Sunday, 4 September 2016

Teachers: 3 Powerful Lessons That You Learn From Teaching

Teachers, I know that sometimes people who do not work in the education system make you feel unappreciated after you put so much time and effort into helping your students learn as much as they can from their schooling, while you, in turn, learn much from the experience, developing your skills set. As a teacher with more than 25 years in the classroom, I understand exactly how you feel.
Dr. Paul Semendinger, an educator, understands the need that teachers have to be appreciated and he shares this understanding in an article on Edutopia titled, What makes a teacher special? 

Dr. Semendinger in a previous role as principal of a school asked students and other stakeholders of his school to nominate a teacher for the award of teacher of the week, citing a reason for nominating the teacher. The students' responses clearly show the central place that teachers have in their lives.

Here are some of the reasons the students gave for nominating a teacher: the teacher is 'kind and helpful'; the teacher is 'a good teacher'; the teacher encourages them; the teacher respects them; the teacher is patient with them and the teacher involves them in class activities.
Dr. Semendinger concludes his article by saying that if you want answers to the question that he has posed, you should ask a child. This is good advice, as students interact with you daily and have opinions about the quality of this interaction.
Andrew Simmons, another educator, voices some of the benefits and pitfalls of being a teacher in an article titled, 7 things I wish people understood about being a teacher. In this article on, which I can't do full justice to in this space, Simmons provides "critics" with the following insights from his reflections on his career to date.
He tells us that teaching has positively influenced him by making him "smarter" and "a better person"; that "teachers act like teenagers" and not in a good way; that the summer break is not a real break for teachers because they spend much of their summer preparing for the new school year; that the “cult of the superteacher” needs to be abolished - that is, the teacher being burdened or burdening himself with too much work which does not lead to effectiveness, and he tells us that administrators need to be smart in implementing government policy (Common Core) as not to put pressure on teachers and demotivate them.

Dr. Paul Semendinger and Andrew Simmons share powerful lessons with you in their articles. Here are 3 of these lessons:
  • Students are teachers – they have much to teach you about yourself and your practice. Learn the lessons that they teach!

  • Reflecting makes sense – When you reflect on your job – what it is, what you are doing and how you are doing it – you'll find many nuggets of wisdom to help you to keep on improving your practice, thus being able to meet the learning needs of your students and gain continued satisfaction from the job.

  •  You are appreciated – If you stress about all the negative comments leveled at you as a teacher, teachers generally and the teaching profession as a whole, you are setting yourself up to becoming ill, unhappy and ineffective at your job. Students come to school with a number of needs of which you are oftentimes unaware, but when you make them feel good by treating them well, they treasure your positive actions toward them, and they also treasure you.

Starting today, you need to begin to look at the big picture – the environment, locally nationally and internationally, in which you work – and reflect on your practice with the aim of celebrating the good and resolving to take steps to improve, to the best of your ability and within the constraints under which you work, your efforts to continue to meet the learning needs of your students, in spite of the negative talk about you and your profession that you hear.

I am a veteran educator and have authored two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift in which I explored the search for success and teaching respectively. 

I love learning and have been auditing courses on the Coursera online Platform. If you are interested in learning about Social Media, I highly recommend the Social Media Marketing Specialization offered by Northwestern University and delivered by Professor Randy Hlavac.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JanetteBFuller

Friday, 22 July 2016

Teachers: 4 Tips to Help you Maintain your mental health in your teaching job

The teacher is sometimes maligned, a few times for good reasons, but most of the times the teacher is unjustly targeted because those persons who cast aspersions at the teacher and the job of teaching are not fully aware of the complexities of the job and the challenges that the teacher faces in navigating these complexities.

Having been a teacher for more than twenty five years and having taught in a number of countries, I have garnered some insights into the nature of the teacher and the job of teaching. I have shared these insights in a new book, The Teacher's Gift.

One facet of the teacher that I have explored in a number of chapters in this book is her mental health and how she can maintain her mental health, in spite of all the challenges that she has to navigate on the job. Here is one chapter of this book.

