Pedagogue Blog

The Japanese Philosophy of Kaizen and U.S. School Reform

Education may very well be the single most important ingredient in allowing a person to achieve success in life. The ascendancy of each individual defines the prosperity of our society; school reform is the backbone of a continuously developing education system. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” Education is a continuous process of converting information into knowledge that can help students develop and explore further information.

In order to learn, a student must take new information and process it in a way that relates it to what is already known, and in the process form a newer, deeper understanding of the material. Just as learning involves changing one’s understanding of concepts and ideas over time, social phenomena such as education must also be subjected to ongoing scrutiny, evaluation, and change. It is necessary to recheck policies and practices upon which education systems are based, and continually strive to make improvements.

Constantly improving

The Japanese have a philosophy of continuous quality improvement called “kaizen,” which they apply to many areas of their life. Kaizen is the idea that one does not need to wait for something to be broken in order to fix it. Rather, one should always look for opportunities to improve upon current processes, making things incrementally better as time passes. This drive for continuous improvement should apply to our educational system; we need to constantly be striving to make things better, reevaluating how we do things, looking at the results we are achieving, and taking steps to improve things incrementally.

In the same way that kaizen theory speaks to improving life in general, we should apply the same principles to U.S. K-12 education. We must consider ways in which our educational system can and should grow, change, and continuously improve in ways to best serve our children. In order for the United States to continue to progress toward a knowledge-based society, it is necessary to reform and streamline our education system to enable the development and assimilation of information as knowledge. Our schools are the primary institutions to facilitate transference and conversion of information into students’ knowledge base. It is our duty to keep a watchful eye on the schooling processes, and to change educational policies and practices to ensure improvement.

Reform, or consistent improvements?

Over the past century, many reforms have taken place throughout the U.S., and on a continuing basis. Despite the constant need for change, very few, if any, of these reforms really made their way to the school level. Most of the initiatives that led to reform originated from dynamic leaders who were capable of implementing these changes in an extraordinary fashion, despite the presence of various radicals in strong opposition to these changes. However, as soon as the leaders moved on to their next challenge, these radical individuals returned to their old ways. The reform was diminished, and eventually there remained no trace of it.

Study after study has shown that the American educational system is not just in need of regular, continuous quality improvement. Something very different is needed since the system is in a state of fundamental disrepair. Our children are performing poorly compared to other developed countries. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are performing even worse.

Whether you believe that continuous improvement is good for our educational system or not, what is certain is that our educational system needs to change. Rather than always calling for radical reform when the numbers don’t work in our favor, always striving for improvement and never letting our classrooms become comfortable is a better route to K-12 success.

 

Educational Technologies and Concepts that Every Teacher Should Know: Part IV

Click here to read all the pieces in this series. 

By Matthew Lynch

In the first three parts of my five-part series, I discussed educational technologies and concepts that every teacher should know about. Today I want to continue that conversation today and look at several more technology features..

Screen readers. This technology is slightly different from text-to-speech. It simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or visually impaired can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who otherwise struggle to glean information from a computer screen can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them.

Mobile learning. Tablets and smartphones in the classroom are no longer a matter of “if,” but “when, and how quickly?” Administrators and educators can tap into the convenience of mobile technology in the classroom and the potential for student learning adaptation. Over half of school administrators say there is some form of mobile technology in their classrooms and that they plan to implement more when it is financially feasible. School districts should keep in mind that the purchase of mobile devices for K-12 use is only one piece in the learning puzzle. There must be funding for teacher training and maintenance of the devices too.

Learning analytics. This evolving concept in K-12 classrooms is different from educational data mining. It focuses on individual students, teachers, and schools without direct implications to the government. Learning analytics are the education industry’s response to “big data” that is used in the business world for improvements and redirection of focus. Learning analytics show students what they have achieved and how their achievements match up with their peers. If implemented correctly, this technology has the potential to warn teachers early of academic issues while keeping students more accountable. Using the mobile and online technology already in place, students can better track and tailor their academic experiences.

