“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” US computer scientist Alan Kay, 1989.

Earlier this week Brian Aspinall shared the Bloomberg editorial “Kick Mobile Phones Out of Class“.

Cellphones in schools is a subject I’ve discussed at length before and one that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. It’s a bellweather issue, an issue that indicates clearly where you sit on the educational spectrum. Do schools teach students “the rules” or help students learn effectively? Read More

It is well accepted that we have a crisis in children’s mental health in Ontario. Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) reports that the number of children waiting for mental health services in Ontario has almost doubled in the past three years and an 18 month wait list for services is common. Parents and professionals regularly tell me that children can wait up to 3 years for treatment.

The consequences are felt all across the province. There’s been a 54% increase in visits to the emergency department and a 60% increase in hospitalizations for children with mental health issues. This further stresses an already over-taxed health care system.

And it shows up in the classroom. CMHO chief executive officer Kimberly Moran said “When one child has a mental health issue in the classroom it has a profound effect on the other kids … When kids are waiting sometimes up to two years for treatment, imagine the impact in the classrooms, with their teachers, as they wait for treatment, it just doesn’t make sense”. Educators would agree. Read More

I’ve written about the “cooling effect” that an increased use of social media by administrators and school boards has had on educators. EduTwitter is increasingly a platform of self-promotion and is used less as a platform where educational ideas are discussed. Educators are using anonymous accounts to avoid reprisals from supervisors and discussions between educators are moving into private channels where they can speak freely. In the process, the opportunity to include divergent voices is lost.

During the October 7th ResearchEd conference in New York Tom Bennett met Canadian teachers who were forbidden from writing about education and from being anonymous on social media.

(Click on the tweet below to read the entire thread)

Australian teacher Greg Ashman followed up by reporting that teachers in Australian public schools teachers are also forbidden from commenting on education policy on social media.

This kicked off a round of discussions on twitter about how common this is and why. In addition several educators contacted me through private messages. They don’t feel safe even discussing the issue on a public platform. That’s alarming.

On September 27th, 2017 The Ontario College of Teachers released a “Professional Advisory – Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media“. The majority of the advisory focusses on the use of electronic communication to interact with students, but in the section titled “Act Professionally” teachers are advised to avoid criticizing anyone in the school community (How large is the “school community”? Does it include the Minister?).

While this is only advisory, and the consequences for criticizing an employer online aren’t specified, the implication to many teachers are clear.

Some teachers have shared stories with me about their experiences on social media and are willing to have them published anonymously. Anonymous because they’ve already been threatened with discipline and don’t wish to make things worse. But they also feel they’ve been treated unfairly, and that teachers have not only a right but a professional responsibility to express their opinion on education. They believe this right and responsibility is being suppressed.

Here are a couple of stories that were shared:

Name Withheld By Request

 

Name Withheld By Request

In most of the situations people shared with me school administrators acted to silence teachers because they were threatened by their opinions or worried that what a teacher wrote would cause problems for them with parents or the community.

Some teachers are convinced their social media activities are being monitored by their school board or their administrator.

Whether this is true or not, it indicates the level of fear that exists for teachers who use social media.

School communications departments aren’t tasked with supervising staff social media activity. No school boards have the capacity to monitor staff social media completely. Board employees who are on social media may encounter staff tweets or posts but they are not there specifically to monitor other staff.

A few days ago a colleague told me that his Vice Principal admitted that she regularly “checks” his tweets. It’s the word checks that’s problematic of course.

If administrators are on social media to interact, to engage and to learn then they are welcome to express their thoughts and opinions. But social media flattens hierarchies and strips away institutional power, which some find threatening.

My hope is that enlightened leaders will recognize that engaged passionate educators who are willing to speak out and challenge conventional wisdom are to be supported and encouraged, not suppressed. These are the educators who will change staff cultures and improve the quality of education for all students.

On October 5th I presented at Discovery Education Network’s Ignite event in Etobicoke.

The theme of the even was around joy and this is the text of the talk I wrote called “The Joy and Pain of Teaching”.

I can’t think about joy without immediately hearing the 1988 Rob Base song Joy and Pain in my head. That’s the song where Rob end the rap with “you’re just a kid and you need to grow”.

