Question: What do the most successful performers in ANY industry have in common?
No man is an island. Not only that but in a world where teachers connect with each other 24/7 over email, social media, etc, we no longer work in isolation. This week’s blog post is something I’ve been considering for a while now. We work in teams, so how do we make the best use of our colleagues in order to raise achievement?
What does a successful team look like?
If you want to see what phenomenal teamwork looks like, just watch a pit crew in a Formula 1 race. Teams in education are no different and the most successful all have the same essential attributes:
Every member has a pre-defined job
They all do their jobs extremely well
They trust each other
They hold each other accountable
They hold themselves accountable
Now ask yourself: do the above points accurately describe the teams you belong to? If not, then what can you do to improve your team and to raise achievement?
Five simple ways to improve your team and raise achievement:
1. Know your job
It’s crucial that you know exactly what you are personally responsible for and what others are personally responsible for. Without knowing this, how could you begin to raise achievement? If you are unsure then a useful exercise is to sketch out a hierarchy (most if not all schools are hierarchical), showing the different levels of responsibility of team members from the very top to the very bottom. That way, it will be much easier to hold yourself and others accountable for the whole range of responsibilities. Once all the jobs are defined, you can begin to collaborate more effectively.
2. Actively work with each other
When designing a scheme of work, or contacting a student’s parents or planning a trip, do we actively involve others in the process? Not only is it useful to share workload when completing complex tasks, you will also benefit from colleagues’ experiences too. In their roles, they may well have encountered similar issues to the one you are busy solving. I always find it helps to see things from a different perspective – it also pays dividends to learn from other people’s mistakes!
3. When analysing your own performance, focus on the important details
It’s very easy when things don’t go to plan, that we can make excuses. Studies show that this happens even more often when others are observing – some people just don’t like to take responsibility for things that THEY could have done differently. For instance, a particular cohort of students may have a real issue with completing homework on time and to a good standard. Is this a behaviour issue? is it their organisation skills? Is there a knowledge deficit? Do they lack engagement with their subject? It’s vital to determine the correct cause of the issue, or else you will waste energy trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, whilst the real problem keeps rumbling on.
4. When holding others accountable, ask the right questions
The same studies that show our unwillingness to hold ourselves responsible also show that we prefer to blame others. Teachers MUST hold each other accountable. Without this, we won’t be able to maintain and drive up standards. However, this can be done in a positive, developmental way, or it can become punitive and lead to decreased motivation. When asking colleagues to evaluate their own performance, ask questions that generate practical and useful answers. Framing ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities to develop specific teaching methods’ is another proven strategy. Another popular one is the ‘feedback sandwich’ – give one piece of positive feedback, then one way to improve and then another positive. Remind colleagues that they have more good points than bad, but don’t shy away from being totally honest. Over the long term, it’s important to make sure that colleagues feel supported and encouraged. Even teachers who are completely honest in their self-evaluation won’t feel motivated to fix problems if they feel their positive attributes aren’t valued.
5. Keep in regular contact with each other
This one is my own particular failing (hence why I put it at the end!) but it makes a huge difference when I get it right. Far too easily we can become engrossed in a never-ending checklist of day-to-day tasks. It’s important, now and again, to let others know what you are up to. Also to engage them in a conversation about how they could participate, or how you could help them. In my own experience, it prevents problems down the line, where I’ve ended up duplicating the work a colleague had already done, or where I could have offered help before a problem reared its head. One very short email every week or so is all it takes and the shorter it is, the better!
Call to action!
The best teachers will always act on advice, even if they only focus on one tiny snippet at a time. Don’t get left behind! Take one small step from those outlined above and spend no more than five minutes on it TODAY. You know fine well if you leave it until tomorrow then it will never get done. Be outstanding and raise achievement NOW!
Disrupting education is essential to bring schools into the 21st Century. Why? Schools are old. Really old. The system isn’t much different now to how it was during the Industrial Revolution. The aim of schools back then was to create a population fit to work in a variety of factories. Subjects were taught in isolation from each other, with no differentiation. Today, we have differentiation, but largely the same model. Only now, we are moving people out of factories, as robots are moving into them. We aren’t needed in factories anymore! Schools need to address this urgently, or we will become irrelevant.
Why is disrupting education the solution?
Ask yourself: Do we maintain the status quo in education because we already have the best possible model? Or are we afraid (or just unwilling) to change the current model because the new one might not work?
