The problem of an outdated education system: A commentary

When you dispose of rubbish improperly, they just pile up until they form a mountain of rubbish.   This is the problem of an outdated education system.

It might be the 21st century, but schools still have that Victorian Era vibe in them.

Through the years, the intention of improving systems of education around the world has always been there.  However, the big problem lies in how these improvements become part of our reality.

Education as a natural privilege beyond rights

Idealists will always harp on the innate nature of education as a privilege for all and the responsibility of those who can provide.  Education must always be for all.

Most noteworthy of all, everyone has the right to proper education.  To learn the tricks of life is what education ought to be. Therefore, here lies the biggest problem of education.

The denaturalization of education

Denaturalization is the process of taking away the natural aspects of a phenomenon by encasing it in a box of mechanical standards. To illustrate this, as soon as a mother or father teaches a baby to talk or walk, that’s the first sign of education.

In effect, as the baby grows up, parents pass on the social responsibility of sending their child to school.

By this time, parents detach themselves from teaching their child.  They entrust them to the system that institutionalizes education. Hence, the primary essence of education gets lost.

Institutionalizing the education system

To add more insult to injury, bigger systems use education to function under their wings.  When schools start serving an institution (i.e. government, religion, private companies), it takes away the learning power of a student.  Thus, this converts the student into a mere mechanical product shaped in the nature of an institution the school serves.

An individual’s capabilities are sacrificed and replaced by a collective knowledge and standardized abilities.  It would have been helpful if these lead to genuine life-skills development.  On the contrary, the progress leads to satisfying institutionalized standards like tests and certifications.

On a final note, education itself becomes a problem as it defeats its primary nature and purpose.  Schools must educate children for them to learn what they need and what they want.  It is not for the school or any institution to purely decide on what individuals need and want.

Learning and the learners are the main thrust of education and NOT the self-serving intentions of institutions.

Therefore, it’s time to clean up this mess and go back to the basics.

Turning the tales of turnaround schools to reality

The case of turnaround schools is like a fairy tale of schools.  However, in this Cinderella story, the miracle happens in the reality of schools all over the world.

Transforming a school from low to high performing is not an impossible feat. It is an undertaking of sheer will power and impressive organizational skills.

the case of turnaround schools

The case of low-performing schools

Describing the performance of a school requires certain standards. Obviously, these standards are set by certain boards.  On the other hand, these could be as simple as logical discretion.

To be more objective, student achievement usually quantifies a school’s performance.  Based on grades attained by students, these could be from internal or external examination.  Any school can simply claim high performance according to internally assessed work.  However, through standardized exams, schools get to establish themselves as high-performing schools due to impressive results.

For example, schools from Shanghai and Singapore have established themselves as top schools based on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results in reading, maths, and science.

In the United States, proficiency tests enable assessors to determine the performance of a school and even a district.

Aside from grades, school performance based on student achievement also includes graduation rates and the ability of the students to go to colleges or universities.

On top of these quantitative factors, the quality of infrastructure and instructional practices come into play.

Logically, low performing schools usually score below the acceptable standards in all or most of these factors.

The case of turnaround schools

The study of Klugman et al. (2015) on turnaround schools in Illinois brings this ugly duckling tale into reality.  In 2013, the University of Chicago conducted a statewide survey involving school stakeholders.  The data from this research lead to findings on turning low to high performing schools.

learning in turnaround schools

Firstly, socio-economically disadvantaged communities and rural schools lack the support system they need.  In effect, these schools are at risk of lower student outcomes.

Now, what should be done to these schools?

Due to this inadequacy, providing the essential support system could provide a chance for these schools to transform.  More importantly, the following essential support factors should be considered:

  1. Effective leadership
  2. Collaborative teachers
  3. Involved families
  4. Supportive environment
  5. Ambitious instruction

If schools could look into these factors, then change may take place.  Perhaps, a strong support system could lead to better student outcomes.  Therefore, school leaders and district supervisors must meet these essential supports to improve the system.

