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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

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

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

 

Understanding Learning Needs: an account

It’s not often, unfortunately, that I find another teaching professional who writes a post that corroborates my work on LQ and PBCF but here is one by Jodie Jasmin

Jodie shares her first thoughts when students are not engaged in the learning.

“My first thoughts when I hear a student is consistently misbehaving are;

1. What’s happening at home?
2. Do you have a good teacher-student bond?
3. Does your teacher speak to you with respect?
4. Are the lesson activities engaging and tailored to your needs?”

Sound familiar? It will if you have been reading this blog.

Jodie’s list clearly points to the four learning needs of Power Belonging Choice and Fun that we all have and must fulfil to be engaged in the learning process.

LQ and PBCF

 

It’s a great article, and I am not just saying that because it looks as though we are of similar mind. Jodie hits the nail on the head quite nicely.  By meeting learning needs you will find learning behaviour the primary behaviour in your lesson. As Jodie sums up by saying

“It’s about taking simple ideas and seeing how we can deconstruct a basic task to recreate a better idea in support of all students learning – knowing them and what they need in order to focus, because they truly are all worth it.”

 

Jodie’s full article is hosted here on Te@cher Toolkit:

http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2017/03/05/differentiation-education-for-all-abilities/

You can find my article on LQ and lesson planning here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6

My introduction to PBCF can be found here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-4

 

Why Creativity?

quote-albert-einstein-creativity-is-contagious-pass-it-on-254503

Is creativity important, and specifically is it so in teaching and learning?

My short answer,  “Yes”.

I would argue that without creativity there is the danger of not challenging what we do and why we do it. Possibly to go blindly along with what we are told without question for we have no drive, no vision of how things could be different, no need even, to do anything different. Without creativity in our lives, we risk seeing the world only as a series of things we are directed to achieve in the way we are shown to achieve them.  Should we forgo challenge and accept obedience? This may be fine when we want or need compliance[i] but do we want compliant learners or those who challenge us to explain or justify what it is we want them to learn?

What’s this thing called, love? (it’s all in the punctuation!)

It would appear that how to define creativity is a bit of a problem. My evidence for this is the number of texts that have set out to do just that, to put creativity into a box, to define it.  A good review of the thinking on creativity is by Arthur J Cropley in “Creativity in education & learning a guide for teachers and educators”[ii] .  It is one of those books I have to force myself to read lightly, to almost skim read, at first for there is so much to think about on each and every page.  I would describe his work as a comprehensive review of almost every work on creativity up to that point.  There are a staggering 17 pages of references to support his review and thinking.

In his book Cropley declared  “Creativity is understood here as production of novelty”.  You have to start somewhere! I cannot imagine the world where things remain the same, always.  I like to think of creativity as an act of doing something differently. Either in the process or the outcome or even the approach can be different it does not matter, what matters is there was some purposeful thought or action that preceded it or that was involved that was different to how it was before. Looking at things in a different way, from a different perspective, and perhaps discovering new insights or ways of doing something.

The act of being creative is important to me. I find it is a driver, a force, an energy that pushes you to do things. I know when the opportunity to be creative is being withheld a form of stress builds within me. I have seen the same effect in others too. Without the opportunity to be creative in whatever we do or to have an outlet for our creativity people suffer. It does not matter how creativity is expressed only that it is allowed. For me, this may be through innovation, humour or in any form of problem-solving or making.  I believe that by being creative, it helps in seeing the world and its challenges as a problem or series of problems to solve. Possibly and more importantly, as problems that can be solved.

Problem-solving or being creative is my approach to teaching and learning too.  It is why I formed Advocating Creativity (also “4c3d”*); it is my way of promoting creativity in education as well as being creative myself. Creativity is not just as a subject but a way of thinking, a way to improve learning.  Creativity is a way of changing “can’t do” to “how to do”. A way of doing what is needed and not just what is asked for. I see creativity as a way of making things happen rather than waiting for them to happen. Being creative also means taking an element of both control and responsibility for whatever it is we are involved in, this is because we will affect the outcome in some way.

