Sending Teachers Mixed Messages

Alongside increased ‘brandification’ of education eLearning modern learning is an increasing number of non-educational professionals coaches who ply their ‘improvement’ message/method in schools.  Schools are no longer islands of social enterprise for the benefit of society anymore. At some point, parents pay fees and levies to place their children in the classroom to some degree or another. Australian education is, therefore, a stratum of costs and benefits. Schools must increasingly make their representations of benefits to attract ‘customers’. Teachers have, by and large, no experience of marketing or retail environments outside of being customers of businesses.

Australian education is, therefore, a competitive stratum of costs and benefits. It is at this point, teachers must be resolute in that no Australian school can ‘be like’ Finland, just as our broad approach to education has not been drilled down into the US model of standardised testing. It is therefore very dangerous to listen to people who draw a broad bow in social media, just as it is to believe what works in retail to get more out of workers, to reduce costs and so forth – has any relevance to the scholarship of learning and teaching itself.

Schools must increasingly make their representations of benefits to attract ‘customers’. Teachers have, by and large, no experience of marketing or retail environments outside of being customers of businesses. Unlike older colleagues, many young teachers have only experienced the mixed message of retail/business and whatever they learned at University. I would further guess, many of them have had experience of part time and casual jobs before graduation – and will remember some of that business-hussle.While not exclusive, the staff room meeting experience is one which reproduces the fandom and dogma of social media – the so called

It’s fair to argue the modern PD/meeting experience is central to the reproduction of the fandom and dogma of social media (edu-celebs) with their gimmicks and niche topics. I’ve said many times before – EdTech is short for Entertainment Technology – and for the most part is a deliberate effort by a few to deny recognition to the many. I’m sure most people in an EdTech audience for something like EduTech are just as proficiant as the speaker – and more relevant as they actually teach. The utlimate WTF for me is when Sir Ken tells a teacher crowd that schools kill creativity and everyone claps and tweets  – seriously? Hes telling you something – YOU ARE CRAP.

To be a good teacher, you need to be a flexible, empathetic human, able to meet challenges and work across broad areas of learning and teaching. Secondary teachers have their specialisations in order to shovel forth the content demanded by the various ‘authorities’, but at no point in the classroom, does a professional teacher need to act like an employee in a retail store, air-conditioning installer or tire fitter. We don’t have transient ‘customers’ who may or may not buy our ‘product’. I can fully appreciate why non-educators might be seduced into thinking teaching can be approached like any other business – but learning isn’t a business – it’s a necessary function of society.

Another interesting development I’ve noticed is the rise of the micro ‘practical philosopher’. In the history of education, there have been many who have influenced the shape of how children learn, and where they learn. Some come from academia such as Dewy, and others don’t such as John Holt. A practical philosopher such as Holt looks at the macro social and cultural issues, and influences change. They don’t zone in on a school with some pseudo-science if they did, the only way it would be adopted is with a degree of managerial clout insisting on it. Contrastingly, teachers do adopt and engage with models and methods which are constructed from academic research and implemented through quality training. Again, if the person telling you X isn’t a teacher, can’t do what you do TODAY and has no reliable evidence to suggest their ideas work – assume they are just as likely to do harm and waste valuable time.

I am not suggesting ONLY educational academics can teach us things. However for most teachers, especially early career teachers, this micro practical philosophy emerging from niche ‘EdTech’ advocates, brand reps and pseudo social/clinical science is mixed with similar amounts of ‘business’ ideas about how to make things better, faster cheaper etc.,

So what is educational leadership? What makes an effective teacher?“Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience,

For one thing, anyone trying to understand the practice of a teacher though OBSERVATION of a lesson or day to day behaviour, is at best a simpleton. They might as well get a stopwatch and time how fast the hands of the clock move in an hour. To me, if you don’t see and treat teachers as leaders, you’re also failing to understand their motivation, passion and insight into how society is shaped and re-shaped. The observer types are not diagnosing an oil-blow back from a worn turbo charger, not wondering why they didn’t use DP40 when they etch primed that guard. No, the problem with OBSERVATION is that it comes with self-bias, is contextual and has been shown to have zero impact on the success of students whatsoever.

“Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience. – John Holt.

Another useful quote from John Holt, deals with the on-going problem of fruit-managers. These I characterise as people who are given some status above others and to maintain it, focus on the low hanging fruit issues. To be fair, they are often unable to do much else – which is the central argument Seth Godin makes about why organisations orbit the same endless issues and staff become disillusioned. Holt said “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” A good team, or faculty understands that this is a daily test, once which they face and discuss daily. They also DO something meaningful and impactful about it quickly and reflect on the results just as quickly.

While they take on board a range of discourses presented to them (largely through the medium of public debate and media) – teachers are living in a half-real world where factual errors, misinterpreting and oversimplifying the research, and making logical errors is seen as normal. For example, arguing against positive reinforcement without acknowledging the body or research which support is – is a convenient omission in the message, but can’t be as easily omitted in the classroom – no matter how passionate you are about the sociological importance of self-determination and self-worth.

My approach to teaching is an evolution of ideas, successes and failures. However, my own code is to base all of that in the scholarship of learning and teaching, not the last TED Talk I watched. I strongly promote blended learning using enquiry and challenges – only some of which are auto-telic in nature. I also recognise that I am part of a system which is deeply rooted in modernism and being carved up by neo-liberal politics. I don’t expect continual wins without some spills.

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I do believe students should not sit in rows and be lectured all day – and I absolutely despise worksheets – paper or digital. I believe children’s voices matter in their own education, but at the same time – their day to day experience doesn’t happen outside of culture. And here is my main issue with teacher experiences of late, in order for these external methods/ideas to be correct (not adopted, just TRUE) there has to be a villain or problem. For example, children need encouragement, not praise – depicts them being immersed in a particularly problematic situation. In this case – the age old argument about autocratic teaching. Another example is that teachers use technology for consumption, not interaction. This representation doesn’t consider that interactive consumption is the message these days and therefore we need to think more about the quality of it – not to establish who is using it or not using it (low-hanging fruit).

Anyway, there’s a reflection of sorts – now back to Overwatch.

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