2015 in review

I thank all my readers in 2015 for taking the time to read,comment on, or follow this blog, and I wish everyone of you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!  I look forward to your continued support and I am glad that you find this blog helpful.  This report shows how you helped the blog to perform this year. Many thanks to WordPress.com(Automattic, Inc.) also.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Courage for School Leaders

A common requirement of leaders at all levels is having the courage to make tough decisions and take difficult actions.  – David Cottrell and Eric Harvey.

I first came across Amelia Earhart’s poem Courage, in Leading from Within; Poetry That Sustains the Courage To Lead. Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, Editors.

Courage – Poem by Amelia Earhart

Courage is the price that Life exacts
for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not
Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter
joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living,
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we
make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless
And count it fair.

There is no doubt that effective leadership requires courage.  Principals and other school leaders create the learning environment and school culture by their daily actions or inaction.  They must demonstrate courage daily or they will become ineffective and this ineffectiveness will lead to low standards of performance and lack of commitment throughout the school.  Teachers and students will be affected.  School leaders must keep everyone accountable and focused on the task.

School leaders should do everything possible, within reason, to develop good relationships with members of staff, and they must also embody the mission, vision, and values of the school.  They must create policy to uphold those three guiding lights and implement necessary change with courage and self-confidence.

When leaders make tough decisions that some persons do not like, they must be willing to accept the risks and challenges that ensue, and still press on with their decisions.  They have to do what is best for the students and the school.  The first priority is to improve teaching and learning.  School leaders must, therefore, have the courage to make unpopular decisions.

Sometimes it is necessary to suspend or expel the children of close friends, neighbours, or influential persons in the society.  At times you cannot reassign a temporary teacher because of the teacher’s poor performance despite efforts to help him or her to improve.  It is sometimes necessary to confront delinquent or difficult teachers, sometimes even Senior or experienced teachers.  This confrontation and conflict is necessary, in the best interests of the students and school, since problems do not go away if you ignore them; they become worse.

In many cases school leaders, mainly principals, must have the courage to stand up to uncooperative and irate parents, members of the School Board, and even occasional policy dictates from the Ministry of Education that seem more political than educational or just plain impractical in your particular school environment.

School leaders also have to control difficult or emotionally disturbed students who may be inclined to violent behaviour.  Leaders have to make decisions and defend them at all costs since they are responsible for the safety of everyone at the school.  They must also deal fearlessly and sensibly with unauthorized intruders on the school premises.

These actions by school leaders often cause tension and negative changes in the relationships between the leaders and those reprimanded or sanctioned.  However, provided that the leader is acting fairly, consistently and in accordance with accepted practice and the stated mission, vision, policy, and the values of the school, most of the persons involved will respect the decisions taken.  The key is that these decisions must be made in the best interests of the students and the school.  School leaders must have the courage to make tough decisions even in the face of internal institutional political factionalism among sections of the staff.  One cannot please everyone all the time.

Many successful leaders have said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to take the right action despite any fear one may feel.  Some school leaders fail, not because they do not know what to do, but because they do not have the courage to do it.  I want to remind readers at this point that school leaders must develop positive relationships with their staff and students, and involve them in decision-making whenever this is possible or feasible. This will assist in building the trust that will allow staff and students to accept the tough decisions that school leaders will make from time to time.  School leadership is not a profession for the faint-hearted and leaders cannot be afraid to reprimand their friends or colleagues when it is necessary to do so.  Similarly, they cannot allow themselves to be intimidated by the possibility or reality of adversarial encounters with lawyers or trade unions in the legitimate execution of their duties as school leaders.







You have to make your own condensed notes.  You learn from MAKING them.  A lot of thinking goes into deciding what to include and exclude.  You develop your own system of abbreviations and memory methods for the information.”  – Peter Rogers.

This article is written mainly for secondary and tertiary level students and is supported by Wikipedia, several other educational sources and my own experience.

Note-taking is the process of recording information that you consider important.  This information may be taken from regular classes, lectures, conferences, discussions, books, the internet, or other reliable sources.  You should use key-words and short sentences as far as possible in writing your notes.

Teachers often present and emphasize in class the concepts and supporting points that students will need to pass examinations.  Therefore students need to know how to listen actively and take notes.  They also need to know how to read critically and analyse books, journals, and digital information in order to get to the most important ideas they contain.