Maintaining her mental health 3 – tempering her expectations of her students
One way that the teacher maintains her mental health is by tempering her expectations of her students. The teacher realises that teaching is a stressful job, but only if she allows it to be. She is aware of all the negative effects that stress can have on her life. So, she takes steps to minimise the amount of stress that she allows into her life because she refuses to allow stress to steal her sanity. The teacher therefore is committed to maintaining her mental health. To do this, she accepts the following:

1. That her students are different in many respects
From her experiences of teaching students, from her reading of educational material about the educational needs of students, from her research of educational issues and from the research of eminent educational researchers (Psychologists among other researchers), the teacher understands that her students will achieve different levels of academic success because they have different abilities, different aptitudes, different drives and different temperaments. She does her best to help all of her students achieve excellence, but she does not take it personally when only some of them do. She understands that she needs to temper her expectations of her students since they are different in so many ways, ways which do influence their learning.

2. That she needs to keep frustration at bay.
The teacher learns that she has to keep frustration at bay. She does this by not judging her students’ performance according to another student’s excellent performance or according to her level of performance during her own academic journey. For example, the teacher does not get frustrated when she discovers that her students cannot read, or that they are reading below their grade level and tells them that when she was their age, she already knew how to read and was reading “a”, “b” and “c”.
Instead, when she recognises her students’ weaknesses, she devises interventions or works with others. For example, she may decide to work with the reading teacher to help her students to elevate their reading level. The teacher seizes every opportunity to help her very weak students to transition into “ready” learners, learners who possess the basic tools to take advantage of schooling.
Again, the teacher realises that in spite of all her best efforts, she will not reach all of her students in the way that she wants to reach them. But the teacher realises that being perpetually frustrated about her lot to teach, for example, slow students will cause her much stress, which in turn will negatively impact her mental state.

The teacher does her best to tailor her lessons and the presentation of her lessons in such a way that she reaches every student at their level. Afterwards, she accepts that when she assesses her students' learning, the grades that they get may fall along the spectrum from grades A to F, or in some other category that the school designates. Again, she does not take this personally and does not spend sleepless nights agonising over this outcome.

She knows that although she has a wide and deep body of knowledge from which she draws in teaching her students, there are factors outside of her control: the ability of her students; their willingness to cooperate in the business of learning; the quality of the physical resources to which she has access; the ability of parents to assist their children with learning in the home; the material and emotional resources to which the students have access in the home, among a longer list of other factors which influence the learning of her students.
In spite of being aware of the factors that negatively impact the learning of some of her students, the teacher always does her best to help them master the prescribed curriculum and much more, to manage their emotional stress and, sometimes, when she can afford to, provide her students with material support.

After she has given generously of herself to her students, she goes home, takes care of her business, still takes care of her students’ business (she takes home students’ work), rests, gets up in the morning to do it all over again. And each day, she tries harder than the day before to effect learning in her students. And every day, she acknowledges the limitations of her efforts.

3. That children will be children
The teacher who teaches children maintains her mental health by recognising that children will be children, no matter what she does to constrain them. She accepts that children in a group are noisy. She knows that they easily get excited about what they deem to be exciting, fun or comic in their world. After all, she was a child once so she understands.

Knowing the nature of children, the teacher is not swift to take offence when they respond to her in unexpected ways. For example, she is not quick to get irritated when her students laugh in class. She knows that it does not usually take much to amuse children.

She knows that they may laugh if they find something she says in the course of her teaching the class to be funny. They may laugh and laugh.

She knows that they may laugh if they find something hilarious about the outfit that she is wearing one day, no matter how much she thinks that she has hit the spot with it. She knows that they may nudge each other and laugh.

She knows that they may laugh if in their minds, she reminds them of an animal, a cartoon character, something funny. She knows that they may share their observations among themselves and they may laugh.

She knows that one mischievous student may even decide to give her a nickname. She knows that they give other teachers names so why not her as well. The teacher knows that these nicknames may elicit smiles from her students when she is in their presence, probably at inappropriate times. She accepts this. She was once a child.

What she does, though, is to gently nudge her students back to attention and continues her lessons when they are obviously distracted from paying attention to her lesson by their own antics.
The teacher knows her purpose in the classroom. She understands human nature, having experienced the vagaries of it from she was a child and during her adulthood. So, she does not allow herself to be stressed by the goings-on of her students and she does not take their inattention during parts of her lessons personally. She works around it. Neither does she take herself too seriously. She learns to laugh with her students, albeit ironically at times.

4. That she should expect the unexpected
The teacher who teaches very young children, from the kindergarten level to students in at least grade 7 in junior high or high school, depending on the context in which she teaches, knows that many of her students see her as a parent figure in the classroom. Therefore, if one of her students in a rash of forgetfulness calls her “Mommy” in enquiring about something to which she has drawn his or her attention, the teacher knows that these things happen and reacts accordingly.