I like the word “disruptive”. When something is disruptive it focuses our attention on it. We think about it properly and act on it. When was the last time we properly considered disrupting education, eg. how and why we plan our school buildings, timetables, technology and lessons the way we do? I think we should. I believe we should completely revolutionise what a school’s purpose is, who it is for and how it operates.
Last week when looking for something to read this summer I came across founder of Wired magazine and “Futurist” Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly). In his new book, The Inevitable, he discusses some of his ideas about how the future is likely to look in 10 to 30 years time.
We already know that there will be new devices that our lives will revolve around, like mobile phones today. These devices probably won’t even be invented until a few years time. We also know that Artificial Intelligence will be so sophisticated, cheap and widely accessible, that much of today’s “education” in schools will be largely redundant. The result? We won’t need to learn things that computers will do automatically and much more efficiently for us.
I always remember my Maths teacher telling me that I should put my calculator away because I’m not going to have one in my pocket at all times when I’m older. Ha! So, is new and emerging new technology already making some of our subjects obsolete? Let’s see…
How do we use technology already?
1. Google Translate: can translate languages at the click of a mouse
In Modern Foreign Languages lessons, we learn how to spell, pronounce and understand different languages. We do this primarily because if we didn’t, then it would be difficult to communicate with others around the globe. What if technology removed that barrier? Would we still teach and learn other languages? Would there be any point? My heart is saying yes, but my head is saying no (for the vast majority of students). Would it become a luxury rather than a necessity to be able to speak fluent French in future?
2. Augmented Reality: apps can project holograms of the people you are speaking to on Skype
What if we didn’t teach students from our catchment area, but from around the world instead? Imagine each student, from countries around the world, sitting in your classroom (if a physical classroom is even needed), in holographic form. It sounds far-fetched, but there are companies all over the world who are already adopting this technology for holding meetings and training events. AR is already disrupting industry. It will disrupt education. I think that AR will become a feature of top performing “global schools” at some point in our lifetime. As teachers, we need to begin thinking about how we can best utilise this technology, although perhaps on a much smaller scale at first!
3. Virtual Reality: can simulate practical learning environments in standardised and measurable ways
In many industries where the work is physically demanding, involves an element of risk, or requires a detailed and standardised analysis of techniques used, we use simulators to train workers. These simulations used to take place in huge physical machines – think of the flight simulators you see at fairgrounds. Nowadays, simulators rely less on machinery and more on software to simulate the ‘sensation’ of our physical environment. Consider this: some schools in our inner cities have little in the way of outdoor space for athletics training. What if we could train students on a physical technique in a classroom environment, where a ‘virtual’ javelin was used instead of a physical one? Data could be gathered and analysed immediately using inbuilt software and could give personal feedback, in real time, to 30 students at once. No marking required!
My question to you:
If we could implement any of these (or other) technologies now, at no cost, how would it change the way you taught your subject?
Top students often go beyond what they’ve been asked to do when it comes to producing extended pieces of work, especially if given the chance to conduct research. It’s a virtuous circle, helping students become top students and then because they are top students they continue to learn independently as that is now their new ‘normal’ expectation. Depth and frequency of independent learning typically lead to better results in formal assessments. So the question is, how do we get the rest of the students to conduct independent learning?
Below are three handy tips you can use to encourage students to engage in independent learning.
1. Guide your students
Most students don’t use independent learning to complement the required tasks they are given. Sometimes they just can’t be bothered. However, many students don’t bother because they haven’t the foggiest idea where to start. One thing you can do for them is to provide a simple and unintimidating list of sources they can use for specific topics. Break it down to page numbers and even paragraphs if need be, just to get them started. You could give the students this menu of options at the beginning of each topic, each term, or as I’ve done, at the beginning of the year to glue onto the inside cover of their folders. I give a copy of a Wider Reading List to my A Level students at the beginning of their final year. They should aim to use at least one of the sources in addition to the textbooks and other materials they receive in class when they submit an essay. I also encourage them to add a source to the list, to demonstrate even greater independence. The list offers guidance to those who don’t know where to go for information, but allows them to be independent learners too.
Choice is important too. If the students feel as though they can pick whichever source they like, they will feel a greater sense of ownership over their learning. This is a well-documented way to boost engagement. Not only that, but once students are offered a choice, they are able to consider a range of alternatives before finally deciding upon a source to use. Their skills of source-selection and evaluation become more refined, allowing them to be even more independent in the future.