You record the main points and, in so doing, create a permanent record of what was said or written by the source of your information.  Note-taking is an effective learning tool and a vital skill for all students.

The goal in sensible note-taking is not to record everything, but to have an accurate record of all the main points cited by your source.  Use your own words as far as possible as this will help you to comprehend the material subsequently.

Your notes can be reviewed in preparation for tests, assignments and projects.  If you are a skilful note-taker you will have all the required information at your fingertips.  I must add here that note-taking can easily be done electronically using laptops, tablets and other devices, and that there is software available that facilitates note-taking.

Note-taking is a practice that requires skill in listening and reading, determining what is important for your purpose, and recording it in the most concise way possible.  You do not want your notes to be too long.

Whether your notes are recorded in dedicated notebooks, folders or digitally, they should be properly organized and sequenced.  They will form an integral part of your personal information management system which allows you to retrieve needed information at will.

You can use abbreviations, diagrams, and a numbered or bullet system to make your notes shorter.  Mind maps will be helpful as well.  Many students prefer to write notes in the form of sentences.  Some underline or use different colours or highlights for more important information.

One of the major challenges in note-taking is that it is often a race against time, especially if you are taking notes from a lecture or discussion, since people speak faster than you can write.  The key is is to listen attentively, select what is really relevant and important, and jot it down quickly, rather than trying to write everything that is said. Afterwards, you must review and edit your notes.  Recite your notes in preparation for examinations.

Interested readers can research different note-taking methods or systems in order to be more effective in this practice.  Choose the method(s) you are most comfortable with.  I will end this discussion by mentioning five well-known note-taking methods you can research, namely, the Cornell Method, the Outlining Method, the Mapping Method, the Charting Method, and the Sentence Method.  You will find them here.

New School: Choosing New Friends.

A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.”  Unknown.

“A man is known by the company he keeps.”  Proverb.  Euripides.

The choice of friends is one of the most important and far-reaching decisions all students have to make.  Many research studies and empirical evidence show clearly that friends can have a huge impact on your life.  The friends you choose can influence or determine how you think and behave.  Choosing friends well is a very important skill that all students do not possess.  Over the years I have seen many students excel at school or underachieve and become disruptive, largely as a result of the direct influence of their chosen circle of friends.  Parents and teachers need to guide students in the selection of their friends, although this may be difficult at times.

Here are a few guidelines relative to the choice of friends, that most educators agree on.  Choose serious friends who value schoolwork, respect school rules and who are academically well-organized.  They generally have positive goals in life and work to achieve them.  You can help and inspire each other to attain success.  You can form very effective study groups and participate in extra-curricular activities together, to your mutual benefit and the benefit of the school.  Choose friends who will help you to realize your dreams.  Real friends will not encourage you to do anything wrong.

Avoid choosing friends who do not value schoolwork and who tend to be disruptive.  Reject any tendency on your part to be like them in order to gain acceptance from their group.  They will subject you to negative peer pressure and if they are popular and influential you may not resist.  Think for yourself, decide what is best for you and ignore negative peer pressure.  This is hard to do for some students who want to belong to a group at any cost, and gain the approval of that group; even if it means refusing to work seriously or breaking the school rules and getting into trouble.  For students who lack strength of character, peer pressure can become more important than parental or school values.  Be strong.  always let your thoughts, words and actions reflect what is best for you.

Develop self-discipline and self-control.  Do not choose friends who want to stop you from being your true self and do not let friends choose your behaviour and actions for you.  Define yourself and choose accordingly.  Drop friends who do not share your values and interests.

There is a well-known proverb which states “Birds of a feather flock together.”  Choose your friends wisely since students and people in general tend to mimic the values and behaviour of their friends for better or worse.  You can often predict how a student will perform and behave by observing the friends he or she chooses.

The Power of Reading

He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”  – William Godwin.

If anyone were to ask me what is the most effective learning tool available to students, my answer would be frequent reading.  I can speak of this from personal and professional experience.  Students can read traditional books or they can read online.  In fact, online reading is growing by leaps and bounds these days.

Educational experts agree that there is a strong correlation between extensive critical reading and higher academic achievement.  Eclectic and targeted reading both lead to significant acquisition of knowledge.  Habitual readers develop their reading comprehension skills and derive greater meaning from the text.  They get better at doing this with practice and at the same time they develop their higher order thinking and learning skills along with their understanding of abstract concepts.  All of this helps to create a much better student in the long run.

