“The Future of Phys Ed” (with a little help from my friends)

muffin cake 1st birthdayI am so proud to announce that Making PE Fizz is exactly one year old today!!

When I started this little site one year ago, my main purpose was to create a reflection tool to gather my own thoughts and evaluations about my teaching and the learning that was (hopefully) happening in my PE classes.

I thought if it went well, perhaps there might be a few of my ramblings that could help others.

Today MPF now has over 500 followers and was recently voted in the Top 10 websites by The #PhysEd Podcast.

It was also the springboard for a recent international trip to co-teach in China and has enhanced my learning as a teacher on a scale I cannot put into words.

So while this kind of reach was never my intention, the road it has taken me on has been so meaningful, valuable and has helped me to become the teacher I am today.  One of the greatest things of which I am sure is that blogging and connecting via this site will allow me to become even better in the year ahead.

Prior to setting up my own blog I had been inspired by the websites of three (Physical) educators who are more than worth a mention, Andy Vasily, Joey Feith and Nathan Horne.

I have been very fortunate to have met two of them in person over the last year. I am now gunning for Mr Joey Feith before MPF turns two!

These three inspired me to ‘come to the party’ and share a little of my philosophy, views and practical ideas.  Kind of like, giving back for some of the insightful stuff I was learning from them.

Not long after discovering these three, it became clear via social media that there was a whole world of #pegeeks out there, simply amazingly committed people. All collaborating, sharing, inspiring one another and ultimately helping shoulder some of the responsibility of leading Physical Education into the future.

Soon I was hooked on blogs, podcasts, #pechat, twitter and having google hangouts with people who have forgotten more than I know about teaching PE.

So in the spirit of a true birthday, I wanted to use this occasion to look back a little but to look forward a lot.

I have enlisted the help of some of the #PhysEd community to help answer the question, “What future are we preparing for in Physical Education?”

Next month, I will be presenting to a bunch of PhysEd teachers on this very topic, I was blown away (as usual) with what these amazing teachers came up with.

So strap yourself in and get ready for the future…because according to these guys, it starts tomorrow!

JonesyBrendan Jones @jonesytheteachr

“PE teaching now, compared to when I started, has changed a great deal with respect to the opportunities that technology can bring to the learning table. In other respects, PE teaching has elements that should never change. As soon as we forget the purpose of why we stand in front of and beside our students as they take part in our classes then the future of PE is doomed.

PE is always about movement – the love of it, the fun in it, the development and showcasing of skills learned and shared. What will PE look like in the future? I hope it is more student centered, inquiry based with a connection in meaningful terms to the world outside the school gates.

And what skills should a future PE teacher possess?

I could say management, personal fitness, knowledge or tech savvy – predictable answers based on the compliance culture we are assume are important and assessed on currently. To me the things I’ll look for in future PE teachers I work with will be things like pedagogical risk taking, design thinking and the ability to forge positive working and collaborative leadership relationships with their students, fellow staff, the broader school and societal community and the PE fraternity worldwide. Then I’ll know PE is in safe hands”

andyAndy Vasily @andyvasily

“As we look forward, we need to reflect more on the powerful role that physical education should play in our students’ lives. We must continue to advocate for its rightful place in a school’s curriculum spreading an important message that policy and decision makers must listen to. We must break free of restraining curriculums and traditional delivery methods as they only result in increased disengagement among our learners. We must listen to the voices of our students and allow them more opportunities to decide upon the direction of their learning in PE.

Physical education can and should be a powerfully rewarding experience that helps to shape and lead a school’s curriculum, but it takes teachers who are ready to continually step up and think outside the box of our subject area drawing upon the very best teaching practice.”

ashcasey

Ash Casey @DrAshCasey

“For too long we have been channeled towards technocratic or performance pedagogy where students ability to perform textbook movements and actions (and teachers ability to facilitate these) dominate our conversations and the practices of physical education.

The development of new technologies – no matter how breathtaking – will have little impact on these practices because they cannot be the driver for learning; only pedagogy can do that. Instead we need to rethink the things we deem as important and focus our efforts on these and not our out dated traditions.

Nelson Mandela said;

“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

While I agree with Mandela I don’t see how the current incarnation of Sport or Physical Education can do this. We need to reconceptualise our pedagogies and fight injustice where we see it. What is the point of choreographing the perfect dance routine or hitting the perfect set-shot if we condone (through inaction) the expectation that the dancer will be a woman or a homosexual man and the basketball player will be tall and black and probably a hetrosexual man.

