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Learning to say “No”

saying no

Teachers, on the whole, are a pretty compliant bunch. Ask them to do anything and they will often find a way to add it to their list. There comes a time though when enough is enough and for your own health and well being you have to say “No“, but how?

‘Enough is enough’ when work life is not in balance, in fact, your work is your life to the detriment of both.  We reach the end of our capacity to take on anything new or different and often retreat to known practices and routine. This is a not a solution only a coping strategy.

You may recognise in others and even yourself the symptoms of ‘enough is enough’ but how do you regain balance, take control once again?

You have to say ‘NO’ but you may feel you are letting down your students or colleagues if you do.

Let me ask you this question: “Do those around you, those you lead or those who lead you know what you have on at the moment?” It is my experience that we think they do but often they have no idea. This leads us on to how to say no.

There are many ways of saying no!

The word “No” is so final we rarely use it, possibly because it promotes conflict or we do not want to appear unreasonable.  So what are the alternatives? Here are my suggestions, those that I use with the teachers I coach:

  • How important is it? Is it more important than (list your current tasks)?
  • What do you want me to stop doing in order to do that?
  • Have I your permission to stop doing (whatever you decide) and do that instead?
  • If I do this for you what will you do for me?
  • How long will it take and when do you want it? (discuss)
  • Am I the best person to be taking this on (don’t fall for the flattery either)
  • What will you do to help me succeed?

There are more but I think you get the idea.

Whatever you do do not say the word “Sorry” when you are saying “No”, be firm but polite.

Finally, you need to work out what are your priorities, what destructive routines you have and what support network you have in place. All these things help you address the work/life balance in a positive way and will release capacity to be even more objective.

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WHY?

Why dedicate yourself to introducing and promoting a way of thinking about, and going about, teaching and learning?

I was asked this question and have been asking myself the same thing as I struggle to make a significant impact on teaching and learning through the promotion and adoption of my concept of “learning Intelligence”. After a career teaching and seven years of reflection, research and developing a vocabulary and narrative for what works in teaching and learning I need to answer this question in order to continue to justify my efforts and to remain motivated. Motivation often comes from recognising the goal or benefits; here is my attempt at that challenge, of having a reason to continue.

  • The “one way” of learning does not work for everyone. Putting aside SEND challenges not all learners thrive in the school environment.
  • There are a lot of people who go through education and form the wrong impression about their abilities and about their ability to learn. As a result, there is a significant amount of talent that may never be discovered.
  • Learners who are unable to engage in the learning present challenges for teachers and often dealing with these challenges impact the learning of others and the classroom dynamics, or teacher/learner relationships.
  • The school has a lifelong impact on us and influences our careers and opportunities. To “fail” at school leaves a deep and lasting scar.
  • There is a need for a narrative that brings together what we know or think about learning in a meaningful and coherent way and gives us the flexibility to challenge the “one way”.
  • The benefits of the LQ approach are significant and build self-esteem in learners.
  • There are a significant number of teachers who could benefit from adopting the LQ approach to teaching and learning.
  • LQ promotes seeing learning as a problem-solving activity and develops life-long learners able to face new learning challenges with minimal support.
  • I want to make a positive difference to teaching and learning.

Through the Teach Meets at which I have presented and my workshops with teachers it is clear not all teachers see the issue of underachievement as a significant one to address. Perhaps many are happy to believe the mantel learners wear based on past performances and work within it. I would argue that to do so we accept labels as definitive and unchangeable.  Underachievement is not solely based within the group those who fail to “perform” it is also within the group who adopt compliance as a strategy to cope with the learning environment in which they find themselves. This group I find often do not possess the skills, attitudes, attributes or behaviours to manage their environment to meet their needs. They respond poorly to target setting without these needs being addressed, needs that are often overlooked as we race to achieve those targets.

Finally, I am reminded of a sobering truth.

It is no good having an answer if nobody is asking the question!

Let me know what you think. Should I continue to promote the concept of LQ and learners needs and if so how?

If you would like to get in touch to find out more about my work or perhaps engage me to challenge you and your staff about teaching and learning then click the link below.

Email link to Advocating Creativity

The two aspects of Learning Intelligence, “LQ”

LQ roundLQ and PBCF

Posters and downloads

Leadership Posters

 

 

 

The article featured in Innovate my school about my reflections and insights into school leadership “’Are some school leaders too compliant?” refers to two downloadable posters that are available from ace-dIf you wish to view the article you can find it here: 

 You can get files to print your own copy of those posters here.

I designed the posters to go with the article on Innovate my school and a previous post “Leadership Reflections” to allow people to be reminded of the behaviours of leadership and of the acronym ENABLE.

The colour posters are in high definition format and will print up to A3 size.

