Posts Tagged ‘education’

A collective sigh of relief can be heard from teachers across Australia as we bid farewell to a long and somewhat cold Term 3 to commence a two week school break which will provide just enough time to re-charge our batteries prior to coming back for Term 4 – the last term of the 2016 academic year.

For some it is a time of contemplation.  For others it is a time of anticipation.

For many school administrators though, it is a time of deliberation as they trawl through the range of staffing issues posed by staff resignations.

Resignations, of course, are submitted for a variety of reasons.  New challenges in new teaching positions would, one hope, be the most common reason for submitting a letter of resignation.  Yet, a significant portion of resignations of teaching staff in our schools are from those who have simply had enough.  Either they have reached a suitable age to step into retirement or they have decided that teaching is no longer what they want to do.

It is this significant number of resignations which has me worried.  Sadly, each resignation represents an incredible loss of skill and experience and our school communities are the poorer for their departure.

While I touched on this topic recently in a post which focused on how we should be supporting graduate teachers to ensure they stay in teaching a tad longer than 5-7 years, this time my concern is focused on how schools should be working hard to retain experienced teachers in the profession.

So much has changed over the years I have been in education. Demands on teachers today have dramatically increased from what they used to be:

  • Accountability is high on the agenda.  The onerous amount of accountability required by teachers to work colleagues, department heads, school administration and of course to parents eats away at the time and energy levels of teachers.  On top of teaching duties, accountability has to be fitted into the teacher’s busy week.  Just recently I became aware of one school which requires all teachers to call parents twice a term!
  • School intranets have taken on a life of their own.   Busy teachers today need to find time to document curriculum, record lesson plans, note student achievement on the school intranet so that parents and heads of departments can gain a real picture of what is being taught and how students are progressing.
  • Upskilling, particularly in the use and application of technology in the classroom is a constant requirement.  The expectation of not just learning to use technology but to be confident and able enough to integrate this into day-to-day teaching is a difficult demand for teachers.  For experienced teachers though, this requirement can be quite threatening particularly when learning has to occur on-the-job.
  • New pedagogy coupled with new teaching styles are a dime a dozen in education!  So much time and effort needs to be expended by teachers to master the latest philosophies embedded in ‘flipped classrooms’, ‘visible learning’, ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘differentiated teaching’ to name just a few.   While new methods and teaching ideas should not be discounted, this constitutes yet another demand on teachers’ time and energy.
  • Participation in extra curricula activities often involve evening or weekend commitments.  As schools compete with each other more and more for school enrollments, the variety and number of extra curricula activities have expanded dramatically from previous years.

Clearly the demands on teachers today are much higher than they were not all that long ago.  The ongoing requirement for teachers to stay abreast of new pedagogy, skills, methods and programs is essential.  Yet the shift into 21st education for the set of experienced teachers who are now in their mid to late 40’s and older has not necessarily been smooth or easy.  While a deep passion for teaching is most probably the key factor that keeps many of these teachers in education, rewards and incentives for them in their chosen profession are severely limited.

It so happened that the year I started my teacher training was the year the basic course qualifications were extended.  To my shock, when I graduated and took up my first teaching appointment, my salary was considerably higher than teachers who had been teaching for many years.  Within a few very short years, I found that I had reached the top of the salary scale.  As my years in schools continued, my salary effectively stagnated.  The only way to increase my salary was to take up positions of responsibility which paid an allowance, an appealing choice only if I wanted to devote more of my working time to administration  rather than teaching.

The lack of rewards and incentives for teachers has been a sad fact for a very long time.

I was thrilled when a year ago the school in which I work decided to recognize exemplary teachers by inviting them to take up two year appointments as ‘master teachers’ a role which had a significant monetary reward.  So chuffed was I at the time that I penned these thoughts off to our school admin:

It is great to see that teachers who excel in the classroom are to be rewarded for their efforts and encouraged to stay in the classroom.   For too long salary increases associated with promotion have been linked to teachers taking on greater administrative responsibility. The introduction of a Level 12 salary positively rewards excellent teachers, giving teachers across the school a tangible professional goal to which they can aspire. Such an excellent incentive will also positively impact students’ achievement.