We need to challenge the assumption that sport and physical education are inherently good and work to ensure that they are good because they shun inequity and create opportunities for each and every young person who comes into our care. Otherwise, what is the point?”

Happy Birthday Making PE Fizz!

ashmillsAshlea Mills @ashleamills

“The future of Physical Education looks bright. If the representation of PE teachers on Twitter is anything to go by, it is evident that this generation of teachers are passionate about their job, willing to share best practice with others, care about their students and work hard to ensure every opportunity for learning is valued.

In the future I hope to see Physical Education valued more in the whole school curriculum and more time dedicated to Physical Education and Sport, particularly in primary schools. I hope to see technology integrated purposely, without sacrificing activity time. I hope to see classroom environments where students are challenged and take responsibility for their own learning whilst having the opportunity to pursue their own physical interests.

I hope that we continue to develop learners who are inquirers, engaged, flexible, caring and dedicated. But most of all I hope that we as PE teachers keep sharing and inspiring others teachers, new and old.”

naomiNaomi Hartl @MissHartl

“As I look forward into my career I am excited about where we can take our students within the realm of Physical Education and beyond. My wish is that we recognize the power of physical education and the need for it in the lives of our students. Our Physical Educators will create amazing PE programs that are able to support the whole student. PE will be a partnership with all subject areas to create an all-inclusive education for our children. Schools, communities and parents will also be in a partnership to support PE and the benefits it has on each child. I look forward to pushing our profession forward in advocating for our subject area and our students.” 

adammAdam Metcalf @MrMetcalfPE

“It is my opinion that the future success or failure of Physical Education will largely depend on our teachers’ ability to plan, execute, and reflect upon the type of learners we wish to produce.  Being mindful of the fundamental focus that it is our job to teach people, rather than to teach lessons, units, sports or games.  Our approach must shift from teacher-centred to student-centred, where students are empowered to learn through discovery, setbacks, and reflection within a variety of safe and positive environments.  As teachers, we must be willing to pursue a deeper connection with our students by modelling the behaviours we seek, as well as demonstrating the mindset to step outside of our comfort zone, seek advice, be willing to fail, ask questions, and remain lifelong learners.”

NathanNathan Horne @PENathan 

“I believe we have hit a fork in the road for the future of physical education moving forward into the 21st century. Never has there been a time where there are so many committed physical educators who are connected together in a network of like-minded advocates for quality movement experiences for our young people. 

However a lot of our community face issues of increased obesity in their students, lack of funding to their programs, cuts in the number of teachers or minutes for physical education programs.

So which road will physical education take moving forwards? It’s up to us to decide.

The committed network of #PhysEd professionals must continue to connect, share, collaborate and advocate the fantastic work that is being done all around the world in an attempt to slowly but surely chip away at the negative stereotypes so often attached to our field. 

We may not change the minds of the policy makers and nay-sayers of the current but what we can do together is provide the students to today with positive & innovative experiences of physical education that enable them to reflect critically upon their wellbeing and that of the wider community. These students will go on to be the policy makers and power holders of tomorrow and in turn when they think back to their experiences of physical education at school they will do so with a knowing respect and positive perception of the power of purposeful #PhysEd.

 While we cannot change the past, together we can make #PhysEd fizz for future generations.”

Wow!

I want to say a sincere thank you to all of the wonderful people above who contributed to this birthday blog post.  Through these simple messages you have given me more than I could have expected in the way of a birthday gift.

I look forward to connecting-sharing-collaborating so much more in the days, terms and years ahead.

Ross

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How Do We Get Faster?

Having already shown the kids the speed of Usain Bolt and offering them the experience of running against the fastest human on earth (see previous blog post), Andy and I decided to continue with the central theme of appreciation but, shifting the angle slightly to look at the key question, “How do we get faster?”

Our aim was to develop the students understanding and appreciation of why and how improvement is brought about.  What skills, knowledge, personal qualities, resources and technology may be helpful in mapping out a path towards “personal best?”

During the ‘tuning in’ phase the students came up with many great ideas about the “Ingredients for success in Athletics”.

Image

Andy was keen to ensure the students lines of inquiry were followed though and actually put into a plan of action.  The challenge, as always, being the time constraints we face Vs ensuring learning has depth, meaning and value.