The teacher does not get irate, goes to complain to her colleagues about it, telling them that she is not the student's parent so the student should not call her “Mommy” or that she is nobody's parent, insisting that the children should call her, “Miss So and So”. She does not complain about what is wrong with children now-a-days and she does not malign their parents. More importantly, she does not snub the student in front of his/her peers. She becomes “Mommy” for that student, for that moment.

In addition to mistakenly calling her “Mommy”, the teacher knows that the likelihood exists that children will touch. She knows that sometimes some of her students will forget that they should not touch another person without that person's permission, as many children in some societies are being taught. When this happens, she reaches for the tolerance that she has worked hard to develop.

She is prepared for the unexpected. She understands that her students will not behave exactly as she wants them to behave. She accepts the idiosyncrasies of her students and she moves on.

The teacher tempers her expectations of her students. She hopes that they will all be “good” students but if they are not all “good” students, she accepts this. She remembers her job and she does it.

If you are interested in reading more of this book, you may do so here. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

About the Author

I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here and about issues in education here.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Education News from Europe (England's Education in the news)

OECD basic skills report makes grim reading by Brian Creese on the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Blog

Brian Creese
After three years of deliberation, number crunching and further evidence-seeking, the OECD has published its report on the basic skills of adults in England based on the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey. It does not make for happy reading, and to save you the misery of trawling through its 110 pages, I thought you might like a brief summary. But you may want a stiff drink before you settle down and read this blog…

An estimated nine million adults of working age have low basic skills.
This is the number of working age adults OECD estimates have poor or very poor literacy and/or numeracy skills and puts England close to the bottom of the OECD rankings.

The particular concern for England is that while in other countries standards are improving, in England they are not. The performance of older age groups is as good if not better than the youngest, while in most countries younger cohorts have higher skills than their elders.

At every qualification level low literacy and numeracy skills are more common among young people in England than in most other OECD countries. And it should be stressed that these young people are not predominantly school dropouts or the unemployed, they are mostly in work.

In England one-third of those aged 16-19 have low basic skills.
Once again this puts England at or near the bottom of all OECD countries. The OECD suggest that it is not just getting more young people up to the grade C at GCSE that matters, as they think that those with GCSE at that grade still perform less well in basic skills than their equivalents in other OECD countries.

Indeed, our national obsession with qualifications may be partly to blame; our young people have gained more qualifications than ever before, but that has not translated into evidence of improved literacy and numeracy.

Around one in ten university graduates has low basic skills.
The survey suggests that 10% of undergraduates do not have level 2 skills in literacy and/or numeracy. They suggest that universities have not recognised the poor level of basic skills that new entrants actually have.

I’d like to say that I find this unbelievable but my experience of coaching applicants for PGCE courses to pass their required Numeracy Skills tests often left me bewildered. How does a graduate not actually know how to divide by three?

The OECD go on to suggest that universities should consider not graduating students with low basic skills, which would be a drastic solution.

Having berated the schools and higher education sectors, the report actually endorses the approach to adult education that has been researched and advocated by the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) and companion organisations. They recommend concentrating on formative assessment, blended learning (mixing online and traditional study), contextualised approaches and family based programmes.

Despite being so depressing, it is hard to argue with these findings. I think we know from our own contacts and research that they are broadly correct.

Perhaps the one positive note is the evidence that young people in England do better once they enter the workforce, suggesting that work based courses and employer support can be effective at upskilling young employees.

The OECD recommendations are:
  • Priority should be given to early intervention to ensure young people have stronger basic skills.
  • Sustain reform efforts and increase basic skills standards for upper secondary education.
  • Divert unprepared university students and enhance basic skills tuition.
  • Improve transition from school to jobs by offering opportunities to upskill…. through good quality apprenticeships and traineeships.
  • Use evidence to support adult learning.
These are all sensible suggestions, but, the devil is in the detail.

Successive governments have prioritised early intervention to improve basic skills. However, if the OECD survey results are to be believed this appears to have failed to raise standards.

Similarly, the government cannot be faulted for advocating for apprenticeships; here the important phrase is ‘good quality’ and many in the sector are concerned about how they might deliver those.

The final recommendation, using evidence to support adult learning, may hopefully propel adult literacy and numeracy practice and pedagogy back onto the Government’s agenda.