So when I read an article in the news last week – $76,919 max: how teacher pay peaks and how the government wants to fix it The Age, September 15, 2016 –  I was equally thrilled to learn that the concept of salary incentives to encourage experienced teachers to remain in the classroom was finally being considered by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.  Recognizing OECD figures highlighting that “teacher pay in Australia levels out after around 10 years of service compared to higher-performing countries where the increases are more staggered”

The Turnbull government is pushing for teachers’ salaries to be linked more closely to their skills rather than how many years they have spent in the classroom.”

With support from Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe who stated that

“Experienced classroom teachers should be recognised and rewarded for their high levels of knowledge and skill and their contribution to schools, without having to move into administrative roles,”

it seems that an impasse that has existed for Australian educators is at last being addressed.

One can only hope that the process of introducing such salary incentives occurs quickly, before all the experienced teachers hand in their resignations!!

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I was talking to a work colleague the other day, at least she was a work colleague until she quit at the end of last year.

She was back in our school working as a CRT (a casual relief teacher) for the week, filling in for someone who was on leave.  As we chatted about this, that and the other, I was hanging out to ask her the one question uppermost in my mind: why was she working here as a CRT rather than taking up a teaching position in another school?  After all, she’s only in her early to mid 40’s, way too young to quit I’d have thought.

Fortunately I was relieved of the need to ask.  In between sharing what she was doing with herself nowadays, she told me in no uncertain terms that she was not in the slightest bit interested in finding another teaching position because she was ‘over it’.

For a moment that seemed to drag on for eternity, I was stunned and lost for words.

Sad ….. real sad ….. I thought to myself.  How come someone so young was standing there telling me that she was ‘over it’ when she had only worked in education for just ten years.   It didn’t seem possible or real.

Then later in the same week, I found myself lamenting with a male member of staff the number of older teachers who had given notice that they were retiring at the end of the year.  Another imminent exodus of experienced teachers.

Thinking while talking, I found myself contemplating the difference in the two conversations.  What a difference it is to have teachers retiring vs those who quit because they are ‘over it’.

Yes, I know.  It is said that most graduate teachers only stay in education between 5 and 8 years which must seem like forever when compared to the average university/college graduate who is likely to have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives which translates to maybe 3 or 4 years in the one job!

It’s a worry – and a concern.

The investment in the education of university/college graduates is enormous. The cost, time and energy invested by students to gain their teaching degree is high and is easily equivalent to the investment made by society/government in the provision of teacher education programs.

It’s almost inconceivable, but unfortunately is quite real, that students in our schools can and are constantly exposed to new and inexperienced teachers throughout their school days.

While it can be rightly argued that many of those ‘experienced’ teachers retiring may have stayed in the job for a few years too long, the end result equates to a significant loss of a wealth of teaching experience.

But returning to thoughts about my work colleague who quit after just ten years in the profession, the question ‘why’ keeps nagging at me.  Our chat informed me that she loves kids, teaching and sharing knowledge of her teaching subjects.  The bottom line for her was the demands of all the other things that she had to do.  It was these tasks, she admitted, which tipped her over the edge and made her realize that she was no longer enjoying ‘teaching’.

There’s little need to list all these other duties and demands on teachers as for those of us working in education, we are all too familiar with the list which unbelievably seems to grow year by year.   Besides, in a previous post Passion vs Process I list the countless number of responsibilities and duties that regularly impinge on a teacher’s daily/weekly working life.  As I re-read and contemplate the list I wrote some four years ago, I’m struck yet again by the incredible demands teachers have to endure if they want to keep their job!  Coming across an article published in The Conversation on this issue, I was struck by this comment comparing the Finish and Australian education scene:

In the Finnish system, early-career teachers are trained well and then, crucially, supported to try new things in the classroom.

In Australian classrooms, the high level of administrative demands, teaching loads, pastoral care and extra curricula activities leaves too little time for collaboration and innovation.

It’s a sad fact that unless you work in education, you just don’t know how hard it can be.

Much has been written about the high attrition levels of teachers in our schools which is said to run between 30%-50% – an astoundingly high figure.   Rebecca Vukovic in an article published in HQ a year ago: Early career educators are resigning from their jobs at an alarming rate writes convincingly of the problem as she quotes numerous researchers one of whom claims that “early career exit from teaching has reached epidemic proportions and appears intractable.”