Open content. The rise of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, has trickled down from college learning to K-12 education. Increasingly, K-12 educators are also coming to believe that all information on any given topic already exists. In effect, a growing number of people believe that content does not need to be re-created or purchased, and the idea has gained steam among K-12 educators specifically. Within the next three years, expect more shared content available to teachers and to students. Open textbooks, resources, and curricula are not the only benefit of an open content push; shared experiences and insights are also valuable teaching tools.

3D printing. Also known as prototyping, 3D printing will allow K-12 students to create tangible models for their ideas. Many fields, like manufacturing, already make use of this technology to determine the effectiveness of ideas on a smaller, printable scale. In education, this technology will bolster creativity and innovation, along with science and math applications. The STEM Academy has already partnered with Stratasys, a leading 3D printing company, to start integration of the technology in programming classes.

Outdoor/environmental learning. In short, more schools are looking for ways to get students and teachers outside. We are in an era of experiential learning, so environmental education fits the bill for many students. Lessons in this field teach children an appreciation of the earth and of its resources that the human population is quickly depleting. A better, hands-on understanding of nature also helps with science comprehension and gives students practical learning experiences.

Research has also found that teaching outside, even for short stints, improves student attitudes, attendance, and overall health. In many schools, teachers have always had the freedom to take students outside if they deemed it lesson-appropriate. Look for more official outdoor-teaching policies in the coming year, though, that encourage teachers to incorporate outdoor and environmental learning in all subjects.

In coming posts, we will look at more technologies and concepts that every teacher should know.

Year-Round Schools: How it Affects Teachers

In my last post, I talked about the ways that students are impacted when they are on a year-round school schedule, instead of having traditional summers off. Today, I want to look at another group impacted by a break from the typical summer-break school calendar: teachers. Does a lack of a season of rejuvenation for educators lead to burnout in the classrooms – and how is pay impacted? Let’s take a look at these, and other implications, of year-round academic calendars and teachers. In this article, we will discuss how year-round schools affect teachers.

No Summers Off

Every job comes with its share of headaches and at one point or another, employees in all industries claim that they are “burned out.” Teaching is unique when it comes to burn out, though, because an unmotivated, exhausted teacher has a direct effect on the young people in his or her classroom. Summers off has long been the light at the end of the tunnel for teachers, particularly in urban areas with higher discipline problems and overcrowded classrooms. In a year-round setting, lengthy breaks are gone, replaced with shorter, more frequent ones instead. Though the loss of those summer months may at first seem like a drawback, many teachers end up liking greater frequency in time off. With shorter, more concentrated spurts of instruction, teachers can exert more energy and face the daily struggles with the hope that there will be relief soon. There is still as much time off, but it is more evenly distributed.

More Red Tape

Teachers who work at multi-track year-round schools, or schools that rotate student schedules so time off is staggered and the school is always open, have more work to do. Part of the financial allure of a multi-track schedule is that a school is always at full capacity which means that teachers share classrooms. “Roving” teachers have to live from carts or temporary storage in some cases in order to make their classrooms accommodating to other teachers. There are also cases where a teacher may not get the allotted time off because he or she is changing a grade level or subject and there is no time off between tracks.

Single-track setups feasibly have less of the issues of multi-track schools but there are still some conflicts, particularly if the teachers are parents too. If their children go to a traditional schedule school, their breaks may not line up and could lead to childcare issues.

Paychecks

In most scenarios, teachers make the same amount of money in their districts whether they work at a year-round or traditional school, though the pay schedules may differ. Teachers who made extra money teaching summer school still have that option in year-round districts that offer remedial courses during break periods. Where some teachers see the biggest economic cut when they teach year-round is in the three months of summer that other teachers often seek out part-time or seasonal work.

Based on the type of work, this could mean a loss of income in the thousands every year. For teachers satisfied with holding down just one job and paycheck, a year-round schedule may not have any economic impact on their families at all.

Research has not found any large negative effects on teachers who teach on year-round schedules instead of traditional ones. Like any profession, the preferable schedule depends on the individual. For veteran teachers who have been teaching in a traditional setup for years, a switch to year-round schooling may be more jarring than a newly-licensed teacher. Overall, though, the job and time off are comparable – just different.