After a long period of being ignored by government, that would certainly be a positive outcome arising from this depressing report.

Any thoughts on the findings of this OECD report as regards the state of basic skills in England and how does your country compare where basic skills are concerned? Please share your thoughts below.
Photo above courtesy of

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Improving School Leadership in Ten Easy Steps

Robert Frost, late American poet aptly said,  "education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence".

Recently, the news media in a society that will remain unnamed reported that a male school principal was in a fight with a female student. Witnesses, however, reported that there were actually no blows thrown by the principal, in spite of his best efforts to box the student into oblivion. It was a super human effort by those who restrained the principal to keep him in check, as for a moment, he let his mask slip - the mask of being a decent, educated man, in charge of his faculties and who weilded much power - and became the man that the environment in which he grew up moulded, a base human being like many of us who does not turn the other cheek in the face of provocation.

It would seem that the student does not respect anyone or anything. She has a reputation for being unruly, foul mouthed, aggressive,  uncooperative, among the other negative behaviours that one  can think of. The principal, it is said, not knowing the reputation of this student, scolded her for some infraction of the rules. Her response aroused the ire of the principal who sought to have her immediately removed from the school compound. What happened at this point is unclear but the principal must have physically tried to escort her from the premises when the student slapped or pushed him away from her. The principal in a rage attempted to retaliate but was forcefully restrained.

One can imagine the excitement among the student body, as many of them broke free from their classrooms to witness the spectacle.

How could this situation have been avoided? I'm going to present ten tips to principals to help them to manage fraught situations in their schools.

  1. Allow the persons tasked with their specific responsibilities to do their jobs. If you give them time to do their jobs and they do not deliver, intervene. Apparently, the person in charge of discipline was trying to reason with the student, having known of her temperament. The principal, however, expected that as soon as he ordered the student removed from the campus, it should have been done and took matters into his own hands when it seemed that his order was being ignored. We know how that turned out.
  2. Get to know your staff and students. They are the ones who have the power to ensure that your tenure at your school is a smooth one. This principal, it is said, thinks that he has all the power and everyone in his sphere must unquestioningly do his bidding. Ask him how that is working out for him.
  3. Give staff members responsibilities and be prepared to guide them in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. Don't ever think that your job is separate from that of the rest of the school and lock yourself away in your office, not welcoming any intrusion, because everybody should know their job and do it. Principals, you must make it your business to develop a sense of the big picture where your school is concerned and this means regularly liaising with your staff.
  4. Include your staff members in decision making and give the impression that their opinions matter. If you do not, you'll be swimming against the tide all the time. And we know how tiring that is.
  5. Respect all of your staff and students. They deserve as much respect as you expect to get from them, for no other reason than the fact that they are human beings with emotions just like you. So, remember to be cordial to them as you interact with them on and off the school's compound. Again, the consequences of continual disrespect are not pretty. Our principal who prompted this post should have much to say on this subject, that is, if he has learnt anything about the subject from his interactions in his school community so far.
  6. Regularly involve yourself in meditation exercises,  yoga is a good start. However, you may choose any meditation activity that you prefer. You need to constantly de-stress, release the build up of angst that you are likely to accumulate during the school day, especially if you are tasked with managing a school labeled as being difficult. If you do not find legitimate ways to release the stress, you will explode, usually at the most inappropriate time. Our principal is a case in point.
  7.  Reflect. You must reflect on your stewardship in progress. That is, during every day and at the end of every day, you must identify what is going well and what is not going well, based on the reactions of the people on whom you bounce your ideas, opinions, plans and strategies. And after identifying the strengths and weaknesses, you must act on them. You will seek to enhance your strengths and minimise your weaknesses by taking appropriate action.
  8.  Don't do the same aggravating thing over and over and expect to get a different result. This is what Einstein, without adding the word aggravating, called insanity. If your leadership does not engender support from your staff after a couple of years, do not continue to lead in the same fashion and expect that the same school community that has been resistant to your endeavours for the past two years will suddenly jump on board. Be prepared to modify your leadership style as you carry out your job, based on the reaction that you get from those whom you lead.
  9. Remember that leading involves action, the example that you set. You can't expect to lead others when you're passive, when you do not chart any course for your followers, when you are not there physically or mentally. Craft a plan with the help of your staff and other stakeholders, devise strategies with their help to realise the plan and actively guide the process. Your staff will begin to see you in a new positive light. Our principal, well...
  10.  Rid yourself of your narcissistic tendencies. Everything is not about you. Yes, you have worked hard to achieve your place in the world. Congratulations! However, lend a hand to others right under your nose who are also trying to find their place in the world, instead of viewing them as threats to your achievements.
There are other tips that I could share with you - school principals, school administrators or school managers - whatever label you accept - but I'll leave it at this. Members of society expect principled leadership from you, in spite of all the challenges in the environment in which you work. You have accepted the job. You are the leader.  It's your duty to find ways to manage any difficulty that may arise during your stewardship. Be innovative,  be creative, lead!