The students talked about goal setting and practice as the key ingredients for improvement, so we decided that this was a great place to start.

We spoke to them about the importance of having a quantitative goal (a time target) for their sprint race, 60m-80m-100m depending on their age, and also having qualitative goal(s) linked to their technique and running style.

By writing these goals down and logging them, the students immediately had a road map for success, and with some support from us they created a simple action plan for improvement.  The word improvement cropped up more than any other in our discussions. 

In fact, when answering Andy’s question “Who will be the most successful students?” one student replied, “The Improvers”.  Andy wrote this on the white board and it was clear then that the students understood the big idea about success in this short series of lessons.

With goals logged, we began to look at HOW we could improve, and immediately the students’ attention was drawn to their sprinting technique. Andy and I had been talking to them about the ingredients for success to make the perfect cake.  Our “perfect cake” at this point was a fast, dynamic and effective running style.  So we went off in search of this.

We did this by trying things, exploring and testing out as we ran;

  • Use arms/ don’t use arms,
  • Run on heels/ run on toes
  • Keep knees low/ lift knees up
  • Hands clenched/ hands open
  • Head still/ head side to side
  • Arms back and forward/ arms side to side

We also did this by finding a model performance to study, super slo-mo sprinters in action via you tube.

Using our new learning from the above, the students began completing their Sprint Learning Logs.

Image

Once they had their goals set, and an action plan in place it was time for them to get to work.

We considered, “what resources, help and support will I need to improve and to be successful?”

Considering our best use of learning time and the technology available, we decided on two key methods;

  • Peer-to-peer feedback
  • Video BAM delay app on the iPad (self-assessment)

Peer-to-peer feedback

With the voices of Bill Glasser and Dylan Wiliam ringing in our ears, we knew it would be beneficial for students to assess and give feedback on one another’s running style.

As usual with peer feedback we knew this would succeed or fail based on their knowledge of;

  1. The success criteria.  So we tried to ensure this was embedded and visible at all times via their peer observation sheets.
  2. How to give effective feedback- we modelled this and talked about what is helpful and unhelpful when providing feedback to move learning forward, thus improving performance.

Video BAM delay

A simple but effective iPad app for allowing students to see a performance with a video delay.  We set it to 5 seconds and had a “video analysis” station set up that students spent some time at with the purpose of self-assessment.  They ran 25 m and then watched theirs (and others) running style on the TV, making notes on what they observed compared with the success criteria. As you can see from the photos, Andy and I began providing feedback to the kids to model this and then we promptly handed over the learning and responsibility to them- this is a grade 2 class!

Image

From here the unit could go in a number of directions and Andy has a clear focus on the learning outcomes he wants the students to understand and achieve.

The nature of inquiry learning he designs and implements, while ensuring that learning is focused and robust in improving students’ skills, techniques, knowledge, understanding and personal qualities/ values is very impressive.

I can’t wait to hear and see where he takes the Athletics unit next, especially with the throwing and jumping activities that lie ahead.

For now, I’m just happy to be off the bike for a few days!

What a wonderful experience, a sincere thank you goes to Andy for inviting me to be part of the learning here at his school.  I’m pretty sure the learning I have experienced will only become truly evident when I go back to my own teaching.

 He is a genuine #PhysEd superstar.   

When Opportunity Meets Preparation

success-opp-prepSo as teachers, we exist essentially to create engaging and powerful learning opportunities for our students.

Anyone with even a long distance view of educational research will know that there are a million things out there which could claim to help you on the road to achieving this.  In fact often the ‘noise’ in such areas is overwhelming.

Recently, I have been handed the opportunity to visit Nanjing, China to learn alongside prominent PYP PE Teacher Andy Vasily.  From the outset, I have been reminded about the importance of the simple act of planning.

The awesome quote here from the late American Author (and genius) Zig Ziglar, in many ways describes a key ingredient to Andy’s success.

By success I mean, how he enables quality learning, every day, in every experience for every learner in his classes.

We know teaching is a very complicated business, and so it’s hard to pin point exactly how this is achieved (otherwise we’d be rich, right?) But it’s clear to see inspiration, fun, surprises, unpredictability, an established set of rules/ strong learning culture and an overwhelming belief in “something greater than simply running around a gym”, lies at the heart of his success.

Before I even arrived in China, about 4 weeks prior, Andy started talking to me about his idea for the first set of lessons in the Athletics unit we are co-teaching.  The basis of which was to develop qualities in the students like appreciation, grit and determination.