Some time ago Forbes indicated that studies show that reading fiction increases the readers’ emotional intelligence.  This then gives them a better understanding and management of themselves, people, and events in real life.  Dan Hurley, in an article in theguardian (23 January 2014) “Can reading make you smarter?” and in his book Smarter affirms that reading can increase all three major categories of intelligence.

Let us consider some aspects of the power of reading in the academic lives of our students:

  • Reading facilitates lifelong learning.
  • It facilitates research and progress in any subject.  Students can improve in their weak areas by reading.
  • Literature and history teach human behaviour and enhance students’ social and emotional intelligence.  They also teach analytical skills.
  • Reading allows students to stay ahead of the class.
  • Students are less dependent on the teacher.  Reading gives new ideas.
  • Research shows that reading improves students’ grammar, vocabulary, and use of language.
  • It is good preparation for higher education.
  • Reading develops the creative imagination.
  • Students learn to select and summarize the important information in any text.
  • Research has shown that regular reading stimulates improvement in logical thinking skills.
  • Reading leads to improvement in all communication skills.
  • Reading improves intelligence.
  • Reading enhances memory.

Given all the positive points about the power of reading stated above, there can be no doubt that reading is a very powerful learning tool for all students.  Parents and teachers must encourage students to read on a regular basis.  All the information in the world is available in books and online.  Teachers are no longer the main repositories of knowledge.  Of course, students should seek help when they do not understand certain elements of what they are reading.

Finally, if students continue reading on a regular basis, most of them will discover at some point, that in addition to its utilitarian value, reading can be a source of great pleasure or satisfaction.  When students reach this point in their intellectual development, the real power of reading becomes evident and they accept greater responsibility for their own academic and personal progress.  Two tools that complement critical reading are effective summarization and concise note-taking in the students’ own words.  This helps them to construct their own knowledge.

Summer Learning Loss

Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”  – Isaac Asimov.

Every year millions of students all over the world eagerly look forward to the long summer holidays.  In the tropics they are more likely to be called the long holidays.  When I was a boy, at the start of these holidays we would sing variants of the song: ” No more Latin, no more French, No more sitting on the hard school bench,” as we anticipated a couple of months of freedom to go to the beach, play all sorts of games, and have all kinds of fun.  It was one of our favourite times of the year.  However, both then and now, it is not a good idea to spend the entire summer vacation just having fun and watching television every day.

Empirical evidence shows that many students forget substantial portions of what they learned during the school year, over the summer holidays, if they are not involved in summer learning activities.  They definitely lose some of their reading and mathematical skills.  Various studies also indicate that this summer learning loss is worse among students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.  Probably because there is less intellectual stimulation and fewer learning resources in their homes.

Students need to maintain a viable level of academic engagement over the long summer holidays.  This prepares them for the higher demands of the following school year.  This helps them to keep pace with new curriculum requirements instead of falling behind at the start of the new school year.  Various studies suggest that students lose two to three months worth of learning during the summer if there is no academic stimulation.  The greatest learning loss occurs in mathematics.

To prevent or minimize summer learning loss, experts say that students must practice reading, solve a few mathematical problems and participate in enrichment activities for a short time every day during the summer holidays.  They recommend about thirty minutes of reading and a few (less than five) mathematical problems per day.  They also recommend regular visits to the library and museums.  Academic summer camps or programmes and educational tours can be very helpful.  Of course, parents and guardians must monitor or supervise these activities to ensure that students are really engaged.  In some cases a tutor may be useful.

Students can be allowed to choose some of the reading material.  Parents can question them about what they are reading.  Let them write short essays or stories from time to time.  For the mathematics parents can buy workbooks at the appropriate grade or form level.  Let the students work with the books which will be used during the next school year as soon as they become available.  There are many free online lessons and programmes in various subject areas and online educational games.  Students should be encouraged to spend a short time, on a regular basis, reviewing previous notes and corrected work.  They should focus on improving their weak areas.

The practices mentioned above are recommended by many educators and will keep students’ scholastic skills sharp over the long holidays and reduce or eliminate summer learning loss.  They will also help students to take responsibility for their own learning.  Fortunately, they will still have a lot of time left every day to have fun.

