Teachers and Current Events

The first thing anyone can do, about any issue, is get informed. ”  – Adora Svitak.

Dictionary.com defines current events (also called current affairs) as: ” Present-time news events concerning important people, places, things, and ideas. ”  As a retired school principal I share the widely held view that genuine education cannot be restricted to a limited academic or technical curriculum.  Students should not be isolated from the world around them, which, through the marvels of information and communications technology, has shrunk to the dimensions of what is now called a global village.  We have to help students to understand the realities, nuances and complexities of the world in which they will have to live and work.  They must understand the constantly changing context in which they will have to function later as responsible and productive citizens.

Some short-sighted teachers argue that they are paid to teach a specific subject and nothing else.  That is not a tenable argument.  Teaching also encompasses the full development of each student as an informed individual with positive values and the ability to think critically, solve real-world problems and make sound decisions.  Some other teachers claim that the curriculum content is so vast and the high-stakes examinations for which they prepare students, so important and exclusive, that they do not have any time at all to discuss current events with students.  This is a mistake.  Teachers should not just teach to the test.  They must educate students in a more holistic way which links learning to real life.  Students need to become media-literate.  This is why discussion of current events is important in the classroom and at assembly.

Current events are directly connected to every subject and topic in the school curriculum.  Students should be encouraged to read, listen to, and watch news stories.  Teachers can organize short discussion sessions with students, during which they analyse and evaluate relevant information they glean from the news events.  Critical thinking must drive these group discussions and follow-up assignments may include essays or summaries which can be connected to elements of the curriculum.  The various media can be mined for authentic teaching materials in any subject area.  Teachers can also ask students how they would solve selected problems exposed in the news.  Students generally welcome these brief digressions from the regular lessons and tend to participate actively.

It is important to stimulate student awareness of local, regional, and international issues.  An understanding of social, spiritual, political, economic, scientific, and environmental issues, for example, will enable students to better understand the world and make life-enhancing decisions as they grow older.  Schools can subscribe to newspapers, magazines and online news services after vetting them for suitability.  These providers of information will also help students to expand their vocabulary and improve their reading comprehension skills.  Teachers and students can definitely benefit from the study of current events in the classroom.




Promoting Student Engagement

Student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning.  It is a product rather than a sum because it will not occur if either element is missing. ”  –  Elizabeth F. Barkley, Student Engagement Techniques.  A  Handbook for College Faculty. 

Researchers and practitioners in the field of education generally agree that students need to be engaged in order to learn.  It is safe to conclude, therefore, that higher levels of student engagement lead to higher levels of learning.  School administrators and teachers must focus on fostering and maintaining high levels of student engagement in order to enhance student performance.  It is common knowledge that learning decreases when students are not interested in their lessons, lazy, bored, unmotivated, or disengaged in any other way.

Let us take a closer look at student engagement and what it means.  Wikipedia states: ” Student engagement occurs when students make a psychological investment in learning.  They try hard to learn what school offers…..Students are engaged when they are involved in their work, persist despite challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work. ” 

The Glossary of Education Reform asserts: “ Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn. ” Note that engagement goes beyond mere motivation.  It also includes factors such as punctuality, regular attendance, and participation in extracurricular activities.

Student engagement lies within the domain of social and emotional learning (SEL), which helps to drive cognitive performance.  SEL has already been featured in a previous post in this blog.

This exploration of student engagement takes me back to my long gone days in secondary school.  This was during the era of chalk and talk, teacher-centred instruction.  We had a particular history teacher, Mr. Charles P., who clearly understood how to stimulate engagement among his students.  His personality, teaching style and methods were unique and riveting.  Despite the fact that history was considered by many misguided students to be boring and irrelevant to their perceived needs, nobody wanted to miss any of Mr. Charles P.’s lessons.  He knew his subject well and was always totally prepared for class.  We were awed by his ability to teach, recall events and dates and discuss issues without consulting any notes.  He had a conspiratorial and theatrical way of delivering his lessons and his language was very colourful and vivid.  His stories were interesting, exciting and often funny.  He connected history to real  life.  He made ample use of his remarkable sense of humour and we hung on to every word he uttered.  He developed good relationships with us and his standards and expectations were very high.  We did our best to meet those expectations although he was a tough marker.  We had to earn our marks or grades by taking responsibility for our own learning, but Mr. Charles P.’s passion for his subject was contagious and we had many laughs in his class.

There are many ways to promote student engagement.  They include creative lessons and interesting assignments and projects that require discussion, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.  What do you do to strengthen engagement in your classroom or school and, by so doing, enhance the learning environment?


Risk Management in Schools

To be alive at all involves some risk. ” – Harold Macmillan.

Many elements are involved in the creation of effective schools.  In this post we will look at some of the factors and best practices which are commonly found in risk management in our schools.

Every school must have a comprehensive risk management policy which enables the proper management of all risks and hazards faced by that particular school.  Risks have to be identified, assessed, eliminated or managed, and this entire process must be recorded.  Every individual on the school compound, staff member or student, has some responsibility in the identification, reporting, and management of risk although principals carry most of the responsibility.

Principals must identify, assess and manage or eliminate any risks or hazards that threaten the health, safety, and well-being of students, staff and visitors to the school.  Each principal is required to produce a risk management policy which is consonant with the needs of his or her school and the parameters set by the central Ministry of Education.  The principal must then put risk management strategies and systems in place and make sure that everyone complies with them.  This helps schools to attain their curricular goals and enhance their public image, since good risk management supports school effectiveness.

The Ministry of Education, the Board of Management and the principal of each school should arrange adequate insurance coverage for the school and its contents.  They should also ensure that any relevant legal liability, such as public liability, is fully covered.  Each school owes a common law duty of care to all its users.  Principals must prevent breaches of this duty of care, which would attract legal claims for damages caused by their negligence.

To this end they establish committees which deal with occupational health and safety risks and emergency management in each school.  The Board of Management and the principal of each school must also take various measures to create a safe and productive learning environment.  These measures include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Employing security guards to deter intruders and criminals.
  • Installing perimeter fences and guarded gates.
  • Trimming rotten branches from trees and removing rotting trees to prevent injury to students, staff and visitors.
  • Replacing broken panes of glass and repairing anything which can cause physical injury.
  • Repairing defective or damaged electrical, natural gas, or plumbing fixtures.
  • Repairing or removing any surface, structure or object which can cause any person to slip, trip, fall, or be hit by a falling object.
  • Keeping the school plant in good repair.
  • Keeping playgrounds and sports equipment in good condition.
  • Implementing safety regulations for the use of science laboratories and technical and vocational workshops.
  • Arranging supervision for all curricular and extracurricular activities, on and off the premises.
  • Insisting on written parental permission for all students going on tours, field trips or off-campus visits.
  • Ensuring that students who had any contagious disease have medical certificates stating that they can return to school.
  • Insisting that parents report their children’s pre-existing medical conditions when they are admitted into the school.
  • Enforcing all school rules.

The principal’s management team, the occupational health and safety committee and the students’ council all have special roles to play in risk management.  Finally, the principal must select interested members of staff for risk management training and should organize emergency practice evacuation drills from time to time.  One cannot overstate the importance of good risk management in schools and its contribution to a positive school climate.