What pitfalls do you think teachers on year-round schedules face?

HBCU Closures: A Reversible Trend?

Though their original purpose has evolved, the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is still a vital one in America’s education system. As more HBCUs start to look like the rest of the secondary education institutions in the country, they must find ways to blend tradition with progressive thought in terms of diversity and education for all. The rich history of HBCUs is not to be dismissed; in fact, it is those roots that make them a stable part of the U.S. higher education system. Except when that stability falters. Lately it seems there are just too many HBCUs in the news for the wrong reason: financial and accreditation woes that threaten, or deliver, closure. This begs the question, are HBCU closures a reversable trend?

On June 3, Saint Paul’s College officials announced that it planned to close its doors – at least temporarily. The news followed a proposed merger with Saint Augustine’s University that fell through. After 125 years, the rural school that employs roughly 75 people in the community of Lawrenceville, Virginia had no choice but to close its doors to new students, and help current ones find placement elsewhere.

After several years of highly-publicized financial problems, Morris Brown College turned down a bailout from the city of Atlanta in June that would have eliminated its bankruptcy troubles. In August, Morris Brown filed for federal bankruptcy protection to prevent foreclosure. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other city officials were more than a little surprised when the school rejected the $10 million offer that was designed to benefit the city too.  A Morris Brown lawyer said the rejection is due to the school receiving an undisclosed, better offer from somewhere else. For now, though, Morris Brown is still $35 million in over its head, by some accounts.

Why is this happening?

In the case of Morris Brown, a few factors play into the closure issue. The first is geographic location. Morris Brown competes for students with four other HBCUS – including nationally ranked Morehouse and Spelman colleges. The other is money – plain and simple. The alumni of Morris Brown contribute at a rate of less than 5 percent and board members are led by the African Methodist Episcopalian church – not affluent community members or alumni. Saint Paul’s has tried for several years to stay afloat, even cutting out its athletic programs to focus on academics, but to no avail. In both cases, lack of funds is due in part to low student enrollment and in part due to meager alumni contributions.

Specifics aside, though, I think HBCU closures are part of a larger issue. The original purpose of these schools was to provide higher education opportunities to black students and in many cases, to former slaves.  Morris Brown holds a particularly fond place in black education history because the school was founded by former slaves – not white people with philanthropic agendas.

The landscape of today’s colleges is not as exclusionary as it was even 20 or 30 years ago though. The higher education opportunities are literally endless for all students so the necessity of HBCUs, at least for diversity purposes, is no longer in play.

When is an HBCU closure good?

The old adage that any affiliated group is only as strong as its weakest link is certainly true when it comes to HBCUs. Morris Brown is still $30 million in debt after 15 years of financial struggle and has a dwindling student population. The successful years of the college are now tainted. Saint Paul’s lost its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and instead of carrying on classes as usual until an answer could be found, decided to close its doors. Though Saint Paul’s closure is a loss in the HBCU community, it is better than an unaccredited, affiliated school that harms the reputation of the rest.

What can be done to stop HBCUs from closing? 

The only way for any college to survive in the current educational landscape is for it to focus on the student experience above all else. For an HBCU that means letting go of polarizing “traditions” that do not welcome students of all backgrounds. There is a reason the word “historically” is used – the role of HBCUs today are much more complex and inclusive. It is not enough to expect students to want to attend a college based on the past. It needs to provide a promising future that is representative of the real world too.

How do you feel about the fate of HBCUs like Saint Paul’s and Morris Brown?

Read all of our posts about HBCUs by clicking here.

Teachers: How to Use Google Drive

By Catlin Tucker

For teachers who are just getting started with Google, Google Drive can be intimidating! In preparation for a Google training, I’ve put together a short explanation of Google Drive and its basic features. Although an increasing number of people have a Gmail account, I run into teachers all the time who are not sure what Google Drive is or how it works.

