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?”  

Capacity Building

Check the position of your capacity gauge, before tackling any challenge as it may take more or less than you “have.”  – William Maphoto.

Let us take a brief look at capacity building in schools, on the individual or personal level.  Michelle Maiese in “Capacity Building” (August 2005) stated: “capacity building aims to strengthen parties’ ability to work together for their mutual benefit by providing them with the skills and tools they need to define problems and issues and formulate solutions.”

Principals must constantly seek to build capacity in members of staff at all levels, teaching and non-teaching alike.  This will include constant monitoring, along with encouragement and support in upgrading qualifications and professional training.  This is a sure way to develop people and institutions and some individuals will be led to develop themselves way beyond all expectations.

They must be given more responsibility and freedom of action once they have proved themselves.  This brings me to the story of Mr. Michael Crawford, an outstanding teacher at my former school.  His story has already been told in the Nation Newspaper in Barbados and many people have been inspired by the former groundsman and porter at The Lodge school, Barbados, who became a teacher at the same school.  At present Mr. Crawford is the Acting Head of the Business and Computer Studies Department at The Lodge school, and from all reports he is doing a great job.

Mr, Michael Crawford left school at age 15 with no qualifications and first worked as a labourer and sugar cane cutter.  He came to The Lodge school as a groundsman in 1979.  His fine intellect was discovered by Mr. MacDonald Fingall, a dynamic and outspoken former physical education teacher, who often operated above and beyond the call of duty and who motivated and inspired many students who went on to become brilliant athletes, sportsmen, professionals and entertainers.

Mr. Fingall became Mr. Crawford’s mentor and drew his intelligence to the attention of the administration.  With encouragement and support from Mr. Fingall and Mr. Ishmael Roett, the owner of a private educational institution named ” The “O” Level Institute,” Mr. Crawford enrolled in evening classes and in due time passed his Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) certificates.  Then, in 1997 he sat and passed advanced level accounts.  In time, he registered as a student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in Barbados.

Throughout his studies he received the full encouragement, attention and support of the Board of Management, principal and staff of The Lodge School.  We made sure that he had the academic support and time that he needed.  Today, he holds a Bachelor of Science, Upper Second Class Honours Degree in Accounts, a Diploma in Education, and a Master’s Degree in Project Management.  He is a respected acting head of department and an excellent teacher as well.  He has come a long way and continues to serve his school in even greater measure.  Before I forget, he has also represented our school in cricket.

After I became principal we would talk about his progress from time to time and I assured him that the Board of Management, the staff and I would love to have him on the teaching staff.  He was still a porter at that time.  One of the happiest days of my tenure as principal was the day I publicly welcomed him as a member of the teaching staff of The Lodge School.  He has been an inspiration to many students and members of the non-teaching staff.  The Michael Crawford story is not an isolated case at The Lodge school.  Since then, a few other members of the non-teaching staff have gained university degrees with the full encouragement and support of the administration.

The Purpose of Schools

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.  What you gain at one end you lose at the other.  It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail.  It won’t fatten the dog.”  – Mark Twain.  

This post is related to the previous one.  Here are some perspectives on the purpose of schools as revealed by various individuals.  As can be expected, these perspectives vary from person to person, but there are also common elements.

What does my daughter’s style of dress have to do with her capacity to learn?”  – These are the words of an irate parent, whose daughter is in breach of the school’s dress code, to the principal.

Why do teachers get so much time off?” – This was asked by a parent who believes strongly in the baby-sitting function of the school.

Many years ago, John Dewey theorized that the purpose of schools was to transfer knowledge and equip students to participate in America’s democratic society.

George Counts argued that schools should prepare students to function well in society.

In 1982 Mortimore Adler stated in the Paideia Proposal that the objectives of schooling were:

  • The development of citizenship
  • Personal growth or self-improvement
  • Occupational preparation

In The Purpose of EducationNoam Chomsky asserts: “Education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own….”

Many businessmen and politicians believe that the purpose of schools is to prepare students for the workforce and facilitate upward social mobility.

Here are some notable objectives embedded in the purpose of schools today:

  • Imparting requisite knowledge, skills, values.
  • Providing credentials for students.
  • Teaching how to think critically, solve problems, and make effective decisions.
  • Providing practical experience.
  • Socializing students.
  • Social and emotional development of students.
  • Teaching good citizenship.
  • Social role selection.
  • Preparation for life in a globalized world.
  • The pursuit of individual and team excellence.
  • National development.