So what can be done to retain teachers who love kids and teaching/sharing their knowledge?  One recent article I read aptly concludes:

provide the right working conditions for early career teachers to thrive; and strive to integrate all the elements it takes to educate a child.” (ABC News: We can’t afford to ignore the teacher exodus February 4, 2016)

Many of the articles I’ve read over recent times seem to skirt around the real issues that are causing burnout and high attrition rates among new graduate teachers.  Solutions to combat the situation however don’t seem to be as plentiful.

It’s time.  Schools need to start addressing the issue!

  • support new teachers with experienced mentors who have been taught how to mentor
  • involve teacher training academics who have developed a rapport during the teacher training years in the employing schools to support new teachers in their first couple of years of teaching
  • ensure ongoing professional learning is relevant and inspirational so that engagement with lifelong learning becomes an integral part of the job
  • limit the number of additional duties a new teacher has to complete in a day/week for the first couple of years of their employment
  • re-think yard duty and before/after school duty so that new teachers can take this time to recharge their batteries prior to the next lesson
  • monitor workloads so that fewer teaching hours for first year graduates are gradually increased so as to guard against burnout
  • control the amount of paperwork required of first year graduates so that they are not overwhelmed by the enormity of the job from day one
  • welcome graduate teachers into our staff rooms to ensure feelings of loneliness and inadequacy do not set in
  • value the ideas, thoughts and knowledge of graduate teachers as they have much to offer, share and teach experienced teachers
  • praise of graduate teachers’ achievement and contribution to the class, year level, department and/or school should be liberal and sincere to help boost confidence and self worth
  • salary incentives with appealing incremental increases should be available to entice and encourage graduate teachers to stay in the job
  • job security in the form of permanent rather than casual teaching positions should be plentifully available to graduate teachers

It was a few years ago that I wrote a concluding paragraph on a post which discussed the value of teachers in schools.  My thoughts from then apply equally to the way we need to value our graduate teachers.

It’s incumbent on school administrations to constantly express their appreciation of their teaching staff, to laud them and ensure they know they are of value in the day to day running of the school and the overall achievements and recognition for which the school strives.  Schools that treat their teachers well are sure to reap the dividends! (NovaNews: Teachers – A school’s greatest asset! February 19, 2012)

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At the 2016 CBCA conference I recently attended, mention was made of the work of neuroscientists who are exploring how the brain learns to read.  The Keynote Speaker on the first day, Libby Gleeson, gave a powerful and thought provoking presentation:

What actually happens when we read?  What happens to our brains?   Most of us think that reading is a good thing to do.  It broadens the mind, extends language, fosters empathy, teaches us about the world.  But in Rita Carter’s studies we see what happens inside our heads.  Our brains are hardwired for language to taste, to see, to touch and to hear but we are not hardwired to read.  There’s no hard-wiring in our brain to turn on the reading process.

Like others, I continue to ponder the issue of not just how we learn to read, but of the impact reading has on us as we read.  Why is it, for example that our heart starts to race when we read a frightening and scary passage in a novel?  Why is it that we start to feel the sensation of running when we read about someone running?   Why do we start to feel cold when we read of a person trudging through a snowstorm?

Perhaps as was suggested to us in this presentation, neuroscientists will one day be able to enlighten us.

Then I came across this Big Think video by Nicholas Negroponte who makes the prediction that one day in the future we may well be able to inject nanobots into our bloodstream which will deposit little pieces of information of subjects we want to study such a Shakespeare or learning to speak French.

Fanciful do you think?  What kind of impact may this have on teaching, learning, education and our schools?

Have a listen and see what you think!

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It was early December last year that a newspaper headline screamed out at me:

Teach teens to read, NAPLAN chief warns”

Finding the same article online (The Age. December 2, 2015) the headline had been toned down a little:

NAPLAN chief says first step to better results is teaching teenagers to read”

The message however is the same: students need to be taught to read throughout their school years, not just up to Year 2, which, it is said, is a common occurrence in schools across our country.