Google Drive is like a big virtual bucket! It’s where everything you create with Google apps–documents, forms, sheets, slides, drawing–are stored. And unlike a traditional word processing document, you never need to click “Save”…EVER.  Your work is automatically saved every 5 seconds (or so).

Google Drive comes with 15 GB of free storage, so you can save files, photos, and videos. You can access any file in your Google Drive from any device as long as you have internet access. This means you are no longer tethered to a piece of hardware. You can open, edit and share files from any device that can get online.

For those with unreliable internet access, you can also install Google Drive onto your devices and work offline. Then when you are back online, your devices will sync and store your work!

Here are some screenshots to help you navigate your Google Drive.

Organize your files in whatever order makes sense to you. You can limit your view to the files you’ve created, the files that have been shared with you or the files that have been most recently edited. This makes it easy to locate the files you’re looking for.

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Click on a file or folder and check out the “More actions” icon (3 vertical dots) to manage your documents more easily.

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Enjoy total transparency with the “View Details” icon (black circle with the letter “i” in the middle). Simply click on a file or folder and see all of the activity associated with it. You can see when documents were created, when they were edited, and who edited them!

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Last, but not least, you can insert files, photos and videos directly from Google Drive into your emails.

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If you use Google Drive and have tips to share, please post a comment!

 

This post originally appeared on Catlin Tucker: Blended Learning & Technology in the Classroom and was republished with permission. 

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

Standardized Testing for Colleges: A Necessary Evil?

Standardized testing in K-12 education is a perennial hot button issue. Proponents feel that measuring knowledge in these rigid ways helps lift the entire educational system. Critics say the measurements do nothing but encourage “teach to the test” methods and narrow the scope of what instructors are able to teach if they want to have acceptable test results. These arguments are nothing new, but they are now seeing a new audience.

What if the same principles of K-12 standardized testing were applied to colleges and universities? Americans spend over $460 billion on higher educational pursuits every year, yet there is no official worldwide system in place to determine whether students are learning what they should, compared to other schools. In June, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development unveiled research on whether a global testing system for college students is possible. The group will continue to review its findings and decide later this year if it wants to push for implementation of the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes test, abbreviated as AHELO.

Right now the comparison system for colleges and universities lies in the many rankings that are released each year by sources like U.S. News & World Report and hundreds of bloggers who weigh in on the topic. The AHELO would be a “direct evaluation of student performance at the global level…across diverse cultures, languages and different types of institutions.” It would provide institutions feedback meant to help them “foster improvement in student learning outcomes.” In a nutshell, the test would not actually measure student achievements as much as shine the light on instructors that need some improvement.

To K-12 students, this sounds familiar. To college faculty, the idea is fraught with landmines. How can one test take into account so many variables in higher education across the globe? Would instructors be punished by the institution, or even worse held to some misguided accountability scale by peers, if students did not rank highly enough on an AHELO, or some other test? If college is a time for fostering critical thinking skills, would a standardized test take away some of that freedom?

College instructors and administrators are right to have doubts, and particularly before any testing mandates go into effect. Take the classic college entrance exams – the SAT and the ACT. Though research has found little correlation between results on these tests and actual knowledge or intelligence, they are a standard part of college admissions. It is more difficult to reverse a testing mandate than to fight it off at the outset.

It is easy to see why colleges and universities are leery of standardized testing, but K-12 instructors should be too. Presently, K-12 instructors guide students through the formative education years, dealing with standardized tests and other demands of contemporary teaching. Success with those students is ultimately determined by two other numbers: graduation rate and college placement. At that point, a K-12 teacher’s job is done, at least in theory. Adding another layer of teacher testing (cleverly disguised as core knowledge testing) at the college level could have an impact on K-12 instructors too.

If the AHELO is designed to “foster improvement” in the higher education schools that are tested, who is to say that those ideals of improvement will not then be extended to the K-12 schools that came beforehand? A student who demonstrates below-college-level proficiency in language or math would in theory not be the product of college that failed him or her – that student’s incompetency would be a result of a previous school, or schools. Could a global test for college actually negatively impact the K-12 schools that preceded it?
As with any measurement of teaching and learning, the AHELO and other similar initiatives need close scrutiny before becoming global law. I am not sure of the necessity of such a system and it will take some hard arguing by the other side to convince me otherwise.