Finally, current studies on school improvement and leadership establish the correlation between the two.  Hence, school transformation would require supportive leadership that fosters strong, effective instructional principles and practices.

References

Klugman, J., Gordon, M. F., Sebring, P. B., & Sporte, S. E. (2015). A first look at the 5Essentials in Illinois schools. RESEARCH SUMMARY.

A good research question leads to a good research

To start an educational research with a good research question is quite daunting for novice researchers.

Morphologically, the word research comes with a prefix ‘re-‘ like repeat or redo.  This signifies that it is a continuous action—a continuous search. As a cycle, the process of research does not seem to have a definite beginning and an end.

However, formulating research questions can be a definitive start for this cycle.

Thinking of a research question

A research question is an integral part of the research process. By starting with a question, a researcher can identify research problems and kickstart the research cycle.

In effect, identifying a problem during the early stage of research takes place by interconnecting with various sources.  For example, a researcher may look into experiences, theories, non-education sources, social issues, and related literature (Ary, et al., 2010).

Identifying the problem

Hence, for educational researchers, there is a need to look for problems from professional experience.   The school principal serves as a good starting point when it comes to looking for a research problem.

By informally asking the principal of his [perceived] struggles in his school,  he can give the researcher a piece of his mind by mentioning the challenges and the struggles he usually faces.

From this, the research journey begins, as we can start formulating some research questions.  Although one would wonder, “How do we form a clear research question that could give us a defined research problem?”

Planning the research

Subsequently, Cohen, et al. (2005) believes that a vital part of careful planning involves setting and making the parameters of the research clear and explicit. In his book, Cohen emphasizes the significance of defining the aims of the research.  Perhaps, this is a good way of managing the planning stage of the research process. Relatively, it enables the researcher to have a more focused research problem.

Moreover,  the purpose of the research needs to be well-defined.   The researcher has to base this on the topic and the research problem.  This could be anchored on personal and professional experience, as well as related literature (Cohen, et al., 2005; Cresswell, 2012). Consequently, this may lead to ideal research questions.

The combination of a clear topic, problem, purpose, and questions provide a strong foundation for a promising research. Other than that, supported readings and experiences could still strengthen the foundation of the study. This makes the entire research cycle a seemingly never-ending process of establishing one’s perceived ‘truth’.

 

Clearly, with a polished research topic, problem, purpose, and questions, educational researchers could produce a good research proposal and a more meaningful research experience. Therefore, before plunging into the design and methodology, we need to constantly consult our peers and research supervisors with regards to the quality of the research questions.

“Prevention is better than cure.” So, does this hold true for research?

Or should we say, “Is a good research really grounded on good research questions?”

References:

Ary, D., Jacobs, L. C., Razavieh, A., & Ary, D. (2010). Introduction to research in education (pp. 49-56). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education (pp. 43-50). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Top 5 reasons why teachers quit international schools and how to deal with it

In this fast paced world, teachers quit international schools for a hundred and one reasons. The departure of a teacher from a school is part of how human resource in an organization function. Indeed, it is a very personal decision too.

People come; people go. However, if there is a significant number of teachers leaving a school, the resultant impact is potentially destructive.

A study by Glenn Odland and Mary Ruzicka (2009) has deemed that a moderate turnover in a school is healthy. But, the recent statistics shows that teacher turnover percentages are in a pessimistic range. A high turnover of school teachers is not what we are after for. What are the reasons for this trend?

funny look at why teachers quit international schools

Reason 1: Causal factors related to administrative leadership and why teachers quit international schools

The central ideas of statement categorized to administrative leadership are:

  • Communication between senior management and faculty
  • Support from principal and senior management
  • Teacher involvement in decision-making

Support from the administrative level of the school and the involvement of the teachers in decision-making greatly affect the turnover of teachers.

With an autocratic system being practiced in the school, together with the culture which lacks appreciation, administrative leadership is a clear indicator why teachers quit their job.