But that’s a good place to start thinking about joy because you really can’t have joy without pain, and sometimes you have to go through pain to get to joy. And that’s the story I want to tell. How I found a way to joy through pain and how a 10 year-old girl showed me how.

It was probably my lowest point professionally. I’d moved to a new school and the first year went terribly. Nothing I did worked, I couldn’t connect with my students and I was questioning everything I did. It was awful. And then at the start of my second year I met Kelly.

Kelly was a grade 5 student and while she didn’t single handedly change everything for me she started moving things toward joy. And while it would be nice to think that she sat down and dropped wisdom on me, she was much smarter than that.

Kelly understood that the path to joy isn’t something you can understand cognitively. It’s something you have to embody. And that’s what Kelly did. She loved being at school and arrived each day smiling and excited to learn.

And for some strange reason, that I couldn’t understand, she seemed to like me. She’d hang around my desk, smiling at me and asking if she could do anything to help. And at the end of the day she’d be sad to leave class, so she’d come over and try to hug me, which was awkward.

Initially I resisted what Kelly was trying to show me. She was a kid. Clearly she was wrong. But like water torture she kept dripping that smile onto me day after day and slowly, over time I started to melt. Soon I was amazed to find that I was happy to see her.

Since then I’ve reflected on Kelly, on what she taught me and what she embodied. I’ve boiled those lessons down into a few actions that will help anyone find The Joy of Teaching:

  1. Be grateful: Today you are alive. You woke up and you can do things. You have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and help them grow and prosper. Very soon there will come a time when this won’t be true. Appreciate it now. If you’re a practicing educator with a job, like I am, you are doubly fortunate. Qualified teachers are crying out for work in Ontario schools and a terrific new teacher would give anything to be in your position. Don’t forget this. You are lucky. Appreciate it.
  2. Notice the small things: I don’t mean in your day plans, but the really small mundane things. Listen to the engaged chatter of a well run lesson, how the light falls on the floor in your classroom, the feel of a marker in your hand. Take it all in. These are the things help that keep you grounded.
  3. Accept change: My old teaching friend and mentor Barry Schneider taught the same grade in the same room for 25 years and I asked him how he could do that. He said “In teaching, you don’t have to go looking for challenges, the come to you. They walk through your door every day”. Remember that a classroom is like a river in that you can never walk into the same one twice. Every day, every moment of the day you and your students are changing, so there’s absolutely no reason to believe that what you did yesterday will work today. Change things.
  4. Smile proactively: We’re evolutionarily programmed to pay attention to negativity. It’s how our ancestors survived. But this implicit bias means we don’t always notice the positive even when it’s there. Smiling changes this and helps us to be more open to noticing the good. Smile like you mean it and soon you will.
  5. Adopt student mind: Embrace wonder like a student. Your students have never encountered this idea or thought before and they are amazed and excited by it. You should be too because it is amazing that we can think and learn about things. And if your students aren’t amazed because they’re cool and detached, those are the students that need you to be amazed and full of wonder most of all. Those are the ones that need you to connect them with the engaged and passionate learners they used to be.
  6. Connect: There are students in your class who need you. Today. Not to raise their math scores or improve their spelling but to notice them. To be the adult who sees them and cares about them. So take the time to look in your students’ eyes and see them, really see them!

If you do these things you’ll find something quite amazing. That when you thought you were helping students and teaching them, that actually the opposite was also true. They were the ones teaching you and helping you move forward. They are helping you remember that in every moment of every day we have to keep opening to joy. And that by being grateful, noticing the small things, accepting change, smiling, adopting student mind and connecting you’ll discover what on some level you already knew. That joy was waiting for you in your classroom all along.

Now when I’m feeling disconnected, or out of sorts, or in pain, I seek out my classroom. Because that’s where I feel grounded and it’s where my students help me find the joy through teaching.

Premier Kathleen Wynne announced at the start of the school year “a sweeping review of how students are assessed in Ontario, including possible changes to EQAO tests“. A month later the focus is starting to shift, as people start to consider how we might make EQAO better.

I’ve written extensively about EQAO in the past including a prediction five years ago that we’d start to back away from standardized testing in Ontario education. Many jurisdictions around the world are reducing testing as a tool in education. Ontario is, predictably, late to start this process.

So what can we do to fix our broken testing system? Here are three ideas: Read More

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