All of this through through the humble 100m sprint.

This was eventually, ever-so-carefully, planned specifically but not inflexibly involving two #pegeeks, a bunch of excited students and a bike.

Intrigued?

We were too.

Take a look what (learning) happened….

Improvement: The Easy Way, The Way it Feels & The Way it Is

elephantOK, cards on the table…who sometimes (or often) feels like our little friend here?

It’s a great saying and one I use a lot, “You can’t eat an elephant all at once.”

If you are part of a school community which has a hefty improvement agenda (and If you are not then, perhaps I’d be asking why not?) you will empathise with everyone around you who may feel the strain from time to time. Especially if you are in a school that’s already really good. The standards are so high.

The pressure most likely comes from two main things;

  1. Yourself. This is a GREAT thing. The very basic foundation that you want to succeed and want to make the biggest impact you can in your role. I’d guess this disposition is born out of the fact that you genuinely care about the kids you teach.
  2. The sheer amount of things coming at you which could/ should enhance your learning or the learning of your students (or both). These ‘things’ seem endless.

Being a “connected educator”, and by this I mean you actively seek out learning, connect with others both inside and outside of your school, share on twitter (or somewhere), follow blogs, identify and implement evidence based research, is a powerful thing, but it can also add to the volume of ‘noise’ going on in your professional life.

It can also give you a worrying sense of all the things you are NOT doing well. Furthermore, if you have a really strong, skillful and knowledgeable network then it can leave you feeling somewhat inadequate. The, “everyone’s way ahead of me” type of feeling.

Paradoxically, this is one of the things that appeals to me with my online PLN. I need to know and connect with these people, to keep me honest, up to date and to inspire me.  I consider myself very fortunate to be part of the online #PhysEd community.  You’d think it would be competitive given the personnel but it’s simply about helping each other improve in whatever way we can. No one-upmanship, no hoarding of information or ideas, just simple sharing and reflection to improve. And no one ever asks for, or expects, anything in return. Remember it is voluntary; people are helping others get better in their own time without being asked.  Just amazing.

So I wanted to write this post for two reasons.

  • To have a go at (some) teachers.  Sorry I know I’m getting onto a bit of a habit of this.  But I’m a teacher and I include myself in this so that makes it ok, right?
  • To provide (some) teachers a well-deserved pat on the back, like a really insignificant gesture of performance related pay (Can’t I just have a Ferrari? I hear you say!)

As usual on these pages, I understand I’m writing (preaching) mainly to the converted.  The very fact you are here and reading no doubt makes you a ‘goody’.  So perhaps  by way of action you can carry some of this message with you and just have that little % of influence on those around you over time, like you always do, mostly by how you act and a little by what you say.  OR save the pics below and simply present them to people when the opportunity presents itself.

You see, when it comes to improvement (both personally and collectively) I think a lot of teachers are looking for this.

The Easy Way

too easy

It’s most clear at PD sessions;

Give me the answers

Give me the secrets (there are none)

Tell me what apps to use for X…Y….Z

Come and do it for me

This might well be the long lasting effects of the industrial age education most adults received. Students never really learned how to learn, they learned to listen, follow instructions, remember facts and take tests. The teacher gave everything, and yet, left them with very little at the same time.

The Way It Feels

hard race

Isn’t this what our lessons, days, terms and years feel like?  A tough road with another hill appearing just as we climb the one before!

Well not only does it feel like this, it should.  Teaching is hard.  Like my Dad remarks to any of my grumbles, “If it was easy son, everyone would be doing it.”  He’s right, and I often remind myself of this.  The many challenges, is also one of the key reasons we love the job (I can see you reluctantly nod in agreement).

Rachel George, our Head of Teaching & Learning constantly reminds us, “Learning is messy” and that applies to teacher learning as well, it’s hard and it’s messy.  If you are coasting through the year then you are either not challenging yourself, not improving, or worse you are missing the chaos that’s going on around you!

The Way It Is

Moving line

The harsh reality is, the finish line is moving.  Improvement is not a destination but a pursuit and the image above represents what we actually do as teachers’ day in and day out.  The good ones are searching, striving and doing everything possible to get better for the sake of the kids.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at your schools mission statement.  It should be aspirational and will seem overwhelming no doubt.  In a strange way, like the finish line above, you should never really get there.