Reason 2: Compensation package

The compensation package differs from one school to another. In effect, the school which provides a low compensation package to the teachers induces a large turnover of teachers.

Some teachers complain that the salary scheme they were on was insufficient for them to cover the living cost.

Reason 3: Personal circumstances why teachers quit international schools

Personal circumstances and teacher mobility are often correlated factors when teachers quit international schools. Similarly, personal factors are influential enough to contribute to why teachers quit international schools.

These factors are from individual preferences, but the most common ones include the following: the desire to explore new cultures and countries; boredom and exhaustion; and, family matters.

Reason 4: Issues stemming from private ownership

International schools are often highly-independent profit-based organizations. Some studies suggested that the leading cause of teacher turnover in international schools is governance issue in the school.

The dictatorial policies by the owner of the school, like micro-managing the school with poor resources and humongous profit, have caused great dissatisfaction among teachers. Hence, this has become the reason of departure of the teachers.

Reason 5: Misrepresentation during recruitment

This factor involves the perceptions of teachers on how the management treated them during the recruitment phase.  For example, teachers revealed discrepancies between “what they were told in interview” and “the real-life situation”.

In addition, the school did not fulfill the promises and the offerings written in the contracts. Therefore, teachers feel a huge deal of misrepresentation in the school’s situation, and this has caused them to leave.

What should international schools do?

Despite the factor of personal circumstances, the administrative level personnel is the one who bears the most crucial role in combating the issue.

They should provide necessary support to teachers. Other than that, they should also build more bridges and destroy walls between the administrative level and the teachers.

By doing so, opportunities involving decision-making should come with adequate and effective communication.

Furthermore, the school must give an accurate representation of EVERYTHING in the process of recruiting teachers.  This is to minimize conflict and misunderstanding between the school and the newly-recruited teachers.

Moreover, the study by Odland and Ruzicka (2009) has also suggested that the school can carry out interviews with all teachers who are resigning. Such information and data from these teachers are valuable to address the serious problem of why teachers quit school.

With respect to the salary, compensation must be reasonable in accordance with a teacher’s home country and the living cost in the host country.

The financial statements and budgetary decision-making procedures of a school should be transparent and accountable to build the trust and confidence among teachers.

In effect, teachers who have clear comprehension on important school matters will have less doubt and more trust to the school.

Perhaps, a supportive, democratic, trustworthy and transparent school administrative leader will greatly help in reducing teacher turnover rate.  They must share responsibilities and encourage involvement in decision-making, without neglecting the provision of reasonable compensation to the teachers.

 

Reference:

Odland, G., & Ruzicka, M. (2009). An investigation into teacher turnover in international schools. Journal of Research in International Education, 8(1), 5-29.

Assessments: Is it just about evaluating students?

Assessments have always been a part of the school system.  Well, some might say that this is just a rebranding of examination.  However, it is more than that.

Since we follow a system in which every unit is assessed with a summative task, it is just proper to plan relevant assessment methods.  Relatively, this could help students develop skills necessary to meet the objectives of the unit through the assessment task.

Needless to say, it is important to have clear goals to measure one’s success.  By looking at these learning objectives, a teacher could be sure that relevant tasks measure students’ knowledge and skills.

Planning assessments

To be more specific, here are some guiding questions a lot of teachers consider in choosing and planning formative assessment methods for their students:

Does this reflect students’ understanding of the content and the concept?  Will my students find it interesting? Does this meet the set objectives of the unit? Are my directions easy to follow considering the level of my students? Does this contribute to the development of knowledge and skills necessary for the summative assessment?

With these questions in mind and with the thought of the capabilities of students, the next step is to draft an assessment plan suitable to students’ needs.

Post-assessment

In order to support the learners’ progress, this assessment has to be continuously and consistently monitored.

For example, in a language class, teachers usually follow the writing process. Through this writing process,  students get to plan their work then draft their essays.