And carefully think of Robert Frost's words! To what extent do you agree with his observation?

Picture courtesy of

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Teacher's Gift - Chapter 1

After writing my first book, "Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world", I quickly started the second, "The Teacher's Gift". However, between much procrastination and life's curve balls, I have just completed this book. It is a book for teachers, aspiring teachers and for everyone who is interested in understanding the nature of the teacher and the job of teaching. This book has twenty chapters and I am sharing one of these chapters with you.

As you will notice, I started at the beginning. Why do teachers do what they do? Here is chapter 1. Read then go here to get your copy.

The Calling

The teacher’s “calling” is that driving need that she has to embark on a course of action as her life's work and that deep-seated belief or acceptance that she has about the “rightness” of that course of action on which she has embarked. And, having embarked on this course of action, the teacher feels a sense of satisfaction in tackling the demands of this course of action, in spite of the challenges.

The course of action that she feels compelled to take, to teach, is her calling. It is from this calling that she hopes to achieve her livelihood.

The teacher believes that teaching is her calling, whether by choice or by circumstance. She knows that in spite of her motivation for entering the teaching profession, she has a responsibility to her students to, among other things, help in guiding them in becoming the kinds of citizens that society, through the policies of government or through its norms and mores, expects them to be. The teacher realises that this is no frivolous task. She embraces this task!

I elicited from a number of teachers in Jamaica, both males and females, their reasons for entering the teaching profession. The following are the reasons that they shared with me:

1. They were born to teach.

Some teachers said that they chose to teach because they were born to teach. They said that from the time that they began to conceive of themselves as persons, they always wanted to teach.

They vividly remembered their early forays into teaching, “playing school”, and being the teacher. Their remembered joy of their youthful teaching experiences are as fresh today as their present joy in teaching.

They said that the calling to teach was something that they could not explain in any other way, except that teaching was something that they were born to do. It was just something that they always knew that they would do. Teaching is something that they do and enjoy doing.

Some retired teachers said that teaching was something that they did and would do again if they had the chance to live their lives all over again. They said that they relished the evidence of their labours in the classroom; their students who, for the most part, had found gainful employment, and who had not forgotten their efforts many, many, years afterwards when they meet in disparate places.

2. Teaching is a family tradition.

Some teachers said that they got their calling to teach from either a parent or parents, or from relatives who were teachers. They observed their parents’ or relatives’ commitment to the job of teaching and were impressed by this commitment. So, when it was time to choose a career, they had no hesitation in choosing teaching.

They said that teaching was a natural progression for them as they were following in the footsteps of many relatives who had been teachers or who were teachers. Teaching for them is therefore a family tradition.

These teachers said that they have had no regrets in choosing teaching as their career path. They enjoy their jobs and, in spite of the challenges inherent in the job, they would not trade it for anything else.

3. Wanting to contribute to the development of society

Some teachers of children said that they got their calling to teach from their desire to make a difference in their society. They believed that teaching had the potential to help them to fulfil this desire. They said that children were the future who would eventually influence events in society; therefore these children needed guidance.

They believe that they are fully equipped to give children this guidance, to help them grow up to be responsible citizens. The calling to the teaching profession, for these teachers, seems to be an innate altruism.

4. The need for a job

Some teachers said that they were called to teaching from expedience. They graduated from college or university. They needed a job. In their job search, they came across job advertisements for teachers. They realised that they were qualified to teach. They applied for and got the job.

They have been teaching ever since and although they have experienced a number of frustrations brought about by working conditions, colleagues, administration and students, on the whole the experience of being a teacher has been rewarding. They have no immediate plans to move into something new.