So my pat on the back for teachers is this.  You may never achieve “the destination”, but as long as you can honestly say you are on the track and you are committed to keep going then you are worth your weight in gold to your school, your colleagues and to all those faces staring back at you five days a week.

Perhaps we just need cut ourselves a little slack.  To think a little less about the overwhelming, and a little more about tackling the elephant one piece at a time.

Become a Question-Asking Ninja!

q ninjaI have been meaning to write this particular post for a while (a long while).

Reflecting on what improvements I’d made to my teaching in 2013, I kept coming back to one small thing that made a huge Impact on student learning my classes to take forward and build upon in 2014.

Anyone who is a regular reader will know I have a huge penchant for what I view as the very heart of our work: Teaching and Learning, in particular the strategies of formative assessment and how they can be harnessed for greatest effect in PE. I have an appetite for linking evidence-based research to practice.

Usually the only ‘call to action’ I attempt via blog posts is to get you, the reader, involved in connecting with me via comments to enrich the dialogue.  But I’ll be up front about this one, I want it to change why and how you do something(s) in class.

In that order. Starting with ‘why’.

Now given that “one-off PD” generally has no impact on practice, I’m not sure how a “one off blog post” from yours truly in a far away land will hold up in the sustainable change area of teaching habits but, as always, I’m willing to give it a crack.

Are you?

So to the “one small thing,” okay maybe I misled you a tiny little bit, it may not be small but it’s certainly not huge either. It will require a bit of habit changing and perseverance, do you have what it takes?

It’s all about questioning.  Not necessarily the kind of questions we (or students) ask (although this is important and very prominent in edu research right now, see Ron Richart and Co.) perhaps the type of questions we ask may be for another post.

This post will focus more on the whole system and process of asking questions and eliciting answers (or more questions) from students. When this is established we can attempt to become question-posing ninjas.

So first to the ‘why’.

Let me start with a scenario.  I can see it now in just about every classroom/ gym/ playing field in the land. Please join me in imagining the following.

The teacher is up there teaching away (and doing a great job by the way) and the time comes for a stoppage, to establish a change to the activity, to give feedback, to have a class discussion about what we’re learning…you get the drift.

The teacher “leads” the discussion, often with some pre-planned questions (if they are good at predicting the future and knew what was going to happen) better still, the leading question is off the cuff based on what is ACTUALLY happening.  Anyway, I digress, the question is offered to the class and after NO wait time (in actual fact the wait time is negative because star students 1,2 and 3 have had there hand up since they were offered the first “what” “how “where” or “why”. Sometimes the teacher will even lead with “Hands up who knows…”

I’m sure you can visualise it, look at star student number one there in the front, she has got herself into a position of near shoulder dislocation and has started producing some worrying whining and grunting noises, clearly offered in the direction of Mr Teacher (don’t laugh, she knows this is the sure fire way to get picked in most classes!)

Meanwhile (usually up the back) struggle student 1,2 and 3 suddenly find something of really significant interest on the floor while performing an inner fist pump that this “discussion” is about to take its usual course and they can have a quick brain break and perhaps even a short snooze, especially if Mr Teacher gets onto one of his stories or passion points.

Struggle students 1,2 and 3 may well be ‘strugglers’ but they have become ever so proficient (in fact professional) at knowing how to hide in these discussions.  Reason? They have had years of practice in just about every school lesson they’ve ever experienced.

So what does Mr Teacher do?

You guessed it!  Star Student 1,2 or 3 expertly give the (correct) answers maintaining their position as the brightest in class, Mr Teachers Utters something akin to, “Does everyone understand that?” cue collective “Yes!” muchos nodding and we all move on satisfied that this ‘bit’ has been ‘taught’.

Sound familiar? I’m sure at least a variation of the theme you can relate to.

The above demonstrates a few things about WHY this needs to be re-thunk (I know this isn’t a word but I like it);

Mr Teacher is forcing the lesson down a successful route (at least in his eyes).

After all he’s been up planning this work of art all night so if the slightest twinkle of potential lesson ‘success’ presents itself then he’ll take it!

Often this becomes as farcical as Mr teacher beginning to spell words on a whiteboard to illicit a particular answer (or to break a painstaking silence).  C’mon admit it, we’ve all done it! S _ _ _.

What Mr Teacher is playing is a giant game of, “guess what in my head”.  Like a curriculum based version of ‘i-spy!’

The smart kids are getting smarter.

This is not entirely true and should probably be re-worded the smart kids are getting more confident.