Following a report on the controversial NAPLAN testing conducted throughout Australia in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 which indicates that reading levels beyond Year 7 are stagnating, ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) general manager, Stanley Rabinowitz, comments that as students get to higher levels there needs to be an emphasis on not just reading to learn but learning to read. 

The assumption is that because we think they are reading, we don’t have to do reading instruction in years 7 and 9.”

I have long argued that reading is the cornerstone of all education.  I’ve talked about this at conferences and endlessly with work colleagues in schools in which I’ve taught.   I’ve blogged long and hard over the years about the importance of reading and the necessity to create an atmosphere that inspires our students to read.

Over the years, I’ve put my words into action by creating a range of innovative and inspiring reading programs within those schools I’ve worked.   Most of all though, I talk with the students in my classes each and every time I have the pleasure of sharing with them in my library.  I talk with them about the importance of reading and the immeasurable joy and knowledge that can be gained from reading. Without a doubt, I tell them

Read a book ….. Learn about the world!”
There’s no doubt in my mind that reading is the key to successful educational achievement.  Resources poured into education seem misdirected if they are not supporting this basic key skill.  Our students need to not just be taught to read, but to be inspired and encouraged to read.  A positive and inspiring reading climate in each and every school must be created.
  • Saturate students with books.
  • Inundate students with positive role models.
  • Make reading a ‘cool’ activity.
  • Initiate enticing book events.
  • Talk lots about books, authors and writing.
  • Encourage a whole school reading involvement.
  • Utilize the enthusiasm & expertise of Teacher Librarians.
  • Talk regularly about the value of reading.
  • Create reading opportunities during the school day.
  • Invite – often – authors, illustrators & storytellers to the school.

There’s no room for complacency.  Programs designed to encourage reading should come with no strings attached.  Negative overtones should not enter the picture.

A fascinating discussion about education was recently presented by Fareed Zakaria in his regular CNN broadcast.  Reporting on the merit of Australia’s announcement for a bold new school curriculum which gave more prominence to coding over history and geography, Zakaria moved the discussion on to the importance of developing workers who not only had skills but learned how to interact, relate and communicate with others.  “Succeeding at work and in life is more complicated” he says “than simply learning to code.”  Distinguishing between ‘relationship workers’ and ‘knowledge workers’ he emphasized the importance of students learning to interact with people.   A powerful tool to develop these skills is reading.

Reading fiction with complex characters and stories trains us to observe others and empathize with other people … which is why many medical schools are requiring that their students read fiction to become better doctors. (at 3.17 mins)

Fareed Zakaria-What in the world- Coding vs humanities

It is encouraging to hear the voice of a highly reputed social analyst support what Teacher Librarians have been saying for a very long time.

Encourage our students to read.  Inculcate reading across the school curriculum rather than relegating it to the sidelines of school programs.

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I went for a routine blood test last Thursday.

This pathology clinic is usually a busy place, so a ‘take a number’ card system is in place to ensure that an orderly ‘first in first served’ process transpires.  People who don’t know each other in waiting rooms tend to sit apart from each other and most often wait in silence.

Two others, around my age, were already seated in the waiting room.  They sat a few chairs apart, so it was apparent they had not come in together.  A third person, a young woman perhaps in her very early 20’s, sat on the other side of the waiting room.  So my guess was that the three women did not know each other.  As I took my number card and sat down, I looked over at this young woman and saw that she had a bunch of number cards in her hand.  I couldn’t think why and was unable to make sense of the few words she was in the middle of exchanging with the two older women already seated in the waiting room.

Realization dawned on me as a minute later the young woman took out her mobile phone and asked, in a loud annoyed voice “Where are you? Others are in the waiting room and you aren’t here yet!”

Soon after, a stream of young, unkempt men and women entered – no barged would be a better word – one by one.  The sassy queue holder, the first young woman in the waiting room, set the tone by calling out to each of those entering the waiting room. Shouting, rather than talking, they exchanged short quips with each other in language most would consider more appropriate to a back yard party attended by those who knew each other intimately.