5. Influence of teachers

Some teachers said that they were called to teaching by a teacher who have had significant influence in their lives. Some teachers said that a teacher recognised their aptitude in a particular subject area and recommended teaching as a viable career path for them. They listened and acted on this bit of advice from their teacher.

Other teachers said that they were so impressed by the competence in teaching shown by a special teacher that they were moved to emulate that teacher. They said that they have been enjoying the experience of being a teacher and would do nothing else.

6. The need for stability

Some teachers said that they entered the teaching profession because of their need for stability and since the job of a teacher is relatively stable, they chose teaching as their career path. They have a job until they retire and upon retirement a guaranteed pension awaits them. This was the response of some teachers in full time employment and who were teaching below the tertiary level.

These teachers said that all they ever wanted from life was a job to meet their day to day needs and one that provided a secure retirement. They chose teaching as the means through which they would achieve this goal.

My Conclusion

Of course, the teacher's calling to teach could have come from any of a number of other sources. For example, lacking the capability to do anything else but teach may be one reason why some teachers choose to teach, but the teachers with whom I spoke did not admit to this motivation. Instead, they gave the reasons outlined above for entering the teaching profession.

From the responses of the teachers with whom I spoke, I drew the following conclusion. The teacher’s calling to teach comes from a number of sources: an internal drive, from the example and/or prodding of significant others, from altruism, from expedience and from the need for stability.

Everyone of us who is in an occupation/profession has responded to a call. What is your motivation for doing the job in which you are engaged? Share your views below.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Lessons about Management and Leadership from the Man in the Street

Life is a great teacher and what is certain, if we have thought about it, is that each day will bring with it a new set of lessons for us, and we do not know in what way these lessons will be packaged, who will deliver them and how they will be delivered.

What we do know is that we have the responsibility to recognise each moment that we share with others as an opportunity to learn something. This "something", we may already be familiar with, but the perspective from which it is being presented to us may be new and, we find that we are being challenged to examine this "something" in new ways.

Recently, I had the pleasure of a chance meeting with the man in the street. He is a cab driver. I needed to get to several destinations as soon as possible and he agreed to transport me to those destinations, for a fee of course.

We made our first stop at one of my target destinations, a business situated in what could be described as an industrial complex. This is a sprawling area with many interconnected businesses, their exterior in different states of repair.

 While we waited on the outside of this place of business for my companion to conclude her business within, (only one person in a group was allowed access into this business), the driver of the taxi began to share the first of many stories that he shared that day. I will only share three of those stories with you.

 Story 1

This gentleman, let us call him Sal, is knowledgeable about, and has an opinion about the politics of this business environment and is not afraid to share this opinion. First, he started a commentary on the business outside of which we were waiting, its owner and its workers.

Then he said, "Tell me the truth about this situation. Look at that," he said, pointing to what appeared to be a late model vehicle of a particular make, parked in front of the business. "This is what she drives and the business has no water. My God, man!" he exclaimed. "She is making a lot of money and she refuses to pay her water bill!" Sal went on to tell me that the lady transported water from her home in the mornings to her place of business. "What happens," Sal wanted to know, "when she travels?"

Apparently this lady, because of the nature of her business, travels regularly, staying away for two to three weeks at a time. Her employees run the business until she returns.

Sal wanted to know how the employees managed without water when the boss travelled and how they accommodated clients who wanted to use the facilities. He shook his head in disbelief at the way this woman chose to run her business and treat her workers.

Sal could not understand how this business owner who appeared to be doing well, having businesses at home and abroad, could treat her workers so shabbily. He told me in all earnestness that if I looked at the shoes and the sun-burnt clothing that her employees wore, I would feel sorry for them.

This complex as I mentioned before is made up of interconnected businesses, but some of them are located at great distances from each other. This business owner expects her workers to do courier duties, so they have to walk from point "a" to several other points on the complex and back to point "a" in all kinds of weather.

Sal had a possible solution to the apparent hardship being faced by the employees. He suggested that the lady could buy a bicycle, for use in the business, to make it easier for the workers to get around. In addition, he suggested that the lady could supply her workers with jeans and t-shirts and cheap sneakers for work purposes. After all, he said, she did not pay them well. Her worker turnover was high. Doing something nice for them would encourage her workers to stay, Sal believed.

Of course, Sal did not voice his concerns about her business practices to that lady.

 Story 2

My companion eventually concluded her business at business place 1 and we moved on to business place 2. At business place 2, Sal and I waited outside because, again, only one person in a group was allowed into this place of business.

