Don’t Worry About Making Teachers Happy

Happiness workshops and growth mindset training for teachers are on the rise. These are neurotic behaviors in effort to soothe teachers’ anxiety. We are treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.

Don’t worry about making your teachers happy. Instead, do this:

Give teachers a viable salary. Eliminate stressors of paying bills, working multiple jobs, and supplementing livelihood with debt. Teaching is a demanding job with enough stress. Pay them enough to provide them emotional well-being. This includes beginning teachers; they should not have to work 10-15 years for a district before they reach that level. (Besides, many of the best teachers won’t. They will leave.)

If you take care of teachers, they will take care of our students.

Give teachers autonomy. Free teachers from textbooks and the culture of overvaluing standardized tests. If you are recruiting and retaining the best teachers, they know what is best for students. Many teachers are suffering under test prep, worksheets, carrot and stick reading programs, scripted lessons, and other nonsense.

Stop trying to make teachers happy, and begin by not making them miserable. Give them this and you will set them on being content and fulfilled.

Our students need robot insurance.

robots coming title banner

Years ago Saturday Night Live shared a brilliant commercial parody for robot insurance to protect seniors from the attacks of robots wanting their medicine for fuel. Actor Sam Waterston authoritatively warns, “You need to feel safe, and that is harder and harder to do now-a-days because robots can strike at any time.”

There is enough fear-mongering around the future of our students, but we do need to realize that robots are coming and will change career opportunities for our students. There is a spectrum of concern around future automation ranging from possible robot domination liken an Isaac Asimov story to the languid human passengers in WALL-E. For some time robots have not only performed physical tasks but also tasks that fall under Artificial Intelligence. Both of these domains are increasing with back-flipping robots and computers that can beat humans at chess and Go. The combination of AI and robotics will be incredible.

With artificial intelligence, our cars will be self-driving, well before they are flying. Tesla announced a launch of semi trucks and orders from companies are already coming. Estimates vary how long to driverless vehicles will be implemented, but most agree it is within the lifetime of our students. Uber is even on the verge of changing it’s business model with the purchase of driverless cars. (Still think we need an Uber for education?) When you think about driver-less cars and the fact that driver is the most common job in many states, you can see that we are about to have a major shift in job opportunities..

Will Robots Take Our Children’s Jobs?, by Alex Williams, was published this week and is a good  article for educators to begin thinking deeply about what this upcoming change in jobs should mean for schools. Williams explains even unexpected jobs like some lawyers, bankers, and even surgeons roles may be at risk of being transferred to robots.

So am I paranoid? Or not paranoid enough? A much-quoted 2013 study by the University of Oxford Department of Engineering Science — surely the most sober of institutions — estimated that 47 percent of current jobs, including insurance underwriter, sports referee and loan officer, are at risk of falling victim to automation, perhaps within a decade or two.

Williams does balance this outlook with the perspective that experts share that even with more technology, more work is created.

Another talk by David Autor, an economist, argued that reports of the death of work are greatly exaggerated. Almost 50 years after the introduction of the A.T.M., for instance, more humans actually work as bank tellers than ever. The computers simply freed the humans from mind-numbing work like counting out 20-dollar bills to focus on more cognitively demanding tasks like “forging relationships with customers, solving problems and introducing them to new products like credit cards, loans and investments,” he said.

But considering the pace of adoption of automation and with it  no longer primarily affecting manufacturing, it is realistic to believe that there will not be enough employing jobs for everyone in the near future. This is not to say there is a finite number of jobs or that these jobs will no longer exist, but students are prepared for known and defined jobs that will be executed by machines.  One possible solution to this cost of high productivity is Universal Basic Income.