In between the entry of this mob, an older couple came in, took their number and quietly sat down.  Soon after, an older gentleman also came in. Then a mother and daughter.  Within a short time, more than a dozen of us sat in the waiting room.  Those of us not in ‘the group’ sat in silence watching but not commenting as these young people swore and shouted at each other – not just inappropriately, but about inappropriate topics – or talked to unseen voices on the other end of their mobile phones, as they stomped around the waiting room,  as they loudly crunched on apples, chips and other food, and as they trudged in and out of the door which was adjacent to the outside street to puff on e-cigarettes.

I felt mortified watching and hearing them.  A brief eye connect with one of the older women said she felt the same.

Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, they were gone.  My number was called next.

Polite chat with the male nurse attending me transpired.  He asked me if I had a busy day lined up.  As you do, I replied with scant details and finished with a comment that his workload for the day seemed heavy.  Looking up at me, I was surprised to hear him quietly whisper to me that he did not like the young people that come by in the morning.  Of course, intrigued, I asked for clarification.  Clearly I am very naive as his response shocked me.  These young people were all on drugs he told me. They are required to attend the pathology clinic so they can get clearance for their Centrelink payment – their Australian social security payments.  Still bemused, he spelled it out for me.  They had to present for a urine test.  Because they would ‘cheat’ he was required to watch them pass their sample so he could verify that the urine sample was in fact theirs.  He hated having to deal with them he quietly and sadly confided to me.

I was left speechless.

For days afterwards I’ve mulled over this whole experience.  The young people who came into the pathology clinic may have been no more than two or three years out of school.  And here they were, on drugs, unemployed, living a life supported by workers’ taxes.  The way they dressed, spoke and acted certainly didn’t place them into the category of needing social security payments to get by.  While they were unkempt, they looked reasonably clean and were dressed fashionably, kitted out with more than respectable footwear.  They seemed healthy and when overheard speaking to the attending nurse on a one-to-one basis, they spoke politely and seemed well educated.  It struck me that they were quite similar to those students in the back of many a high school classroom, the ones who rejected authority, thought they knew it all, refused to comply,  think most of what adults have to say is of no relevance to them – those who have scant regard for the world around them and instead put ‘me’ before all else.

What’s gone wrong?  Why are they living this lifestyle?  How can they think their behaviour is justified, correct, acceptable?  How can they imagine it their right to drift through life being supported by others?  How can they be so rude and disrespectful to those around them in a public space?

These young people were in school not so long ago, schools that most probably were very similar to the one in which I teach.   What did we do wrong?  What didn‘t we teach them?  What could we teachers have done differently to ensure they left the gates of our schools more independent, more responsible, more respectful, more aware and caring for those around them?

It’s obvious I’m not a Millennium nor am I of the X or Y generation.  When I grew up, good manners and appropriate behaviour in public were instilled in me.  Whether I agreed or disagreed with opinions expressed, respecting elders was and is the norm.  Taking responsibility for my own actions and destiny wasn’t a thought that surfaced.  I’m not meaning to sound as though I’m a ‘goody two shoes’.  I’m not perfect.  Nor are and were all my peers back then.  But the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in public wasn’t, I think, so blatantly and easily crossed.

Despite these young people most probably being of the Gen Z generation, shouldn’t some of yesteryear’s societal rules and expectations be a part  of their education?

Tell me if I am totally out of touch and have delusional expectations of how young people should be behaving.

Something is amiss.

Maybe this is why our curriculum is being required to incorporate new programs such as ’emotional  intelligence’ in which students are taught the kind of skills that used to be picked up incidentally in their homes or just out in public.  I guess this is a slippery slope kind of question, but do students need to be taught these skills at school or do parents need to be taught how to successfully parent?

Yes – I know.  Times have changed.  Society has shifted.  Social mores have altered and evolved.  Technology has had its impact on what we do and how we do it.

But – does this mean such a dramatic shift in how we relate to each other and that we now need to be taught how to do what used to be basic social behaviour?

Clearly it must.

The next day I was indulging in a secret passion of mine – browsing through the myriad of goods in a stationery store.  With avid amusement I leafed through this Kikki K book: Go Offline and Be Inspired which lists 135 ways, in case we’d forgotten, on how to get more out of life by just living the minute and connecting directly with each other.  Having been swept up into this new century with all the excitement that technology has to offer, many of the tips for better living spoke loud and clear to me!