After that, teachers may ask students to engage in peer and teacher evaluation prior to submission of their final work. This process enables teachers to gauge whether the students are developing skills essential to the completion of the task.

Since this is a formative task, teachers ought to give opportunities for our students to learn from their work through an effective exchange of feedback in the form of comments, written or oral, and the use of rubrics.

Both teachers and students should look at assessments as learning tools instead of merely tools for evaluation. It is through this perspective that real learning takes place–learning that goes beyond marks and letter grades.

Differentiating lessons and catering to individual learner needs

A major aspect of differentiating the process is by using different materials and resources.  As a result, this must suit the need of the learners and the demands of the activity.

Though it may sound like a spectacle of sorts,  the quality of teaching is proportionally affected by the quality of learning materials and resources we use in class.

Differentiating content

In gauging the quality of teaching materials and resources,  we have to ask these questions:

  1. Are these resources and materials relevant to my lesson and my activity?
  2. Are these resources and materials appropriate for my students—their needs and their preferences?
  3. Will these resources and materials help my students in achieving their learning objectives?

However, the questioning does not stop there. The quality of these resources and materials had to be tested in the classroom.

For example, let’s take a look at one lesson in exploring the concept of IDENTITY through the movie, Divergent.

First, in introducing the concept of ‘Identity’,  the teacher may use the latest movie (Divergent, a movie adapted from a novel) students could relate with.

Assuming that a lot of students were able to watch this movie and read the book, they may easily able to grasp the concept.

On the other hand, some students may not be familiar with the book or the movie. So we may use slides (PowerPoint) to show the different factions and let some students share what they know about the movie and the book.

Through this harmonious use of resources and materials, students get a clear picture of the concept that leads to a meaningful and productive learning experience.

Differentiating the process

Various classroom activities lead to a higher level of learning outcome and holistic engagement (Marzano and Brown 157).

Again, this is anchored on the principles of differentiation.  Perhaps, we may plan teaching sessions in such a way that we divide the entire 80 minutes  into different segments of various relevant activities.  Thus, this leads to the realization of the learning objectives.

There is a need to put emphasis on the ‘Tuning In’ or motivation stage of the lesson. The first 15 minutes of the lesson is crucial in catching and keeping learners’ interest throughout the lesson.

By using social interactive strategies,teachers could catch the students’ attention. For example, teachers may refer to the latest  in popular culture.  More importantly, it’s always good to provide opportunities for students to talk about themselves.

As for maintaining their interest and making them stay on task, inconsequential competition could make the students more engaged.

During collaborative activities, students could work on differentiated tasks that follow the Multiple Intelligence theory.  As such, teachers may use a variety of question structures to make the students talk about their work.

Of course, stating the learning objectives at the start of the class and by reminding the students of their goals for the day help in managing the class.

By differentiating lessons, studentsMore importantly, teachers work specially on individual needs of the learners. won’t stray away from accomplishing their learning objectives. More importantly, teachers work specially on individual needs of the learners.

Engaging learners through curiosity and creativity

How do we keep learners engaged?  Getting engaged could lead to positive learning outcomes. However, achieving this is also a huge challenge for any educator.

Engagement is a major factor in pushing the students.  Perhaps to reach their full potentials, teachers need to make sure that students are holistically into what they are doing. (Marzano and Brown 157)

learners and creativity

Learners’ motivation 

Motivation is a powerful tool when dealing with any kind of learner. In effect, the power of knowing one’s students becomes effective in planning and carrying out activities.

The first five minutes 

The first minutes of the class play a crucial part in the learning cycle. Hence, teachers always need to make sure to open the class with a motivational activity.  Moreover, this should vary every now and then.

There is a need to spend a great deal of time thinking of a creative way to start the class.  After laying down the goals and outcome for the day, fun activities should jumpstart the lesson.

For example, this could be in the form of a game, a rhetorical question, a short clip, a song, an anecdote, etc.

These activities should be in the first 15 minutes of the session.  In effect, these lead to students getting hooked to class and wanting to learn more in the remaining time of the session.