Both posters are available using links to the download site “e-junkie”.

e-junki is a safe and secure flexible way of making files available across the internet. There is a small charge of £1.00 per poster to cover hosting and their administration costs and you can pay securely by either credit card or PayPal.

Once your payment has been received you will then receive an e-mail providing you with a link that will enable you to download any files you have purchased. If you have any troubles paying or receiving your posters please get in touch and I will make sure the mater is resolved. There is a contact form at the bottom of the page.

You can print as many copies as you like, all I ask for under the Creative Commons License is that you acknowledge the source and use it for non-commercial purposes.

If you click the buy it now buttons you will be redirected to the secure login pages for either PayPal or credit card payments that will then take you through the  purchase process

If you would like to contact me to discuss either poster or the article then please e-mail me at. My address and a link are at the bottom of the page.

Download the “ENABLE” poster  

 

Download the “What leaders do”

 

 

 

You can contact me here: 

LQ and a Learning Mindset

Part 1

Our beliefs, values and experience amongst other things impact how successful we are when we undertake tasks. How we behave when involved in activities is also influenced by similar things but perhaps also our nature or disposition. Some people are regarded as naturally positive, a ‘glass half full’ attitude to life whilst others may be regarded as suspicious, conservative, inflexible etc.

Put together a number of people with a ‘leader’ (in education terms think ‘teacher’) and those individual dispositions will determine behaviours which in turn will influence both the process and outcome of any commonly undertaken task or activity. There will be views on the ‘right way’ or ’best way’ to do something and people will adopt ‘positions’. This is something recognised by Edward deBono in his book on a method of thinking, the  “Six Thinking Hats” [i] In my work to bring a tangible consciousness to LQ I continue to explore the wider landscape on thinking, this is one such exploration.

Six Hat Thinking

Edward deBono makes some interesting claims for his approach based on a perceptive observation about thinking which as a learner and teacher I can relate to. He suggests “The main difficulty of thinking is confusion” and that “emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity, all crowd in on us”. As it is with using the six thinking hats so it is in the adoption of a learning mindset through the LQ approach. “He or she becomes able to separate emotions from logic, creativity from information and so on

He goes on to say that “Within the Six Hats method, the intelligence, experience and knowledge of all the members of a group are fully used.”

There are parallels here too with LQ.

With the mindsets of LQ an individual’s intelligence, experience and knowledge are used effectively along with the awareness of emotions such thinking promotes.

Further, he says that in the same way “it is totally absurd that a person should hold back information or a point of view because revealing it would weaken his or her argument” I believe it is absurd for a learner to hold back a question for fear it would make them look stupid.

In exploring the nature of thinking associated with each of the six along with the benefits this approach brings I have become aware of how a similar approach, that of adopting learning mindsets, a direction of thinking when faced with a learning challenge can improve our learning.

In the next part of this article I will describe the six different hats and begin to show how we can develop similar mindsets so that as the thinking of a group can be enhanced, so can the learning of an individual.

[i]  Edward deBono. 2000:  Six Thinking Hats.  Penguin Books

In Search of a GCSE ‘Pass’

 

This is an article to celebrate the success of a student and of further success for a teaching approach defined by the concept of Learning Intelligence or LQ. Read on.

It was very late in the last academic year (2016-2017), in March actually, when I was asked if I could work with a Y11 student. The subject this time was maths and the target a ‘pass’ at GCSE (a grade C or as of 2017, a grade 4). School predictions and targets suggested this was a significant challenge, especially given the short timescale and me meeting the student only once a week for an hour.  This was an opportunity for demonstrating my approach centred on my concept of Learning Intelligence (LQ) and learning needs (PBCF).

I can report that we were successful, “We” because this was a learning partnership and this is what my student had to say

“I just wanted to let you know that I got my GCSE results today and I got a 4 in maths which is the pass mark and what I have never achieved before. I am super happy and it means I have a confirmed place at college but I couldn’t of done it without your help and strategies to help me get through the exam… .”

So what had we done to achieve such a welcome result?

Essentially the approach is to see learning as a problem-solving activity, this helps in negating the emotional link to failure and personal self-doubt. Once this is accepted the limiting subject perceptions become secondary to the learning challenge and we can get on with finding ways of solving the learning problem, of managing our learning environment to meet our learning needs.

Please Be Child Friendly

Any teacher will know you need a willing student but also one who is confident and has a degree of self-belief. The student also needs to trust their teacher and have a learning relationship with them. Achieving this is my first step and uses the learning needs approach I have developed of PBCF.

PBCF” stands for Power, Belonging, Choice and Fun and each element needs to be in place first before learning challenges can be set.