Up-To-Date Teachers

Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence.”  – Abigail Adams.

In order for teachers to remain effective over the years, they must keep up-to-date with constant changes in educational research, development and policy.  There are frequent changes in curriculum, assessment modalities, and economic realities that affect the teaching and learning environment.  Teachers have to keep pace with these new developments and trends or fall behind, lose their competitive edge and place their students at a disadvantage.

As in other professions, teachers must find the time to practice lifelong learning in their subject areas and pursue continuing professional development (CPD).  They need to keep up-to-date with new pedagogical methods and best practices in their field.  These measures are equally important for inexperienced and veteran teachers.  Time does not stand still and students have differing needs.  Teachers cannot continue to teach the same content in the same way, in every class, from year to year.  The educational context keeps changing.  In other words teachers must keep their subject knowledge, pedagogical skills and communication skills up-to-date on an ongoing basis.

They promote high standards of work and have high expectations for their students.  They should also make it a point to share their new knowledge and skills with colleagues and students so that the whole institution benefits. They can also share with other schools through professional organizations or personal networking.  Everything should be done to enhance student attainment.

There are many ways for teachers to keep their practice up-to-date.  The internet is an invaluable tool in this respect. Enormous amounts of information on any subject are available online.  So is the latest in professional development and communication skills.  Educational technology is there for the taking and teachers can take full advantage of it. Bring it more fully into classroom practice and homework.  Read educational blogs, newsletters, access podcasts, follow webinars and relevant social media pages.  There are also helpful e-books and audio books.  You can create your own personal learning network (PLN) online.

Mentors can be very helpful in helping to keep teachers up-to-date.  They can provide needed information and help to hone your teaching skills.  Teachers should also join or form professional subject organizations and participate in departmental activities that promote excellence and best practices.  Each teacher must read educational literature since you need to locate your practice within appropriate educational theory.

Conferences, seminars, Edcamps, research, and projects also play a definite role in keeping teachers up-to-date. Short courses, upgrades of qualifications or professional training, where necessary, can also increase teacher readiness and effectiveness.

Many educational experts recommend the suggestions given above to keep teachers current with any new developments or requirements.  They also agree that teachers who remain up-to-date increase their expert power. Their students learn more and their colleagues look to them for leadership.  Up-to-date teachers quickly notice any changes in the educational environment and they prepare their students for them in a timely manner.  They are also up-to-date with their daily planning, preparation, curriculum pacing, and record keeping relative to their students.

Oral Participation

A wise man speaks because he has something to say, a fool speaks because he has to say something.”  – Plato.

Student oral participation in the classroom is often underused and undervalued in secondary schools.  I am using the term “student participation” to include all forms of oral student contribution to learning during lessons.  This ranges from voluntary information and responses to questions asked by the teacher, to formal individual and group oral presentations, role-playing, debates and discussions.  Oral participation by students is a great learning and assessment tool and I would recommend that more teachers add it to their assessment methods every term.  It can be used in any subject area.

Some students naturally ask a lot of questions and give useful information to the class.  They should be rewarded for this and teachers need to encourage more students to do so by calling on the more silent ones to answer questions or explain appropriate elements of the classwork or homework to their classmates.  Over the term everyone can be assessed for oral participation.

For more formal oral presentations, the teacher chooses the topics and students can use the chalkboard and any other helpful media they can find.  Time limits are given for the presentations so that all individuals and groups can be accommodated over a reasonable period of time.

While any individual student or group is doing an oral presentation, the teacher and the other students are free to ask questions at any time, make comments or challenge points the presenters make.  The teacher can supply any important points omitted by the presenters or correct mistakes at the end of the session.  The other students can take notes and a test can be given after the teacher deems that everyone has met the relevant learning goals.  Of course, students are given marks or grades for their presentations.

Students generally enjoy oral participation in class and it enhances learning and critical thinking.  They get immediate feedback from classmates and teachers.  They have to learn the material thoroughly in order to explain it and this improves their metacognitive skills.  Being questioned or challenged forces them to think quickly.  Everyone ends up with new knowledge and skills and this is a welcome break from teacher-centred lessons.  Oral presenters also improve their communication skills and self-confidence.