2. Choose your sources carefully
If independent learning is not a common feature of your class, then ease yourself into it. Don’t pick a stack of weighty titles from the bookshelf, or the top ten ranked pages on Google – the students won’t thank you for it and will most likely just not read it.
Instead, choose two or three easy-to-access resources and not necessarily written ones either – YouTube is brilliant, so are Vimeo and Slideshare. Students who have conducted independent learning before are much more likely to do it again, compared with students who have never done it before. Remove the barrier to starting independent learning by making it less demanding first round.
3. Set your expectations and monitor them
Students must know that independent learning is not an optional extra, but a required part of the course. Those of you operating a Flipped Learning model will understand how homework can be used to gain huge advantages. Here, the student gets to choose what, when and how they use the independent learning material. They choose how much advantage they want to take and in what direction.
How do you know they’ve done it?
At the bottom of the options menu, create a box where students can write down each time they’ve used one of the sources. You could even give a termly reward for those who have made the best use of the menu, or for those who have shown the most progress. Make it meaningful to students and they will adopt it.
I would love to know how you promote independent learning in your classes. Send me a message!
Also, if you want to see an example of a menu that I’ve used then leave your email address below and I’ll send you a free copy.
“Why do I need to know the difference between Plato and Aristotle? I’m not going to be a philosopher!”
Thus began my Friday afternoon a few months ago. A group of A Level students was finalising some revision for their final exam on Philosophy of Religion. They had been learning the content for months by this point and had no problem with the main points. However, now that the exams were almost upon them, the students were beginning to feel frustrated, scared and annoyed by the fact that they hadn’t quite mastered everything quite yet. Time was running out. Fear and frustration are commonplace amongst students and it often leads them to ask why they are studying the subject in the first place. I replied to them that I was teaching future leaders the skills they would need to change the world. Only I’ve thought more about it since then and there’s an issue: we don’t know what the future will look like, so how can we possibly prepare for it?
How do we prepare students to work in future industries?
When students reach a certain point, they choose a range of subjects to continue learning. This is either because they enjoy them, or because they see those subjects as valuable in helping them get a job in the future. But how do we guide our students to make good choices for the future when we haven’t a clue about industries that don’t exist yet? Not only that, but what if students pick subjects related to one industry, but then after a few years of employment they want to move out of that industry? Many people have been left high and dry due to a lack of alternative career paths related to their education and skills. We need to move away from that.
Below I’ve given the five areas that we teachers should focus on, in combination with high-quality subject content, so that our students are prepared for a variety of opportunities that will come their way in the future:
Critical thinking skills
Critical Thinking Skills
Making wise choices does not come naturally to many students. They have neither the skills, the experience nor the patience, in many cases, to truly examine an issue in depth. This is a quality that is earned through practice, so we should try to give students as many opportunities to practice as we can. I find that beginning a lesson with an open question, such as “Assess how far…”, “To what extent does…” and revisiting the question every 10-15 minutes from a new angle, helps students to develop their critical thinking skills. Top tip – get students used to making a case for a viewpoint. Then have them argue in defence of it whilst other students pick holes in their arguments. They will love it and it will prepare them well for resolving conflicts in the future- a very useful skill.
All successful leaders have problem-solving skills. That is how they succeed – they identify a problem that someone has and they provide a solution. Within their own organisations, they will encounter problems too, be it with processes, products or people. In lessons, I try to simulate scenarios where solving a problem is the main success criteria for the activity. It could be done as a role play, as a Dragon’s Den episode, etc – whatever works for your subject!
Most employees work in teams to complete goals. They usually have individually defined roles within their teams, but in order to work effectively, they must collaborate. This was a prominent feature of a previous post of mine – There’s no “I” in iPad. I build collaboration into most of my lessons in some way, shape or form. The crucial thing to remember is that each individual must know what their own role is and why they are collaborating. This is as opposed to working individually. Understanding the value of collaboration will only serve to help students adopt it willingly.
A key feature of managerial positions in most companies and for independent entrepreneurs is the ability to manage projects effectively. But this isn’t usually a key feature of most curriculums so if we want our students to succeed further up the career ladder, then we should at the very least lay the foundations for them whilst they are with us. Tip: Set students projects that require a number of simultaneous tasks to be completed using a range of resources. This will help simulate the world they will enter in the future. Adding complexity to project management is also a particularly useful tool for challenging the most-able students in your classroom.