“Albert Wenger, an influential tech investor, promoted the Basic Income Guarantee concept. Also known as Universal Basic Income, this sunny concept holds that a robot-driven economy may someday produce an unlimited bounty of cool stuff while simultaneously releasing us from the drudgery of old-fashioned labor, leaving our government-funded children to enjoy bountiful lives of leisure…”

I have no idea what Universal Basic Income (UBI) would do for us or to us.  You can find many swelling economic and social debates around the conversation as it grows as a possible imposed policy. In our culture, we already connect our value to the salary we draw. People need purpose and social connection and technology’s rapid movement is outpacing our management of handling negative side effects. (We are beginning, too late, to understand the ways that social media combined with AI makes us more anxious, influenced, and authentically disconnected from others.) Regardless if we implement UBI, the seriousness of the discourse shows real concern there will not be enough jobs for those seeking one.

Sure. As we move to not knowing what work faces our students, development of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are important. (These skills  always have been, not just in this century.) But we will have to go further than this alliterated mantra, because the implied is an assumption that someone else will be creating jobs for them to step into once they are done with school. The quite possible eventuality is that someone creating jobs will have to be them.

The insurance we need to provide to our students includes nurturing self-awareness and the ability for choosing work valued by them and their community.  Perhaps it is a pie shop, making handcrafted shoes, or helping others to learn how to sing. I do not know, but what students will have to know is that it will be up to them, and schools need to prepare them. Schools need to better balance agency with assignment, exploring with guiding, and conscientiousness with compliance. Mostly schools need to look less like standardized tests.

Students are living in a world in which what can be standardized can also be replaced. It is time schools joined that world.

Deeper Dive:

Will Robots Take My Job — Interesting website that allows you to type in a job and in return it offers how susceptible that job is to being automated. Pulls information from the above quoted University of Oxford study and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If we do not figure out this job shift, we are going to need psychologists. I checked psychologist. It only had .43% possibility of automation. (Teachers are fairly safe, too.)

Two really smart guys talk about sociological/psychological implications of Universal Basic Income.

Universal Basic Income-Right now you are either thinking it sounds like socialism or coming up with excuses why it isn’t socialism.

Student Data is the New Oil — This article by Audrey Watters is from several years back, but still right about what is happening with data. AI is increasingly used to analyze data and there are entities using that to move us as humans. That is part of the digital citizenship we need to teach students.

Are your teachers using Teacher Pay Teachers and does it matter?

There is a good chance they already are using it or something like it.

Teacher Pay Teachers has been in business since 2006 and tout around 4 million users. Before that, teacher blogs offered up lesson plans that colleagues outside their district could access. Now there is a growing swell of using Open Edcuational Resources (OER) with their mantra of: digitized, free, and editable. These online off-the-shelf lesson plans are available and teachers are downloading worksheets all the way to whole unit lesson plans.

But do they improve student outcomes?
A recent research study says it does. (The study focused on middle school math lessons.)

Only providing teachers with online access to the lessons increased students’ math achievement by 0.06 of a standard deviation, but providing teachers with online access to the lessons along with supports to promote their use increased students’ math achievement by 0.09 of a standard deviation.

The researchers felt secure in their findings to even suggest the following:

The intervention is more scalable and cost effective than most policies aimed at improving teacher quality, suggesting a real benefit to making high-quality instructional materials available to teachers on the internet.

  • Are your teachers using online lesson plans?
  • Do you even need textbooks any longer? 
  • Do you have an assessment framework to discern the wheat from the chaff? 
  • Who owns the lesson plans created by your teachers?
  • Do you provide funds for online lessons or do your teachers pay for it? Should they?
Deeper Dive
You can download and read the full study Can Online Off-The-Shelf Lessons Improve Student Outcomes? Evidence from a Field ExperimentGuess what it says about benefits for weaker teachers.
How the Internet is Complicating the Art of Teaching-A bit of an OER pump piece, but does provide some thought provocation about lessons and lectures being made available online.
Before you worry that your teachers will make bank from Teacher Pay Teachers and leave your district check out “Etsy for teacher? TpT becomes hub for education materials.” (With only a few teachers becoming millionaires, the earnings fall on a Pareto distribution.)
Open Education Resources Commons The movement does not want to only be a bank of lesson plans. They want engagement and co-creation.