So, even with very little time available to me, this was my priority and strategies were used to first establish a sense of belonging, of me knowing enough about the learner in order to understand who they are and where they are and create a partnership. It is also important that the student knows something about their teacher, the sort of things that build in them hope and confidence.

This was then followed by power, effectively this means listening. It means giving the student a voice and recognising their emotional state in terms of learning. Anyone who feels powerless is unlikely to engage in any challenge. This stage is vital in understanding the barriers to learning that the student holds.

Offering a choice as to how we were going to tackle the challenge together is an essential part of the strategy and supports the first two. This in practical terms means creating both a coaching and mentoring environment.

Finally, our learning relationship had to have a sense of fun but more importantly tying this to achievement, we needed to celebrate our successes and find fun in learning.

I also encouraged my student to take the concept of PBCF with them into the school environment and use it when faced with learning challenges. The benefit of this approach is that of improving their awareness of the impact of not having learning needs met on their ability to learn. This helps significantly especially when we have an over compliant student who does not express their learning needs well in the school environment or a teacher who is not ‘listening’.

Solving the learning problem

Finding ways of overcoming the learning challenges, of solving the problem,  is the second part of the strategy and involves developing the four aspects of LQ. I define these as:

  • learning Skills,
  • Attitudes,
  • Attributes and
  • Behaviours

The advantages of seeing learning as a problem-solving activity are highlighted when we employ LQ.

Let’s consider an electrician as an example of a problem-solving approach. In repairing or rewiring a house in addition to the necessary knowledge we would expect him, or her, to:

  1. have a developed set of skills associated with the task,
  2. have the ‘right’ attitude, to do a good job and to not give up and walk away
  3. demonstrate attributes such as flexibility or creativity in completing the task
  4. behave in such a way as to be both professional and polite.

A deficiency in any of these aspects on the part of the electrician will limit their ability to solve the problem. So it is with learning but if we do not integrate LQ into learning within the school context, and instead focus on subjects, students see themselves as unable to learn a subject rather than lacking any of the elements of LQ to solve the learning problem.

My work with my student focused in a very short space of time in assessing their LQ and working to develop those elements that were necessary for them to solve a learning problem themselves. It does not just have to be maths either, any subject or topic of learning can be tackled in the same way. Often I find that once a student sees learning in this way they quickly adapt and their self-belief as a learner blossoms as does their confidence.

Can you scale up this approach?

My nearly 40 years of teaching experience says yes you can. The approach I have outlined was used in a developing literacy and coaching model successfully used by an independent tutoring service. The issue of scaling up 1:1 coaching successes with larger groups was considered by Bloom in his 2 Sigma question. The problem in achieving this most often results from sticking with the original teacher/learner mindset and approach. Changing an approach is simple, in fact it is probably the easiest and least costly change you can make in teaching and learning. It will certainly have the biggest return.

What about maths

On a subject-specific note, that of maths, since it is one of the least favoured subjects amongst adults and children alike, I strongly advise that we need to treat it like a language if we want students to become confident in tackling the learning problems it presents.

Think for a moment how much time we use written and spoken language each day compared to maths. Much of our day is taking up with talking, reading or listening. We even use language when thinking so it is no wonder we are conversant in it.  How much of your day is spent on the four basic mathematical functions, those of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing?  One of my strategies with any student I work within the area of maths is to increase this time significantly by asking them to play number games with their family and by looking around them for number patterns and associations in everyday life and when out and about. Try it and you will soon see the difference.

See for yourself and take the LQ, PBCF challenge

If you are interested in PBCF and LQ and how it can help your students, your own children or teaching then get in touch. I can arrange 1:1 sessions with parents, teachers and all the way through to group work and whole school CPD either here in the UK or indeed anywhere I am asked thanks to technology.

You can contact me here: kevin@ace-d.co.uk

Wishing you success in your learning challenges

The Teacher. Are they the only redeeming feature of the educational environment in our schools?

It is fair to say not all learners thrive in the educational environment of the school.

Do we though, instead of investigating and remedying this situation, allow ourselves to believe another cause for this shortcoming?

Reflecting on my time as a teacher there has always been those students who do well in school and those who don’t but then go on to have great success in learning once they leave. We may say, and many have, that they eventually wake up to the necessity of a good education and knuckle down to it. Whilst this may be true along with other reasons such as those below it does not change the outcome, some students don’t do well in the school environment.

Some of the reasons given by teachers for students not doing well at school include:-

  • they were lazy at school
  • they mixed with the wrong crowd
  • too easily distracted
  • had too much time off

Sometimes a change of school brings a change in the learner so we could ask is it really the school environment since all we have done is swap one for the other, it is still a school environment.  There are more than likely many reasons why students suddenly start doing well after a period of languishing in the bottom percentages so to try to find a single one is questionable.  I would agree unless that is you believe in the effect of the teacher-learner relationship.