Learning doesn’t finish when you leave school. However, you typically won’t have someone around to teach you what you need to know once you’ve left. This is why it’s vitally important to be taught, whilst at school, the value of and some methods of independent, self-directed study. I try to implement self-directed study for each of my classes at least once a term. This is usually on something beyond their typical homework tasks. Examples have included:
learn from scratch how to create a movie trailer on an iPad
find a good YouTube video that teaches you about Asimov’s laws of robotics and assess what makes the video “good”
use www.thestudentroom.com to create a list of the best revision sites for studying and revising for your AS Religious Ethics paper. Use one of the sites to create a mini-revision guide for a topic of your choice.
I’ll be posting soon on how and why I think education systems require a revolution, to keep pace with an ever-changing world. I’d love your thoughts on this.
Why is it so difficult to engage boys in the classroom?
“Boys are treated like defective girls”, so says psychologist and author Michael Thompson. I think he’s right. Have you noticed that boys are frequently compared to girls with regards to exam scores, classroom behaviour, the standard of work produced and neatness of presentation? Many boys fail to perform as well in these areas, leading to ‘poor’ performance in formal examinations where it counts the most. Engaging boys to raise their attainment is clearly a huge challenge.
So, are boys just not as good as girls when it comes to formal assessment? Or is the system unfairly rigged to favour girls over boys? Let’s see.
Myth: “All boys are the same”
This is simply not true. Just look at the last group of boys you taught and their wide spectrum of attributes. Boys are often excitable, creative, loud and headstrong. However, there are quiet boys too, who lack confidence, struggle creatively and who seem distant when you try to engage them. There are even quiet boys who are incredibly confident and loud boys who are overcompensating due to their own perceived weaknesses. The difficulty in deciding which “category” they fit into creates a real challenge for educators. Moving away from “categorising” boys at all and instead, understanding how and why we treat them differently, is the beginning of the solution.
Should we just train the boys to be like the girls?
This is more complex than it might seem, but the short answer is no.
Many of the boys I teach read less often and consequently fewer books than the girls, particularly fiction books. Why is this? Is it because boys don’t enjoy reading? No. Is it a lack of quality authors writing for young male audiences? No. Engaging boys differently to girls is crucial and here’s why.
Girls are typically brought up in a different way to boys. Their toys and games are different. The heavily gendered characters and storylines in the cartoons they watch are very different. The societal roles they are expected to play, due to gender, differs significantly.
This causes a knock-on effect. At school, when boys and girls are given the same task to do, they will naturally approach it in different ways, due to the way they have been conditioned by their environment.
Girls are often more collaborative in their approach to tasks, seeking guidance and support, constantly engaging in a feedback loop with their peers and teachers. Girls are encouraged to do this through the type of play where conversations are a key element. Discussion is seen as a positive activity, where active listening and reflecting is considered as important as speaking.
Conversely, boys are often more solitary, waiting until they have completed a task (to whatever standard) to then present their finished product to others for feedback. Once given feedback, boys then get on with solitary work again. Boys are not usually encouraged by fellow boys, nor do they typically seek encouragement. Asking for support is often perceived by boys as a weakness. Consequently, there is very little social incentive to truly discuss, listen and reflect. Egos are fragile and it’s just not worth the risk to their reputation Their style of work and play is therefore heavily dominated by competition and shows of individual strength, be it physically, or through verbal argument.
In general, at least in Western societies, girls are also better prepared for tasks involving empathy, evaluation of evidence and being diplomatic, as those skills are built into the types of “play” activities they participated in when they were younger. Have you ever witnessed the complex social skills demonstrated during a dolls tea party?
Now, compare that scene to a boy smashing a Lego house with a dinosaur. Which skills do you think will benefit those children in a formal examination? Boys are expected to grow up to be brave, resilient, confident leaders who take no prisoners. These are useful traits in many areas but less so in formal examinations.
Five strategies to engage boys in the classroom
1. Stop valuing “girly” attributes over “laddish” attributes
Let’s face it, in most cases neither of those terms is used in a positive way. However, we teachers often forget that stories about aliens destroying a football stadium can have as much literary value as a love poem. We arbitrarily celebrate the types of media that girls tend to gravitate towards and we negatively stereotype the media that boys gravitate towards. The result is that boys become used to hearing that certain things they value are worthless. They might love pirate stories, but after being told that they shouldn’t read them all the time, they eventually stop reading, because they aren’t interested in reading anything else. Boys then lose interest in their favourite things and many lose interest in general.