As a result of their speed to offer the answer and because of the fact they were able to use some intuition to win the “guess what’s in his head” game, Mr teacher has probably just taught them something they already knew.  So instead of moving on satisfied that that ‘bit’ has been ‘taught’ he should, in fact, apologise for wasting their time.

 The strugglers are falling further behind.

It is somewhat noble, and understandable that Mr Teacher does not want to “out” these students.  Perhaps their self esteem needs to be protected and after all, they don’t like being on the spot anyway. Perhaps they will learn via magical synthesis (but not likely)

All fair enough, but what we’re actually saying is, its ok for these kids to hide and fall further behind.

NOT ok.

Mr Teacher may not believe this but by conducting discussions this way he is actually allowing students to opt out of learning and is widening the gap between the stars and the strugglers.

Imagine the impact of this over a number of years?  Perhaps the beginnings of another generation of inductees for the “I hated PE” club which more accurately may be described as the “I was allowed to hide in PE” Club.

Are we agreed on the ‘why?’

Good!

Ok, lets have a go at fixing it.  Some simple tools, dedication to changing some habits, and a commitment to go on a fun ride with your students.

I started this with a class, then a year level then the whole upper school, so baby steps are good. After all, I was learning something new as well.

I’m still considering how it may work with the lower primary levels but I did see some footage of Andy Vasily having some success in the early stages with a year one class (I think it was) so its sure possible!

So to the ‘how’.

The basic system to be introduced is one of random student selection during class discussions.  So in simple terms, no opt outs, everyone on their toes, attentive, learning by talking occasionally and listening a lot.

The randomisation device can be paddle pop sticks, names out of a hat, a big wheel anything really that gives you a genuinely random selection.  I use an iPad app simply called “Hat” (there are loads of apps that do this now and class list can be copied in, in about 5 seconds)

Important to note that this does not apply to one-to-one feedback (obviously) and should not replace hands up for a whole class response to something e.g. “hands up if you’re finished…” or a vote e.g. “who thinks…” common sense has to prevail in these situations and it a matter of the best tool (strategy) for the job. So I’d stick to whole group discussions for this and the kids will also get used to habit changing for these scenarios.

The simple rule is no hands up except to ask a question. Read it again.

This means the rule combined with the randomisation device = EVERY single child has to think about the question. So even if they are not chosen they have still already done the intellectual heavy lifting.

This is only the first part though.  When a question is posed, the teacher should remember to use the following as a strategy. I had it written on my lanyard for a while.

POSE- PAUSE- POUNCE- BOUNCE

  1. Pose: leading question gets asked (doesn’t have to come from you)
  2. Pause: wait 3 (long) seconds
  3. Pounce: choose student at random
  4. Bounce: use the first response as a catapult for discussion.  This could be asking someone if they agree/ disagree, or “what did you think of that answer?” or “could you summarise what David said please?”

Important thing is it all comes out of our random generator so you can “pounce” and “bounce” with a clean conscience!

I’ve heard some teachers saying, yep, ill do it but ill just randomly pick kids so I don’t need the app or paddle sticks etc. Beware of this approach. Even if you don’t think you are, my guess is that your subconscious will steer you to, and away from, certain students.

So at the risk of over-describing the process (which I may have done already), I wanted to share with you all a video from our school, with one of my classes, featuring some of our wonderful students so you could see the whole thing in action.  I hope it brings it to life and it encourages you to take this idea, play with it and make it your own.

Go on I DARE you! (and send me your comments!)

Stop Stealing Dreams (& Personalities)

stealingI consider myself a ‘spark’ blogger. That is, my ramblings come from something that has struck me that month, week, day, hour.

Whatever it is tends to float around in my head consuming my thoughts until I get it out there. I guess the same is true of any idea until it is written down or realised via action.

Two things have struck me recently that have been floating around my head, and so provided the spark for this latest post.

The man behind thephysicaleducator.com Joey Feith recently introduced a new idea (not uncommon for Joey) to his site called “Lil help?”. The first post was from a virtual teacher asking for help and advice on behaviour management. It was a great idea, backed up by amazing responses from the physed community. The PhysEd PLN wrapped their arms around virtual teacher “drill sergeant” and the responses/ advice were free flowing and substantial. See the post and responses here .

At the same time I’ve been reading a manuscript by Seth Godin (who is a bald genius by the way) called “Stop Stealing Dreams.” It got me thinking about what school is for and my place a amongst it all.