Keeping learners productive 

One student quipped, “In English class, we’re always busy and time passes by so fast.”

Highly engaged students usually give positive feedback on their learning.  Furthermore,  students immersed in their work will always remember their lessons even after years pass by.  When asked about their work completed years back, productive students could easily relay what they did years ago.

learners in action

The value of creativity 

It is always good to know that students enjoy what they’re doing. It’s part of our basic human instincts that we do things best when we enjoy it.

Creativity is a key, and it is personal. Thus, in fostering learners’ creativity, it is a must that we know what our students want.

It is good to give them structure sometimes, but differentiating tasks make it more meaningful and personal to them.

For example, we could have just asked our students to do a research and write a journal, but that won’t foster creativity. As such, we’d rather give them options as to how they could show their research: by drawing, making a mind map, a PowerPoint, or short notes.

When learners are given the option based on their preferences, we allow them to explore their strengths. Eventually, this opens up doors to a collaborative environment and a better learning atmosphere banking on strengths.

Reference:

Marzano, Robert and Brown, John. A Handbook for the Art and Science of Teaching. US: ASCD, 2009. Print.

21st century teachers and students: The challenge of taking on the role as evaluators

Working in a school maximizes the learning curve of a teacher who also takes on roles as evaluators.  Being a teacher does not just limit one to teach in the classroom but also to learn from this environment.

As such, how can exposure to such ensure teaching and learning could improve in the process?

Students beyond students and as evaluators

Acquiring feedback on practices

Teaching is a never-ending process of learning. For a teacher to continue to improve his/her craft and avoid stagnation, it is a must to be involved in socialized practices.

In effect, these include collaborative means of acquiring feedback.  Likewise, this is something that any teacher won’t be able to learn from a teaching school.

Effective teachers learn best from practice.  In relation to this, teachers develop through time.  Perhaps, this is through a valuable acquisition of feedback from their peers and most especially the learners.

As teachers, we only get to realize the value of our program once we put them into practice. Whatever is written on paper will not reach its purpose until it has been tested in the four corners of the classroom.

Moreover, the best way to gauge the effectiveness of such plans is through consistent and coherent practice.

Henceforth, this can be evaluated by the use of feedback from our peers and from the learners.

Inviting peers as evaluators

Our fellow teachers have a major role in evaluating what we’re doing in the classroom. In fact, we have shared relevant experiences that no other supervisor, principal or superintendent could match.

Regardless of which subject area or level they teach, our peers share the same principles, methodologies, and practices that we do in our class. Though teaching from a different background, teachers can look at the universality of the topics.  In spite of differences in background, it is the practice that matters.

Being in the same department doesn’t really play a crucial impact at all.  More importantly, it is the feedback from an ‘outsider’ who is open-minded and critical that matters.

Students as evaluators

In a way, students, as the school’s primary stakeholder, have the full authority to evaluate teaching and activities.

This is due to the fact that they are the ones at the receiving end of the learner objectives. If they weren’t able to achieve these objectives through various means then teachers failed in transcending these goals to them.

Conservative teachers might think that these students, as young individuals, don’t have the capacity and responsibility to give a constructive feedback. For some,  adults should not take the children’s words seriously.

Perhaps, this is one of the best things we could impart to our students—how they could be effective evaluators.

If students could give such feedback, through guided reflection and other feedback gathering tools, then it’s a manifestation that they were able to express their learning.

Through reflections, students do not only think about what they have learned. As a matter of fact,  they also examine what happened around them including how the teacher has helped or could help them in the long run (Marzano and Brown, 78).

Such accounts could tell instantly say whether teachers do their part.  These are also indicators whether teachers meet the set objectives through the various teaching strategies.

In reality, effective practices involve the school community. As teachers, we should always look for constructive feedback from our peers and from our students.

Reference:

Marzano, Robert and Brown, John. A Handbook for the Art and Science of Teaching. US: ASCD, 2009. Print.