Deeper Learning For Algebra

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How to Improve Any School

 

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“There are really only two ways to improve any school: get better teachers and improve the teachers already there.”

Todd Whitaker

 

Time changes fast, so does the psychology of the generations. Every day, the education world tries different approaches bringing new methods and programmes to the schools to match the challenges of education of the youth. Each day we hear altered trends emerging in teaching and schooling, varying from eLearning to game-based learning, open classrooms to schools with no assessment, flipped classrooms to blended learning, and etc. The worldwide educational institutions like IB or Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) introduce new ideas and plans every year. Experts write books on how to improve the quality of the schools; administrators analyze their schools’ exam performance, then they revise their plans; and parents look for better schools and tuitions for their children. In short, the pursuit of better education continues.

Each of these numerous things being tried is designed to improve the quality of education. Different parties approach to the subject from their views, naturally. Therefore, as an educator, having an administrational responsibility in my job, I focus on improving my school. Hence, in this article, I will try to discuss why I strongly agree with Todd Whitaker’s statement quoted above which shortly claims that the quality of the teachers is the most significant factor of improving a school’s characteristics. [1]

If we imagine a football team where there are good facilities, a qualified coach and any kind of helpful staff from driver to the masseur is available, one can easily see that without a group of well playing footballers, the team may not be successful in professional leagues. The coach should train them as well as mentoring them, and the club should provide a professional system to boost their performance. We can think of the school in a similar way. Teachers play the role of footballers.

 

Programmes are not meaningful if the teachers are not good

The school that I work has many distinguished programmes going on. It is an IB World and a Cambridge International school. It prepares students to higher international education through Diploma Programme, IGCSE and Cambridge Checkpoint exams. There are English as a second language programmes to provide better language learning besides second language education in Chinese, Japanese and French. Moreover, Writing and Research Paper programmes aim to improve students’ abilities in academic writing. There are certain plans and ongoing processes of participating in international and local competitions and Olympiads in which a lot of successful results have been achieved. It is possible to give many more examples if we were to think about each subject.

In my observations and personal experiences working with many teachers so far, the programmes and curricula increase the level of the education to some certain extent. They also provide guidelines, set standards for us, and actually keep us focused on the process to achieve the goals determined by the board of directors. On the other hand, whatever we try to do to improve the school quality, there is one single factor outstanding among the others: teachers. I am not underestimating their advantages, yet prestigious programmes are not meaningful without teachers. There are standards, plans and schedules, but all will be effective in the hands of teachers. If they are successful in applying the given educational plans, then the programmes will be successful. If the school has good teachers who are open-minded and who can easily adapt into the new systems, then the school can transform its educational structure and can keep on applying the programmes.

Some teachers are the flag holders, and they lead their students and the mentioned programmes to success. Not only do they improve their students, but also set good examples to others and play a crucial role in establishing a positive atmosphere at the school.

On the other hand, some teachers can become obstacles for schools in various ways. I believe that “bad” teachers are the ones who are unqualified in academics and therefore failing in educating students. Additionally they are usually poor in classroom management, assessments and feedbacks, educational planning and other fundamental elements of being a teacher. The good teachers directly influence the students, parents and consequently their perception of the school. If a student has a bad teacher, which makes him hate the subject, then it is unlikely that that student will like the school. Similarly, the school will not be good in parents’ eyes. Everyone wants his or her children to be successful. Who wants a bad teacher?

Moreover, bad teachers are the teachers who slow down the school’s progress. Besides being bad themselves, such teachers might affect the others morally, and school can become a negative working environment for the other teachers.

 

School rules and procedures work with the teachers

The educational institutions develop policies and handbooks for all processes and situations. Planning everything well at the beginning, where everybody knows how to handle the next problem or the upcoming agenda is quite important. Otherwise there will not be any order, and teachers and administrators will be rushing to do the simple tasks.

The procedures like programmes, cannot work by themselves. The school staff will make them work. It is regardless to say that teachers are the most important members of the school staff. Good teachers will complete their tasks on time; they will know how to solve problems. They will smoothly communicate with students and parents. Similarly, the bad teachers will have trouble finishing the duties properly and on time; they may even cause some extra problems. 

In addition to this, we can easily say that school facilities and resources are helpful only if the there are qualified teachers to use them efficiently. Even if there is lack of some resources, a good teacher may find ways to teach in a successful way, of course if supported by the superiors.