Some teachers may find oral participation and presentation in the classroom somewhat time consuming and noise levels may increase at times.  However, the advantages definitely outweigh these disadvantages.  In addition, good public speaking skills are valuable.  Interested readers can also peruse “Benefits of Student Verbal Presentations To the Classby Gilda Haber.

Teacher Power

What a teacher writes on the blackboard of life can never be erased.”  – Author Unknown.

French and Raven (1959) identified five forms of power that teachers and other leaders use: Attractive (Referent) Power, Expert Power, Reward Power, Coercive Power, and Position (Legitimate) Power.  These are all used in varying degrees and combinations at different times in the classroom and any other workplace.  Hurt, Scott, and McCroskey (1978), state that in the classroom “a certain degree of teacher power is always present.”  Indeed, if teachers do not exercise the various forms of power at their disposal, they would not be able to manage their classrooms properly.

However, the purpose of this post is not to examine these five forms of teacher power in detail, in an abstract manner,  but within the context of the power that teachers have to develop their students and shape their future lives.  The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity. Students never forget good or bad teachers and many of them return, years later, to thank the good teachers who inspired them and helped them to achieve success in school and in life.  This is one of the highest rewards a teacher can receive.

Highly skilled and caring teachers, who earn those rewards, understand that coercive power and position power alone are not enough to create nurturing relationships and a classroom climate which is conducive to optimal student learning. Sometimes these teachers are more influential than parents and they must take this responsibility seriously.  Skilled teachers rely more on communication, student participation, and positive relationships to get students to work.  Students should be heard in the classroom.  Their views are important and they should be expressed without fear of failure or ridicule.

Teachers who use their power wisely are keenly aware that they have multiple responsibilities towards their charges. They are equally aware that their students’ behaviour and academic progress depend to a large extent on how well they, as teachers, meet those responsibilities.  In terms of discipline they are firm, fair and consistent.

They never shortchange their students.  They respect their responsibility to do all they can to enhance student learning.  To this end, they take responsibility for their own professional development and seek every opportunity to improve their teaching.  They often sacrifice personal time to assist struggling students.  They also take the time to know their students and their individual social, emotional, and academic needs.  These teachers tend to concentrate more on their attractive, expert, and reward power.

They know that getting students to like them, within reason, is half the battle won.  An attractive personality is an asset and it is a fact that students generally work harder for the teachers they like and respect.  It is also known that students are impressed by, and tend to admire and emulate teachers who are experts in their subject areas. Rewarding students for good academic performance and conduct speaks for itself.  The judicious use of teacher power is a valuable tool in shaping student performance and in the attainment of school goals.

Raven (1965) added a sixth form of power: Informational Power, to the list.  This is demonstrated when you give information to someone which causes them to change how they think and act.  Constant awareness of teacher power leads to more effective teaching.

School Effectiveness

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  – Winston Churchill.

All principals want to improve the effectiveness of their schools.  This is a never-ending concern.  It leads to constant evaluation of school performance and an ongoing search for strategies to improve school performance, based on the improvement of teaching and learning.

Dr. Lawrence W. “Larry” Lezotte, an American educational researcher, was a leader in the Effective Schools Movement which began around 1966.  Before this movement many people, like sociologist James Coleman, were convinced that students’ academic progress depended mainly on demographics and the socio-economic status of the family and the given community.  The prevailing belief was that schools could not do much to improve students’ academic performance in this context.  Dr. Larry Lezotte has a different view.

Wikipedia informs us that in 1991, Lezotte published “Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation. He asserts that they are common to all effective schools and stated that they were:

  1. Instructional leadership.
  2. Clear and focused mission.
  3. Safe and orderly environment.
  4. Climate of high expectations.
  5. Frequent monitoring of student progress.
  6. Positive home-school relations.
  7. Opportunity to learn and student time on task.

These seven correlates have proved their effectiveness when applied in many other schools.  Dr. Larry Lezotte also published “What Effective Schools Do” in 2010.  This book sought to prove that schools could improve student attainment levels significantly despite realities such as socio-economic status and race.

Dr. Larry Lezotte’s seven correlates of effective schools give us a solid framework which we can use to improve school effectiveness.  Students and teachers alike will benefit from it and school culture will change for the better.  Following the lead of olsond6, who has reblogged this post after reading it, I now take this opportunity to ask other readers “how is your school doing in each of these seven correlates?”