We sat on benches on the outside of the walls of this business, battling a dust storm while listening to the curses and shouts of joy of the losers and winners of the game of dominoes that was being played right there beside us, and watching vehicles of all sizes going up and down the dusty street.

It was here that Sal shared his second story. He told me about the "foreign" gentleman who who had migrated to our country. This gentleman started a restaurant business. Sal, who was previously engaged in supplying restaurants with local fruits, made supplies to this gentleman's restaurant. Sal was impressed by the way that this man did business compared to other local business men around him. This man paid for his orders promptly, he paid in cash (something that Sal appreciated) and he was willing to make a small profit in order to move stock (his competitors held out for higher profits).

Sal said that one day he was talking to this gentleman (let's call him Mr. Chin). He said to Mr. Chin, "Treat your workers well! If you treat them well, they will treat you well."

Mr. Chin wanted to know what Sal meant by that statement. He told Mr. Chin that he should give his workers time off from work, within reason, to take care of personal issues that would arise. Also, he told him that instead of dumping the leftover food from his restaurant in the evenings, he should package it and give it to his workers to take home. He offered Mr. Chin much more advice, he said.

Sal said that one day he met Mr. Chin and he was very excited. "Thank you! Thank you!" Sal, Mr Chin said. He couldn't stop beaming. "You see what you told me?" Mr. Chin asked. "That worker!" he exclaimed pointing at a worker. "Very good worker!" Mr. Chin told him how he had helped that worker and how that worker had been paying him back by being extremely industrious. Moreover, Mr. Chin said that all his workers were very good workers. They were at work before he was most mornings and he was never late!

According to Sal, Mr. Chin does not charge him for his meals when he visits his restaurant, even though he is willing to pay.

Mr. Chin's restaurant is doing very well. Furthermore, he has diversified his business and has assured Sal that he will always use the lessons that he has taught him.

Story 3

After this story, we were quiet for a while. I pondered what I had just heard and Sal probably was thinking about the extra business that he was about to get from us and how he was going to ensure that we would be satisfied with his service. (We were very satisfied)

Suddenly, a gentleman disengaged himself from the crowd of men watching the game of dominoes. He crossed to the other side of the street, after engaging some men in witty banter.

"You see that man?" Sal asked, surreptitiously pointing with his chin at the gentleman across the street. This gentleman was leaning on his very nice vehicle. I acknowledged that I had seen him.

"No manners!" Sal said. "Absolutely, no manners!" Sal told me that this man was a (insert title here). He said that by the nature of the man's job, you would expect him to be more courteous than he was. He told me that the man did not believe in waiting in line for anything or following the rules guiding operations at the complex. Sal told me of occasions when other people had decided to stand their ground against him.

Now, this gentleman had had an assistant for fifteen years. One day this assistant came to work, ill. She asked her boss, this gentleman, if she could take the day off from work because she was not feeling well. This man refused. He needed her assistance so she could not leave. The assistant stayed at work that day.

The following day the gentleman did not show up for work. However, he showed up the next day. The assistant overheard this gentleman telling someone that he could not come to work the previous day because he had to take his dog to the vet.

The assistant was livid. She endured at the job for just a little while longer until she found another position. Without giving this gentleman any notice, she walked away.

A brief pause followed this story, while I gazed at the gentleman across the street to see if I could see any tangible proof of his flaws. He looked quite normal, at that moment.

Sal interrupted my contemplation of that gentleman by saying, "Treat people well. If you treat them well, they will treat you well."

Many lessons learnt that day!

Do you treat your workers well? Do you generally treat others well?

Sound off in the comment section below.

And, if you have an interest in reading books that capture the joys and challenges of childhood, of growing up, of "fighting" life, learning lessons and succeeding, check out my book here.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Quality Education Enhancement

I have a deep interest in developments in the education industry. The education industry, like all other established industries, has tried from time to time to reinvent itself. As such, we have witnessed changes in many aspects of educational enterprise. The following list is not exhaustive:

  1. the content of curricula
  2. the methodologies of delivering that content
  3. the job descriptions of teachers
  4. educational technologies
  5. the widespread privatisation of education in some areas
  6. the mode of government provision
  7. And we have seen the introduction of buzz words - the need for better school governance or the need to improve governance structures, or the need for effectiveness, efficiency and economy in the management of schools, or the need to improve the educational outcomes of students. ... you know them! But, for the most part these buzzwords have remained just that - buzz words, because the education industry seems to lack enough of the human resources who are capable of providing committed visionary leadership and who would be able to operationalise these terms to address the problems that policymakers believe need to be addressed with the implementation of their policies. 