Why I believe education systems are particularly poor at being creative is twofold. The first is because the process of becoming a teacher and of gaining mastery can inhibit creativity. Teachers need to master their subject, they need to know it so well they can explain it to others and guide them through knowledge to understanding. Teachers need to set challenges and assess progress all of which requires mastery. Teachers are not novices; they are practised masters.  Traditionally teachers are not solving a problem when they teach but instead delivering a solution. Importantly it is a solution they have derived from their learning. Further, they are familiar with the material way beyond novice and may forgo in their teaching what may now appear to be a trivial and unimportant element. Cropley puts it this way  “Working in same area over a long period of time leads to high levels of familiarity within the field but blunts acuteness of the vision or inhibits openness to the spark of inspiration.

The second reason we may see limited or no creativity in the process of teaching and learning is the focus on reaching targets.  To be more precise the single focus on reaching a target that prevents us doing something different. Doing only that which is already being or has been done (despite success or the lack of it) to achieve the target is a real problem.

Being creative means we could be taking a risk by doing something different in a risk aversion environment. A target driven focus often means doing things an approved or recognised way. We can quickly get bogged down in our thinking with doing things the “approved” way rather than exploring different approaches. In doing things differently, there is also the risk to the teacher of returning to the novice stage once again, to revert to being a learner.  I think I saw this most in the 1980’sand 1990’s with the development of IT in schools. At the time many teachers had been taught without such a resource and struggled to include its use in their lessons or to adapt their lessons to make good use of it. Many were fearful of the technology because they felt like novices once again. Having learners know more than you do is frightening for some teachers, at least it was!

I would argue that an emphasis on “success” rather than learning results in the system being driven towards a “ready solution” focused mindset. This is one where any “recognised” theory (seen as having an academic backing or reputed to have worked in the past) or approach that offers a solution to improving learning is more often than not readily adopted. This is especially the case if the theory has a research or academic pedigree. It is my experience that theories with such a pedigree will outweigh practical experience every time. Creativity from practitioners, from teachers, rarely gets a look-in if there is an “expert” spouting a solution.

Adopting a creative approach to learning is tremendously powerful if you see learning as a problem-solving activity.  Once you adopt this approach to learning and a creative mindset, then many more pieces of the learning jigsaw begin to fit together.   We find by adopting a problem-solving approach a landscape occurs in which theories can be seen for what they are, attempts to explain how learning takes place.

More accurately by adopting a creative problem-solving approach we see the ways in which we attempt to explain why some people learn some things easier, better or even quicker than others. The danger is when we mandate or replicate ways without applying a degree of creativity in supporting a process of adopting the practice as opposed to just adoption. Adoption only is a form of pseudo-creativity for it is not a problem-solving approach but one of solving a problem.

We can try to adopt what some other institution or organisation does to solve what we perceive as the same issue only to find it does not work. In such circumstances, the lack of creativity in adapting the approach means it fails, but worse still it is not the approach that is blamed but more often those who implement it. People are asked to work harder and are monitored closely and more frequently to discover where the failing lies.  What they are not doing is considering the unique nature of their situation and adapting the approach to suit. I have seen the stress and damage this creates in an organisation first hand, and it is to be avoided at all costs!

So why is creativity important in teaching and learning? Here are a few of my suggestions.

  • It is because it causes us to look at processes and practices in an objective way and challenge them.
  • It asks us to consider our unique situations and how we can best achieve our aims within them.
  • It encourages us to think outside of the box, to take risks but confirms our sense of ownership and responsibility.
  • It helps us see what works and why and what to avoid doing what does not no matter what the pressures are.
  • It is a way of getting things done, to break the cycle of doing what has always been the practice before without considering the value.
  • It helps us lose our fear of being wrong.
  • It creates and sustains the energy of learning, of discovery and of challenge.

 

**”4c3d” is leetspeak for “ace-d”. I had to get creative as ace-d had already been taken on Twitter and WordPress!

Image acknowledged: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/life-lessons-from-albert-einstein.html

[i] For more on compliace and to answer the question “Is Compliance a learning disability?” see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd

[ii] Creativity in Education & Learning: A Guide for Teachers and Educators, A. J. Cropley

Psychology Press, 2001

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