 

Leadership

Leadership is very important in this regard. Collaboration between the administration staff and teachers must be well arranged. A strong leader will support and motivate teachers to do their jobs well. Yet, at the end of the day, teachers go into the classes to do the teaching. School leadership is crucial for student achievement and school improvement; nevertheless, teachers are more important.

 

In conclusion, I agree with Todd Whitaker. Teacher’s quality is the most important of the elements that determines the success of a school. Therefore the schools should hire better teachers or seek ways to improve their teachers’ quality. Professional development programmes and training sessions are very important for schools.

 

[1] Whitaker, Todd. What Great Teachers Do Differently. Taylor & Francis. 2011.

This post is inspired by Todd Whitaker’s book. You can buy it from here.

 

Active Learning: Knowing Something Without Knowing It!

The concept of active learning has been advertised for a long time now. Although we can say that many of the educators from younger generations have an idea of the term, it looks like there are still problems in the application.

Is it possible to know something without knowing it?

The answer for this tricky question is yes. One can call it intuition, gut feeling or the sixth sense. Here I am trying to talk about something else. So many times we think we know a concept well, we talk around it a lot but in reality we are not sure about it.

Famous Physicist Richard Feynman suggested a method to test if you really know something or you have an idea about it. It is called Feynman Technique. According to this technique, if you can teach a specific concept to a toddler, and then make a self reflection for the identifying the gaps in your teaching and review it to eliminate those gaps and finally achieve to teach it really simply, then you know that concept well.

How does active learning happen in class?

I, myself attended many workshops about active learning in class and gave some workshops to small groups at the school I’m working now. As I observed, many educators, especially above some certain age group, have difficulties to understand it. People have difficulties to reach to the “Eureka” moment. Or sometimes, it is the comfortable zone to the same thing you have been doing for the past 17 years.

For my belief, active learning is keeping students engaged and ensuring them dynamically participating in learning. Moreover students start discovering to learn by a self-motivation. The teacher will be successful to the extent he/she can achieve to maintain this.

So, educational terms and trends are everywhere these days. Hundreds of blog posts, books, expert views can be found easily. Even may be we are talking about them most of the time. Applying what we know is different. Likewise for the case of active learning one can ask many questions.

  • Are we really maintaining student engagement in our classes?
  • If yes, how often and to what extent?

 

 

 

Hard Work and the Story of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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In this life, nothing comes easy. The path that goes to success usually requires perseverance, ambition and hard work. May be practice doesn’t always make it perfect as Maria Konnikova discusses. [1] Still, there is something called “10000 Hours Rule” which Ericsson research showed if someone trains hard for mastering at an area, say playing piano, for some 10000 hours than that person achieves to be expert on it. Famous author Malcolm Gladwell writes long about this phenomenon in his book, Outliers. Ericsson says Gladwell misunderstood him and oversimplified the results.[2] On the other hand it is obvious that working hard brings success if there is a foundational talent for the beginning.

This week, I read a wonderful story about how Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote his famous novel, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.[3] I remember reading it years ago on a flight from Beijing to New York with mixed feelings of fear of flight and tiredness of long hours of sitting. Therefore whatever I remember about the book, I also remember the flight, flying over the North Pole and Canada to New York.

Here is an excerpt from Paul Elie’s beautiful article, which tells the history of the book:

“I did not get up for eighteen months,” he would recall. Like the book’s protagonist, Colonel Aureliano Buendía—who hides out in his workshop in Macondo, fashioning tiny gold fish with jewelled eyes—the author worked obsessively. He marked the typed pages, then sent them to a typist who made a fresh copy. He called friends to read pages aloud. Mercedes maintained the family. She stocked the cupboard with scotch for when work was done. She kept bill collectors at bay. She hocked household items for cash: “telephone, fridge, radio, jewellery,” as García Márquez’s biographer Gerald Martin has it. He sold the Opel. When the novel was finished, and Gabo and Mercedes went to the post office to send the typescript to the publisher, Editorial Sudamericana, in Buenos Aires, they didn’t have the 82 pesos for the postage. They sent the first half, and then the rest after a visit to the pawnshop.

He had smoked 30,000 cigarettes and run through 120,000 pesos (about $10,000). Mercedes asked, “And what if, after all this, it’s a bad novel?”