Then I came home to relax with the morning paper.  Suzanne Carbone’s article Cafes put a lid on customers ordering coffee while on their mobile phone (The Age, February 5, 2016) hit me fair and square in the face!  Cafe owners are rebelling against the anti-social behaviour of some of their patrons who talk on their mobiles while ordering their coffee.  It wasn’t surprising to see this article screened on that night’s TV news report.

Lack of engagement

Where are we headed?  Where is society heading?

I’m left feeling a little sad.



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Just lately I’ve been bombarded with a number of different articles and videos about the same topic:

The Internet of Things

Many may think this is a somewhat new idea, but in a recent Big Think video, Chris Curran estimates that it’s a term that’s been around for at least ten to fifteen years.  While early ideas explored how electrical appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines connected to the Internet, the focus soon shifted to how machine to machine communication could be achieved without any human intervention.  Subsequent exploration turned to developing consumer products such as the connected car and smart homes.

Current thinking, Curran concludes, is focused on what the Internet of Things is for service companies in business.  Not only is there a need to develop and refine new systems to collect data, but new kinds of processes need to be developed to manage the stream of data which will be collected by sensors in various service companies.  Curran intimates that a new kind of data architecture will evolve to capture, store, process, aggregate, and analyze data collected by installed sensor streams.

As I listened to his words, I couldn’t help thinking about the kind of data collected daily by the security gates at the entrance and exit of our school library.  How many of us, I found myself wondering, collect and analyze this data and consider its impact on our day to day operations?  What improvements, modifications or adjustments could we implement if we were to consider this data?   And what about those libraries who have installed RFID technology?  Is data being collected by this new amazing library technology feeding into our planning, programming and operational processes? Is there a need, as Curran suggests, for a new architecture to interpret this data?

An article in Education Technology Solutions, How the Internet of Things will transform education, highlights how education as we know it will be transformed and enhanced.

With estimated wide-scale adoption only five years away, and the pervasive spread of mobile devices from smartphones to tablets, and increasingly portable computers within student populations, IoT technologies will be able to connect the right people together to accelerate learning as well as collecting and interpreting data on learners’ behaviours and activity.

Along with enhanced initiatives of tailoring education to individual learning styles, making education more engaging and capturing data which can be used to inform the future, this short article also hints at the dangers and risks that can occur from mismanagement of data collected if issues of data security and integrity, along with the development of new education policies are not concurrently addressed.  Seemingly the implication is that new processes and perhaps new educational roles need to be developed to handle the many implications that the Internet of Things may bring to education.

And then, stepping away from the implications of the Internet of Things on business and education, I found myself contemplating a new world in which we’d be sharing, or as some predict, forgoing our roads to driverless cars.

About a year ago, Google released a first prototype of a driverless car and as you can see in this video, was received with delighted acclamations from those given the opportunity to ‘have a go’ being passengers in them.

Nearly a year after Google publicized its Self Driving Car Project, driverless cars are about to make their debut on the roads.  And with it, was a thought provoking article penned by Peter Martin: Reasons to be cheerful. What driverless cars will do for us in the Sydney Morning Herald (July 25th, 2015). With increased ‘freed-up’ time, our leisure time and productivity level will be increased dramatically.  Although many may be apprehensive about the demise of drivers – particularly for example “truckies” who, it is predicted, will no longer be needed five years from now to fulfill their present role of transporting goods in trucks around the country – there really is much to be excited about.  Have a read of Martin’s article and be inspired!

But ….. and there is always an ‘on the other hand’ kind of warning ….. smartcars are not immune from unforeseen dangers.  Have a look as WIRED senior writer, Andy Greenberg, takes his SUV for a drive on the highway while hackers attack it from miles away!

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Lifelong learning has become one of those catch phrases that pops up all over the place.   We read it and we use it.   It is a topic I have often blogged about.

In a couple of weeks, I look forward to sharing some of my thoughts on how teachers can and should develop their own lifelong learning skills when I make a presentation at the 2014 Pearson National Teaching and Learning Conference, but addressing the importance of developing lifelong learning skills in the students we teach is of equal value!

