachers who just have it or are there things done that allow teachers to develop? As always, comments welcome.


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Luke Beveridge and the Decisions of a Servant Leader


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Paul Browning reflected on leadership and the act of decision making. He outlines four categories:

  • The controller
  • The pleaser
  • The procrastinator
  • The consultor

Thinking about his own practice, Browning suggests that too often he is a pleaser. Although this may keep people happy, Browning points out that it does not necessarily build trust in the same way as when someone consults. However, on the weekend this was somewhat challenged with Luke Beveridge’s decision to handover his medal during the AFL Grand Final.

via GIPHY

There has been a lot said about Luke Beveridge over the last few days. He surfs, cuts his own hair, sings his own songs, even occasionally gets around on a skateboard. However, the moment that will forever be marked on my memory will be when he took off the Jock McHale Medal, a reward given to the winning coach, and gave it to Robert Murphy. This was a symbolic gesture, to give the medal to a player at heart and soul of the club, who after years of tireless service was struck down earlier this year with a knee injury. Stuck on the sidelines, he has been a visible presence in the coaches box each game. Although it was Beveridge’s medal and no one would question that he earnt it, in the spur of a moment he made the decision to be selfless, another member of the club, so as to please the masses.

To me, this is epitomises the notion of servant leadership. Although some talk about servant leadership as taking responsibility for the worst jobs, to me it is also about using any and every opportunity give back so as to build up the whole. The Mind Tools site describes it as follows:

As a servant leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders.

This was summed up in an interview with one of the teams veterans who when asked whether it was the coach that the team played for he responded saying that it was actually for each other.

This ‘team first’ mindset was also demonstrated when after the game Marcus Bontempillis poured a container of sports drink over the coach in the midst of an interview. It could be easy to perceive such an act as arrogance or immaturity, or maybe a homage to NFL. Yet what it said to me was that from the coach down everyone was in it together.

We talk about flat and agile structures, yet sometimes leaders are unwilling to relinquish the power and control. Although consulting others when making decisions can help build trust across the board, there are times when decisions need to be made and it is often these moments that leave the greatest mark. For in the end, action creates culture one choice at a time.


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Is the Act of Giving Outdated?

In a recent post responding to the act of giving so prevalent in this festive season, +Aubrey Daniels International suggested that maybe it is not such a good idea to buy the boss a holiday gift. In the same vein as David Letterman, Daniels provides ten reasons to support his argument:
10. If you do it because others do it, you are doing it for the wrong reason and you will probably resent it
9. If the boss expects it, s/he is a bad boss to begin with and a gift may act as a positive reinforcer for bad boss behavior
8. If a gift affects the boss’ behaviour toward you, it is not a healthy work situation for you or the boss
7. It puts pressure on the boss to reciprocate and it is not a good idea to put pressure on the boss
6. It gets expensive for the boss if there are a number of direct or indirect reports who need reciprocating
5. It is the economy, stupid
4. It may cause the boss to question your motive
3. It is a good time to break this bad habit
2. A card with a hand written note is probably more meaningful – and it is a better, more appropriate habit
1. The boss doesn’t need it – give it to someone who does
I had never really questioned the act of giving like this before. It really got my thinking, is it right or wrong to give gifts at the end of the year? Why do we do it? Is it simply because it is something that has always been done or is there something deeper? Is all giving the same? Let me digress for a minutes.
 
 
There are some people that you don’t want to be at the end of the year in a school, such as daily organiser, report coordinator and timetabler. Sadly I am all these. Most days are frenetic, going from one job to the next. Let alone responding to various problems that may arise. Therefore, it was a nice surprise when I walked back into my office the other day after running around the school following up with various issues with reports to find that my Kris Kringle (+Catherine Gatt) had put up a poster to liven up my day. In a job without much thanks, this was the spark that was needed to reinjuvinate me, to add a little spring in my step. 
 
A bit of background to the whole affair, how Kris Kringle works at my school is that staff are told who they have in late November, so for the last few weeks of the school term, when staff and students are getting a bit tense and tired, there are little tricks and treats to get staff through to the end of the school year when the actual Kris Kringle presents are given. During these weeks, staff are on the receiving end of anything from vouchers for free coffees to having everything on your pin-board turned upside-down. It all really depends on who you are and who you have. For me this year, I had a fellow teacher who loves horses, such I did things like make a word cloud with ways to say horse in a range of different languages, as well as print out some My Little Pony colouring sheets and attach them to some chocolates. My hope was to find something creative and unique that would make my KK laugh and bring a smile to their day, that would say to them, “my KK really knows me”.
 
 
 
Many of the issues that Daniels associates with giving are related to doing it for the wrong reasons and simply following on from other people’s traditions. What things like Kris Kringle allow us to celebrate is a joy of the small things that often have no place in the hustle bustle of day to day life. Whether it be a short note, a joke, a chocolate or two – it is about the act of giving that makes you feel that you are more than just another number, another teacher code, you are important. At its heart, it is about fostering positive relationships and developing a sense of community amongst staff. The biggest challenge is how do we foster these things throughout the year not just during the festive times?
 
So if our intentions for giving fall outside of the personal, beyond a sense of community and relationships, simply because of power and authority, then maybe the act of giving needs to be questioned. What are some of the ways that you give to shown that you care and to help people feel that they belong?

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Argo, a Tale of Risk, but not Failure

My wife and I sat and watched Argo the other day. We had both read the hype and were dully rewarded, on the edge of  the couch to the very end. The question that it left me with though was how many other such stories exist through history of extreme risk that have failed and why are they not the stories that we are told?
 
Having completed my rudimentary study of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I understand that there is a predetermined nature in all of us that wishes to succeed, a staple of the Hollywood film industry. However, how does this match up with the notion of failure? A part of me thinks that even a hero fails somewhere along the way, often this is making of their success.
 
You don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find a discussion of some of the health benefits of failing every know and then. For example, Seth Godin states that, ‘All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.’ While Sascha Heckmann posted an interesting image on Twitter suggesting:

With all that said, the big problem with failure is that there is still a large majority out there who treat it negatively and are unable to embrace its potential for a greater good. The first place that this needs to change is finding support and cultural role models who say its ok to fail.
 
In a Ted Talk ‘The Clues to a Great Story‘, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton spoke about the need for stronger role models for women in film. Stanton suggested that Brave is one such film where the writers set out to reposition the female character in the role of stronger and more confident hero. Where are such role models encouraging people to take calculated risks in life and fail every now and then?
 
Some of the films that I’d associate with the idea of failure include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Blind Side and Freedom Writers. Each of these films provides a range of situations where people have persevered through their failures in order to succeed in the end. The problem though with these examples is that they either seem too extreme or involve too much chance. Where are the examples and role models for the common people, those individuals whose life isn’t about changing the world of the down and out or playing elite sport. I am not saying that they are not important, but they are not everything. 
 
I’m subsequently left thinking of the characters like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Yet not only is Walter anything but a role model, but his life seems to be a is a story of unrecognised successes, rather than clear failures. The more I think about it, there just aren’t the models out there.
 
So in conclusion, I return to the place where I started, would Tony Mendez, the protagonist from Argo, be treated the same way at the end if he came back without the six Americans or would he have lost his job? Would his wife have taken him back? Would he have succeeded in life?

POSTSCRIPT

I apologise if you have not seen Argo and I have given away too much.

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