Like, what is the purpose (of the whole “process”) of education?

Seth argues that if it is to produce compliant, obedient factory worker style citizens then we are doing a great job.

He actually suggest we are “processing” students like an assembly line which is ironic given his suggestion that the way education is designed prepares them for exactly that type of work. Perhaps no coincidence we are still educating for the industrial age.  A case of “life imitating art” Oscar Wilde may have remarked on our status quo.

Think about your school and your class(es), it may start with “good morning class” to which they reply “good morning Mr/Mrs smith”. Why do we do that? What’s it for?

This is just a small example of how schools and teachers try to foster conformity, remain ‘in charge’ and promote fitting in.

And yet often we give them mixed messages about the importance of being themselves. Well what if “themselves” is talkative, fidgety, argumentative, critical, quiet, lazy?

Are we actually saying, “be yourself, as long as its how we want you to be?!”

At our school (and pretty much every school I’ve been in) we have a learner profile, the new term for the old: values education. The values or qualities that we promote and wish to develop in our students. Things like responsible, respectful, tolerant, courageous etc etc.

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that we add in lazy or argumentative to our leaner profile, and I do understand  the difference between positive and negative values (I even found a wordle of the good ones below). But please stay with me while I remain fleetingly flippant to pursue my point.

wordle
Lazy people can be successful, can’t they? I know some of them personally! They just need to know how to harness their powers of laziness to best effect!

An example, I am currently teaching one of the best problem solver/critical thinking grade 4 students I’ve ever taught. He hates vigorous physical activity. He is fascinating in the way he approaches games and thinks about how to be successful with minimal effort. It’s a constant battle of wills between him and I, and a real challenge for both of us. In his end of year reflection for school, he named PE as his favourite subject! While constantly trying to ensure he gives full effort I also compliment him often on his “efficiency” when it leads to success.

I should also say that I make clear to all students the importance of physical activity in their lives and keeping fit and healthy, what i’m on about here is building on what they bring to the table.

Talkative and argumentative people make good politicians, don’t they?  So lets not supress their ability at an early age! One of the best politicians Australia has ever had is Paul Keating. He could be described as the best “arguer” of all time. Some of his performances in parliament have gone down in history, if you have a spare 5 mins check out his best bits online.  I guess the key here is honing their natural skills of talking and challenging others to be used for good.  Debating, challenging the status quo, changing things, making things better.

Furthermore, fidgety people go on to be the worlds best dancers, don’t believe me? watch this…

I spent the first 6 months of this year trying to get a (new) fidgety student to sit down and listen during class discussions.  My mistake now seems obvious.  I was forgetting that he could listen (or more accurately learn) standing up or walking or skipping or hula hooping for that matter if he really wants to! So now that’s precisely what he does, (along with some others) and they listen to what is going on.  I know they listen (learn) because I ask them stuff.  Im convinced my fidgeter is destined or a movement based profession and here I was holding him back!

My goal for him (and everyone else) was learning, NOT compliance. I was confusing the two as being mutually exclusive.

Commenting on Albert Einstein’s progress, a teacher reported that as a result of poor compliance he “would never amount to much”.

Oops.

Perhaps then as students go through the conveyor belt ofschool, the system has to be changed from within. Starting with us teachers. We need to be more willing to take a strengths based approach to students and their abilities and personalities rather than “stealing their dreams” or stifling what they bring to the table.

Perhaps the policy making pollies will follow suit and will start considering curriculum that is non-hierarchical for subjects, where choice matters, where students can work on their strengths and interests more and where they don’t have to conform and be tested to within an inch of their lives (with stuff they will neither remember or want to remember).

tests
Big thanks to Dr Ash Casey for bringing the above image to my twitter feed.

So maybe as of 2014 we need not to ask students to jump on our assembly line/ conveyer belt one behind the other but we teachers think about making our conveyor belt wider, deeper, higher, lower, after all we can and should accommodate so many different “parts” for the 21st century.

As always I would love to connect so please let me know your thoughts!

Learning with the Lion King

lion-kingI’ve written before about seeing the world though the eyes of the opportunist super learner.

Simply put, this is about having your learning goggles on all the time as life inevitably throws up ideas and opportunities to learn and reflect on our teaching and the learning of our students.

Sure, the holidays are time for relaxing and “switching off” there is no doubt. Re-charging batteries and taking time out of the emotional toll of the classroom is very important.