In a blog post written a couple of years ago: Learning to learn: 10 essential skills for teachers  I wrote about the importance of teaching students how they can learn on their own:

Lifelong learning:  One of the most forgotten aims of education is to teach students how they can learn on their own and that school days are just a stepping stone to never-ending lifelong learning.  Incorporate examples into your lesson that demonstrate the power of self-discovery, exploration, learning and mastery.  Today’s online world is replete with opportunities for all of us to determine our own learning path.  Specifically demonstrate the vast range of sources available to achieve personal goals.”

And in an earlier post when I was discussing which I thought to be the better learning model PLNs or PDs I found myself again writing about the importance and value of developing lifelong learning skills:

New skills, new thoughts, new pedagogy, new knowledge:   The gift of learning how to learn on your own cannot be over emphasized.   The continuous engagement, immersion and self-paced learning afforded by learning with and from a PLN is beyond belief.   Providing a springboard for continued learning and exploration, the very nature of a PLN aims to support an individual’s lifelong learning.”

Knowing that there’s more to it than osmosis, perhaps now is as good a time as any to pause and consider how to develop students’ lifelong learning skills.  When teasing out an issue, it is of course appropriate to start with a definition of what we are talking about.  So looking at the simplest definition lifelong learning is defined by Macmillan Dictionary as

a process of gaining knowledge and skills that continues throughout a person’s life”

While this is a neat and concise definition, I beg to differ a little.   To me, lifelong learning is more about developing a set of skills by which an individual can pursue knowledge.   Learning these skills in an educational setting, be it school or university is what it’s really all about.  Teaching students how to learn should be the gift that educators aim to impart.

The set of skills we need to focus on to successfully develop lifelong learning skills are many and varied, but could include any or all of the following:

  • Search strategy skills: Learning how to define a problem and then setting about locating, selecting, organizing, presenting and finally evaluation information gleaned, discovered or learned is an essential strategy.
  • Critical thinking skills: Learning not to take information, particularly that which is located online, as gospel is very important.  Students need to be shown how to check and verify the authenticity of information.
  • Problem solving skills: Learning how to go about solving problems will depend on the nature of the issue being explored.  By providing students with opportunities to brainstorm together and suss out different paths to follow to get to the end solution are important learning skills to incorporate into our everyday teaching.  The value of collaboration cannot be over emphasized!
  • Lateral thinking skills: Being able to think outside of the box lends itself to self directed learning and exploring.  Students can gain much by completing exercises that force them to think beyond the obvious.
  • Presentation skills: Being able to present information in a clear and coherent way so that others can interpret it is an essential life skill.  Learning to interpret both visual and written presentations is equally of value.
  • Communication skills: Learning to use social networking as a learning tool among our students is vital.  While there is much discussion about responsible use of social media, are we teaching our students how to use these tools to expand their own learning?
  • Interpersonal skills: Appropriate verbal and non verbal communication plus listening and questioning skills, being responsible and accountable for actions, awareness of social etiquette and expectations alongside self management skills are essential for working as a member of a team.   Learning from and with others is what it is all about!
  • Confidence building skills: Developing an ‘I can’ attitude and assertiveness is so very important.  Education must aim to instil confidence in our students so that they know they can learn, explore and achieve successfully on their own.  Providing opportunities to do this is essential.
  • Self-directed learning skills: By giving our students the opportunity to determine what and how they will learn is a valuable way for them to determine the path of their own learning.  If educators constantly set the agenda for students, there is little scope for them to discover the joy of learning on their own.  They need opportunities – many of them – to become active learners who direct their own learning path.  Self directed learning can be very powerful.
  • Project planning skills: Being able to set parameters for the scope of a project as well as setting and sticking to a time line for the completion of a project is an imperative skill to ensure learning continues throughout a lifetime.  Being able to self manage and set achievable tasks is something that follows us throughout life.

Above all though, educators need to inspire in students a love of learning.  By igniting a passion and a hunger to learn, educators will be setting students upon a path of lifelong learning.

This TED Talk by Ramsey Musallam outlines three key rules to spark learning and the imagination of students:

  1. Curiosity: Questions can be windows to great instruction
  2. Embrace: Taking risks through trial and error should be an informal part of what we do every single day
  3. Reflect: Intense reflecting on information gathered is a powerful source

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