Students who acquire the intended emotional, social, and professional skills infused in the purpose of schools, should eventually make a positive contribution to their own development and that of their families, communities, and indeed, the wider world.

Philosophy of Education

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  – William Butler Yeats.

You are always a student, never a master.  You have to keep moving forward.”  – Conrad Hall.

Everyone who is involved in education should have a personal philosophy of education.  This philosophy should, of course, be compatible with the mission, vision, values, and goals of your particular school or office.  Administration, teaching, and learning cannot flourish in a vacuum; they need a clearly defined conceptual context.

I believe that each child is important.  As stated in the white paper on education reform for Barbados (1995), “Each one matters – Quality education for all.”  This document was produced by the Ministry of Education in Barbados.  The same view was echoed by another document: “Curriculum 2000, Barbados,” which also emanated from the same Ministry of Education. No child should be written off as hopeless.  We have to help them understand and solve their learning problems.

The highly controversial “No Child Left Behind Act,” which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002 was also an effort to ensure that all students in schools in the USA would get a good education regardless of race or socio-economic status.

The school must create an educational climate and organization in which the maximum potential of each student is developed to the fullest.  In some students this potential will be academic, in others it may be technical, artistic, musical, athletic, or something else.  It is the business of the school to identify it and foster it.  Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences can be very useful in this regard.  Teachers also need to understand the different learning styles of their students.

Teachers must be professionally trained to use various methodologies to facilitate maximum learning for each student.  Students must be encouraged to strive for excellence in all school activities, academic and extra-curricular, and to behave in an orderly, respectful and caring way.

I align myself with those experts who opine that students must be taught the foundations of learning: listening, speaking, reading, writing and mathematics.  They can then use the basic knowledge and skills learned in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and technology, to communicate, calculate, reason, and solve problems.  These are philosophical views that I share.

In short, the child is at the centre of the school.  Teachers exist because there are students.  All decisions in schools should be made with the best interests of the students foremost in mind.  Political considerations are of lesser importance.

Getting Promoted

Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work.  You have to fall in love with your work.  Never complain about your job.  You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.  That is the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”  – Unknown Quotes.  Added by Oswald.

There are not many opportunities for promotion in the teaching service so competition for them is fierce.  However, there are things that you can do to stand out from the crowd and enhance your chances of promotion.  They are all centred on hard work:

  • Upgrade your qualifications and skill sets to position yourself at the top of your field.
  • Pursue professional training.  This increases eligibility for promotion.
  • Develop a very positive work ethic and attitude.  You must have a huge appetite for work.  You learn and achieve mastery by doing things; not by reading about them alone.  This expertise is useful during interviews for higher positions, since you are speaking from actual experience and not educational theory alone.
  • Ask your principal for more responsibility.  Show him or her that you can successfully manage heavy workloads at levels above your current positional level.  You can join the timetable team, for instance, or help with curriculum design, special projects, event planning or public exam entries.  This way you will help to move the entire institution forward.  Show that you can move beyond the narrow classroom, department, and year group levels and see the big picture.
  • Never make excuses or blame others for your failures.  Accept responsibility and find solutions for the problems yourself.  Competent problem-solvers generally get promoted.  Be proactive.  Do not run to the principal when you have a problem.  Solve it yourself.  If you must go to the principal, make sure you have a solution to offer as well.  This way, the principal will see how capable you are.
  • Seek a mentor who is successful at the level you want to reach.  He or she can give you priceless guidance in your career path and inform others who matter, about your ability to function at a higher level.  Plan your career thoroughly and learn how to deal effectively with interview questions and scenarios.
  • Be loyal to your principal and do all you can to help him or her to achieve stated school goals.  This way you become a key member of the team and the principal will support your bid for promotion.
  • Be a mentor yourself to other members of staff.  Help them to develop their instructional skills, classroom management, pastoral care, professionalism, and engagement.  This enhances mutual trust and respect among all team members.  The entire institution will benefit.
  • Be professional and well organized at all times.  Pursue excellence and be a role model for all staff members.  Be consistent, dependable, and always offer ideas to improve school effectiveness.
  • See challenges as opportunities to demonstrate your ability and opportunities for growth.  Do not fear them.

There is no guarantee that any given individual will be promoted, as there are too many candidates chasing too few available positions in the teaching service.  However, there is general agreement among educational administrators that the recommendations given above can definitely improve your chances of being promoted.  In spite of political considerations, I believe that merit and hard work are still rewarded most of the time.