The only problem is that the opportunist super learner can never entirely switch off, neither would they want to. That would be to blatantly ignore valuable information or experiences that present themselves to help us get better at what we do.

You can’t choose when, and when not, to put on the learning goggles, they are a part of us as teachers and learners. Subconsciously, the radar is always ‘up’ to find connections between things in this world.  It happens naturally. And sometimes they come from strange and wonderful places.

As a kick off to our summer honeymoon trip in the UK, my wife and I went to The Lion King in London’s west end.  A musical theatre lover as a child (and still now I suppose) the west end has always been a magical place for me, where wonderful stories meet song and dance.

I have seen the Lion King movie many times but last evening as I watched the live performance, I made so many connections to our work as educators.

As our year 6s graduated recently, it forced me to reflect on what legacy or impressions we had left for them to take forward to high school.  The Circle of Life in a school is no more prominent than when you say goodbye to a cohort and, almost as quickly, say hello to a new group of students. This is a responsibility that is shared amongst teachers, but I bare my share of it and I certainly feel the responsibility. What impact have we had by the time they leave?

Perhaps it was serendipitous timing then as I watched Simba grow into the King of the Pride Lands and to follow the legacy of his father Mufasa.

Here are some of my reflections with which I hope YOU may connect;

Early in the story Simba is told he will inherit “all the land the light touches” when he is crowned king. But he is told never to visit the land beyond the horizon (the elephants graveyard).  Of course, his curiosity and courage get the better of him and his adventures there end in a confrontation with the hyenas. Musfasa arrives just in time to save him from harm.

thehyenas
While Simba may have been misguided, Mufasa comments later “I don’t want to stifle his curiosity”. How many times have we felt that? Asking students to be courageous while trying to protect them from failure, from being wrong, from giving them misguided ambitions. The important connection I made was that we, like Mufasa, must encourage this bravery and simply have to be there to ‘save them from harm’ in their learning. Our students thrive in an environment where being courageous enough to make mistakes is valued as long as they know we are there and we care.

simba_and_nala
The friendship between Nala and Simba, which develops into a beautiful love story reminded me of the importance of friendship as our students grow.  Recently at a graduation dinner, one of our year 6 students thanked our Deputy Principal for helping to “Create friendships where they don’t exist and mend friendships when they are broken”. It was a very touching sentiment offered by this student.  After 7 years at school this was one of the things she valued most to take forward into high school, friendship. I think we have to actively foster this in our classes and create opportunities for our students to really value each other, and what they all have to offer as class mates, as friends and as young adults.

One of the best parts about the Lion king musical is how the cast sing and dance in the aisles and bring the show “out” to the audience.  Most shows I’ve gone to are confined to the stage where performers stand and deliver, but the lion king performance made you feel like you were right there in the Pride Lands of Africa.

lion king aisles (10)
It makes me wonder how much of our teaching looks like a stand and deliver performance, I bet the students in our schools would say lots of it looks and feels like this.

Teaching is not something that happens in front of you, it happens around you.  It feels like a warm hug rather than a talking too.

How do we bring the learning OUT TO and AROUND the students and not simply something that happens in from of them or AT them? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

The part of the story that had the most profound impact (and my favourite part) is when Rafiki meets the now care-free Simba at the pond an encourages him to remember the legacy left to him by Mufasa.  Here Simba is visited by the ghost of Mufasa in the sky, who tells him that he must take his rightful place as the true king of the Pride Lands. Simba then realizes that he can no longer run from his past and goes back home.

The message in the song “He Lives in You” is magical and inspiring and was easily the highlight of the story.

Every day students are having these coming of age moments as they grow, we may just not see them as clearly as we do in this story. What legacy are we leaving them to follow? Is our role modeling having the impact that Mustafa did on Simba? Or are we more like Scar? (Yikes).  Sure, we have no desire to churn out mini versions of ourselves, absolutely not.  Neither do we want to control the decisions they make.  But we must guide them with love and care the way Mustafa does for Simba.

In some small way, when we are no longer standing in front of them, will we “live in them?”

I hope you can connect with some of my reflections on an amazing story.  It certainly has encouraged me to look differently at the human side of ‘growing up’ of which all our students are experiencing in front of our very eyes.

For the moment I shall try to get on with the holidays with more of a “Hakuna Matata” approach to life!

Thanks for reading and I’d love you to share your comments below.