There is nuance to this view though. By playing to what boys enjoy reading about, we can actually do harm. As teachers, we should be broadening their “cultural capital” and expanding their knowledge of subjects beyond their own experience. If we don’t do this, then we limit the range of examples and consequently the network of ideas, or schema, that boys need, in order to learn new knowledge with ease. The more we teach them new things, the easier it becomes to teach them even more new things. So hold your boys to a high standard and make sure they use academic vocabulary, explain their examples clearly and show detailed reasoning behind their decisions.
2. Be careful how you use competition to engage boys
Boys often love competition. However, this is also a lazy stereotype. Some boys hate it and would rather work collaboratively, rather than in an adversarial way. Not only that but as I wrote earlier, boys need to learn the skills of collaboration in our classrooms, as they often won’t be taught this explicitly in their “home” environment.
Be patient with boys here, it often won’t come as naturally as it does with girls – the boys haven’t had anywhere near as much practice! Competition is great for engaging some boys but you must include opportunities for collaboration within the competitive environment too.
3. Frequently encourage and consistently use feedback
Feedback is crucial for engaging boys. The earlier in their lives that boys learn to give and accept feedback, without any fear of perceived weakness, the better they will perform and the faster they will progress. The feedback must be a continual process, like a conversation – not just an event at the end of a piece of work. As by then, the feedback is too late in many respects.
Once boys are able to use the feedback process more naturally, they will begin to be able to develop deeper self-evaluation skills and may even engage more often in independent learning too. This helps to narrow the gap between boys and girls, as well as between the weaker and stronger boys.
Praise frequently, but based on student effort, rather than on attainment. This way, your boys will feel as though they can take risks and attempt challenging work without worrying about your reaction to a wrong answer. Boys are very good at detecting insincere praise though, so only give it when it is due, or it loses its impact.
4. Ask better questions and more of them
Improving your questioning in the classroom is one of the best ways to raise attainment. The teachers who make a more positive impact on attainment than their colleagues ask more questions and they plan their questions carefully. This drives higher attainment for boys and girls alike. However, boys often shy away from explaining the rationale behind some of their answers. For this reason, it is crucial for teachers to ask boys in particular how they arrived at their answers.
By getting boys to demonstrate the process behind their decision-making, they will clarify their knowledge in their own minds and develop their confidence and resilience. This makes it much more likely that they will buy into the next challenging task, especially if it relies on having strong prior knowledge.
Ask questions such as “why is that the answer?”. Alternatively, show wrong answers and ask boys to comment on “why is this the wrong answer?” By introducing a range of examples and, crucially, non-examples to their schema, you will play to boys’ eagerness to show you up as an authority, while actually building their own reputations as a successful academic student.
5. The Teacher-Student Relationship
In my experience, having a positive relationship with the boys you teach makes the biggest difference. This isn’t rocket science, we should be aiming for this in all of our students. However, when boys are often boisterous, the positive teacher-student relationship we need and they often crave can be difficult to maintain. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind, though, can be the one thing that makes the difference in the long-run.
Don’t expect the boys you teach to be as naturally compliant as the girls. Work hard at engaging the boys, through challenging work and even just by having a conversation with them as they work. Find out what makes them tick and show your interest in their lives. The boys I teach respond particularly well to this and it has made a huge difference to the attitude they show in my lessons and towards their work in general.
Ultimately though, set high expectations and support them in living up to them. If they go off-task after a few minutes, then chunk the learning into short tasks to help them. If they struggle with tasks involving extended reading, then practice and model extended reading frequently, so that they can improve over the long term. Live-model what answers should look like and show how to construct those answers, so that boys know how to start. Visibly investing in these areas will show to the students that you are in it for the long-haul, that you have their interests at heart and in response, they will readily buy into what you are trying to do.
The best book to read on the subject of teaching boys has to be Boys Don’t Try: Rethinking Masculinity in Schools, by Matt Pinket and Mark Roberts. They take the reader through the research basis for their understanding of why boys often underachieve in education and how we can overcome that problem. Their strategies are very easy to implement and frequent anecdotes help you to see how to apply those strategies in your own classroom. It changed my own classroom teaching and the impact has been significant.
Do you have any tips on how you engage boys in your lessons? Leave a comment!