As with any measurement of teaching and learning, the AHELO and other similar initiatives need close scrutiny before becoming global law. I am not sure of the necessity of such a system and it will take some hard arguing by the other side to convince me otherwise.

Are you in favor of standardized testing in colleges and universities?

Becoming a Transformational School Leader

Though community-building takes time, its impact is long-lasting. In order to implement change in a school environment, creating a common vision is paramount. The biggest challenge for school leadership is handling different kinds of people, with various goals and interests. A school leader has to ensure that students are following curricula, excelling academically, and becoming outstanding members of society. In comparison, teachers’ are focused on meeting curricula deadlines and ensuring that students keep up with class work. The leader must confront student deviance , as well as teachers’ possible cynicism and lack of motivation.

A transformational school leader ensures students focus on their studies by being considerate of individuality, being charismatic in influencing them, and inspiring them. Instead of using set problem-solving techniques, he or she involves students and teachers to come up with solutions to problems as they arise. Transformational leaders in a school setting quickly identify areas in need of improvement, seeking out-of-the-box solutions. The leader identifies cynicism and intentions to quit among teachers, through consultation and individualized consideration. Realigning their values and goals to resonate with those of the school, the leader reassures teachers that they are needed and valued.

Emphasis in a transformational school shifts from “leadership” to “professionalism.” Direct leadership and professionalism do not mix. Studies show that professionalism cannot develop when stifled by command and instruction based leadership. Professionalism is more about competence than skill. It involves a higher degree of trust, and ensures a teacher’s commitment to caring, excellence, and to professionalism as a given.

T. J. Sergiovanni, proposed five alternative approaches to full transformational leadership in schools. These are:

• Technical leadership: sound management of school resources
• Human leadership: networking; establishing social and interpersonal bonds
• Educational leadership: expert knowledge on educational matters
• Symbolic leadership: role-modeling and behavior
• Cultural leadership: regarding the values, beliefs, and cultural identity of the school

The first three approaches—the technical, human, and educational aspects of leadership—are the primary influences on a school’s effectiveness. The symbolic and cultural aspects add the most value and are responsible for the overall excellence of the school. The traditional concept of direct leadership places an enormous burden on a school leader to run almost every aspect of leadership. Substituting a community-based approach, coupled with professionalism and cooperation, can produce speedy results. Transformational leadership can change the mindset of staff and students. Emphasis is placed on the school community, not just the leader’s interests.

Transformational leadership also brings about professionalism in the teaching staff by allowing them the autonomy and room to improve. Because a leader allows followers to meet and overcome challenges on their own, teachers are more involved in school affairs. Cooperative relationships are most likely to develop when challenges are surmounted together, without supervision from the leader.

Clearly, transformational leadership improves job performance through the four pillars of charismatic/idealized influence, individual consideration, inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation. Studies have now shown that it also positively affects the psychological well-being of employees.

Transformational leadership helps in individual goal-setting and goal commitment, by transferring responsibility- making the individual feel part of a whole. In a shift of focus, the leader no longer offers rewards, but empowers followers to become leaders through mutual responsibility and trust. This inspires staff performance beyond leader expectations. Transformational leaders help their followers maximize performance, by finding and emphasizing common ground.

Research studies suggest that highly effective leadership styles positively influence student performance. Transformational leadership can bring about a wide range of results at a personal level (i.e., followers’ empowerment and identity) and at the group or organizational level (cohesiveness and collective power to make changes). It produces these positive effects primarily by shaping the followers’ self-worth and promoting identification with their leader.

What distinguishes a transformational leader is the combination of head and heart, and the ability to understand and apply emotions effectively to connect with and influence followers. Transformational leadership results in wide-ranging changes wherever it is introduced and is effective in solving problems in the school environment. It would be prudent for school leaders in the U.S. to utilize it in their school communities.

 

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