Ask any student if they had a favourite teacher and the answer is more than likely “Yes”, even if overall they did not do well at school. Without doubt, a teacher makes a significant difference to the learning experience.  I was once ‘tracked down’ by an ex-student who told me it was their experience with me as their teacher some 15 years earlier that was now their motivation to become a teacher. Wow!

Any student who leaves school without realising their potential is a wasted opportunity. I have come across too many adults who express this very sentiment for it not to be so, regrets abound.  We can go on saying it’s the students fault or even blaming each other or the system or we can do something about it.

As teachers we do far more than teach subjects, we build relationships with learners. Where learners find the school environment ‘toxic’ we have the opportunity to build relationships that help them overcome such effects, or we could say they were lazy, mixed with the wrong crowd or were not very bright!

The key to helping students not only survive in school but thrive is in meeting their needs. I am not talking about learning styles or developing grit or even the psychology of a growth mindset.  I am talking about the needs that are at the core of developing relationships. We all have them, we as teachers and as partners or as a member of a family all have them. Meet these needs and we have engagement and co-operation, don’t and we have excluded and disaffected individuals.

In teaching, it can be difficult not to focus on delivering the curriculum and assessing progress but this can overshadow meeting learner’s needs.  Is this the real reason some students dot do well in the school environment I wonder. Luckily it is a simple matter to remember these needs and to include them in our interaction with others.  I have developed a mnemonic to do just that and even the acronym that represents them is easy to remember too.

So “Please Be Child Friendly” in your teaching and “Please Be Colleague Friendly” in your working relationships.

Here is a quick overview of PBCF and a useful graphic

Power – having a voice, being acknowledged

Belonging – being recognised and remembered

Choice – offered choice and understanding the resulting consequences

Fun – enjoying what you do and celebrating success

Using PBCF in your own work.

If you would like a workshop on how to develop PBCF in your teaching or in leadership or management then please get in touch. Look out for the book “Understanding and Managing Learning Needs” too, its about to be published and it is a comprehensive guide to all the factors associated with developing PBCF in teaching.

Don’t you just hate “Target Grades”

Well perhaps not “hate” but they do concern me for a number of reasons.

It won’t be long before the UK starts school again but I would bet even now there will be computers crunching Key Stage or end of year test results running them through algorithms to predict future performance in order to set target grades.

This worries me, does it you?

I am no expert in statistics but I assume that with enough data and analysis you could begin to predict what could happen in the future based on what has gone before. But – this is only a prediction, a percentage chance that something could or could not happen. Life or car insurance must be much the same with certain categories resulting in much higher premiums as they are more likely to have an accident than others. The difference being as, far as insurance goes, if the model is right the company makes a profit and if not a loss. With target grades the model outcome is quite different, you are setting a challenge, an expectation and the conditions for failure or success. This is not a profit or loss situation, it is life chances.

What I am interested in as a teacher is the psychological impact of target grades on the students as well as how it changes the teaching and learning landscape.

Here are my questions so far.

  • Having a target for anything suggests accountability. “Why did you not reach the target?” is accusatory and you are on the defensive straight away.  Is this good for the teaching and learning environment and relationship?
  • Who decides, and how, on a suitable target?
  • Is prior performance a good predictor of future performance, can there be a linear gradient link between the two?
  • Do we understand and acknowledge the psychological effects of target setting and work to mitigate any negative aspects?
  • Are we clear and consistent in our use of the term “target grade”. Are there sub categories for example “aspirational target grade” or “minimum target grade” that confuse?
  • What happens if you exceed a target grade before the allotted time period or assessment point?
  • How do we account for and what are the implications for exceeding or not reaching a target grade?
  • If we accept that progress is not linear when do we begin to concern ourselves about reaching a target grade?
  • Who’s fault is it (or who gets blamed?) if a target grade is not achieved, is it the student, the teacher or whoever arrived at the target grade, or is it all three?
  • Boys and girls appear to react differently to target grades*. If this is the case why?
  • Do we ever ignore potential because of a set lower target grade?
  • Does setting targets based on a statistical model actually raise individual achievement?
  • Is everything needed to meet a target within the control of the teacher or the learner?
  • Is the time and effort spent assessing, recording and monitoring targets getting in the way of teaching? In short is it worth it?

It also occurs to me that those setting the target have a responsibility in terms of understanding the impact such an action has. I recognise that when students achieve or exceed a target we celebrate this and there are recognised systems in place to do so but where I am not so confident is in seeing similar systems for those who fail to reach a target grade.

If you feel like commenting on either the original interest topic or the questions please do so I would be glad to hear of your perspective, experience or view.

*See the article “Why many boys only do just enough

 

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