Today, the focus in the education industry around the world is on quality education enhancement. This drive seems to be led by multilateral agencies (see UNESCO's website for much information on this subject), and has been accepted by local educational elites. However, I believe that the drive to implement and enhance quality education, however defined, should be guided by a philosophy of education that has its roots in the society that is trying to devise a quality education system for its learners. Afterwards, this country can incorporate elements of other education philosophies that it believes does not run counter to its own into its overall quality education enhancement plan.

However, whatever the guiding force for enhancing quality education, the leaders of this process should realise that this idea of enhancing quality education begs several questions and seek to answer them before they proceed:

  1. What is quality education? 
  2. For whom and to whose benefit is it being implemented?What constitutes quality education and who should determine this?
  3. Who should implement this quality education after it has been decided on and how should it be implemented? 

Let's answer the first two questions. Quality education seems to be education that policy makers employed by the public and private educational enterprises believe will influence learners in a particular way, so that the learners in turn will influence society in a particular way. This "particular way" should be visible in the attitude and behaviours of learners who these policymakers hope will become "good" citizens of their societies, however good citizenship is defined in these societies.

Some societies go further by claiming that the education that they provide for their learners will make them world citizens - a laudable goal since we are living in a globalised world. So, quality education seems to be for all learners in a society and is one that creates "good" citizens.

Now, let's examine question three. What exactly constitutes quality education and who determines this? Quality education seems to be defined by the range of subjects that educational stakeholders within a country and in the case of many countries, educational stakeholders from outside the country believe, that in combination, will create the ideal citizen. So, there are the STEM subjects along with some form of citizenship education, plus any other subjects that are deemed to be important by the policymakers.

Now, having decided on what this quality education looks like, the policymakers put it in the hands of teachers who now have the task of communicating the vision of the policymakers to learners by facilitating and assessing their learning. There are a slew of modern teaching methodologies and assessment tools, ancient and modern, that teachers are expected to draw on. However, the extent to which the teachers will help the policymakers to achieve their goal will be dependent on many factors, not least of which is the extent to which these teachers buy into this vision. So, let's assume that there is buy-in from teachers.

Having put in place quality education, how does a country enhance it? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online, "to enhance" means "to increase in value, quality, desirability, attractiveness"; "to heighten"; "to make better". It's obvious then that whoever is doing this enhancement must consider their stakeholders and their reasons for carrying out this enhancement. Having determined this, here are 7 ways that the team that's in charge of this enhancement can go about doing this job.

  1. Since Quality Education Plans are derived from the perceived needs of society, those entrusted with their enhancements should continuously monitor all the changes that are occurring in society to ensure that the education that is being delivered to learners prepare them to cope with these changes. 
  2. Ensure that leadership at all levels of the education system that is committed and buys into the vision of what this quality education is intended to achieve and is capable of converting the vision to measurable goals to guide the process. 
  3. Ensure that the teachers who are entrusted with the task of delivering this quality education and those persons entrusted with the task of guiding the process possess the necessary tools to carry out their jobs. To do this, it will be necessary to offer targeted continuous professional development to (CPD), another buzz word, to these teachers.
  4. Focus on enhancing the critical thinking skills of the leadership, teachers and learners of all ages.
  5. Expand the content of the education offered beyond the village, the town, the city, the country, the region, so as to broaden the perspectives of learners.
  6. Provide learning opportunities for those persons outside of the formal education system who, for whatever reason, didn't manage to grasp much from their earlier schooling, because they have a role to play in their children's learning, a role that they will not be able to play well if they are not literate and numerate.
  7. Reward teachers with cash or kind. It's said that "encouragement sweetens labour". Teachers need reasons to care.

The educational industry at this time is focusing on achieving quality education and continuing to enhance it, and so it should! Some educational institutions at the Micro level - schools and colleges have bought into this idea and are now thinking of ways to enhance what they believe is the quality education that they now provide to learners. I've provided 7 ways that quality education may be enhanced. What would you add to this list? Sound off in the comments section below.

Afterwards, please browse through my book, "Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world" here and share the link with your friends. Thanks much!