Personalized learning, “You keep using that word…”

Many have pointed out how Star Trek predicts or shapes our use of technology. As our standardized test fetishization grew, computers become more accessible, and software became more complex, I worried that schools would become like the Vulcan academy. Students thrust through the standards at different paces and depth levels, while teachers become more like proctors.

If test scores are our primary focus, the machine can beat us and our teachers become John Henry.

As you look at personalized learning, keep asking some hard questions. What will be the role of the teacher? Where is the curriculum originating? How are students gaining agency?

Continue reading “Personalized learning, “You keep using that word…””

Thinking about thinking

Metacognition saw a boost of interest in public education with the ongoing hullabaloo around growth mindset. Some good points around “thinking about thinking” were introduced, but some of the nuances were lost and some rightly criticized what was being practiced was more akin to Harold Hill’s “Think method.” Even Carol Dweck, the researcher who set the recent growth mindset movement in motion, had to clarify how the work was misinterpreted.

Hopefully this positive “thinking about thinking” will lead us to continue to coach metacognition to our students. A recent article, ” A Stanford researcher’s 15-minute study hack lifts B+ students in the As,” gives some evidence that strategizing about how you will study and why, provides an increase in performance.

In the study Chen led, researchers conducted two field experiments in which some university students were offered a variety of prompts to help them think carefully about how they studied, and how they might study more effectively for an introductory statistics class exam. The other students—the control group—simply received a reminder that their exam was coming up and that they should prepare.

Those who reflected on how they wanted to perform and what they needed to do to perform better outperformed those who did not, by an average of one-third of a letter grade. Those who received the intervention prompts twice did better than those who received it once.

“Our key insight in this research is the importance of being goal-directed and thoughtful about how one chooses and uses resources for learning—or to achieve any other goal for that matter,” Chen said.

The article states that much of this seems intuitive, that identifying resources and putting together a strategy for success is well known. The idea is to coach this as much or more than the content.

The survey then asked the students to reflect on what kinds of questions the exam might include, and to identify which of 15 available class resources they would use to study, including lecture notes, practice exam questions, textbook readings, instructor office hours, peer discussions, and private tutoring. They were asked to write down why each resource would be useful and how they would use it, effectively mapping out a study plan.

Getting students to become aware of their own awareness and thinking about thinking is better than any grade you can give them.

Side note: This article also reminded me of Daniel Pink’s reference to Dr. Mike Pantalon’s two irrational questions for influencing/motivating others.

How ready are you to take your math exam, on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means not ready at all and 10 means totally ready? 

If they pick a number higher than 2, ask, “Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”

We really are investing in edtech

We are continuing to invest quite a bit of money and resources in edtech. Recently from Forbes:

“Last year, David Bainbridge, CEO of UK-based Knowledgemotion, published an article on TechCrunch titled “Edtech is the Next Fintech.” According to Bainbridge, a new education world has begun with investments in edtech set to reach $252 billion globally by 2020.

Digital technologies are starting to transform education. The range of new learning begins in early childhood and continues with baby-boomers looking to continue their studies or learn something new. Also, increasingly more students are using technology in various ways to learn: through tablets, computers and on their mobile phones. Teachers are also using more edtech products and screens to strategize and modify their lesson plans. Online texts are replacing physical textbooks, and personalized learning provides students with the ability to learn and explore at their own pace and on their own time.”

This will have an undeniable influence on what education will become. Who will guide the curriculum? Will the “medium become the message?” (Look at the present influence of Google on these two questions.)

The article continues with looking at 10 growing edtech companies. Top Hat struck me as the most interesting and also cited as raising the most funds. The CEO, Mike Silagadze, gives a quote of how they are set apart.

“We looked for a gap in the market, in particular around classroom interaction and engagement and that was our entry point. We created the first cloud-based, BYOD engagement tool in higher education.”