Metasaga: a new dimension in leadership

I was sent an e-mail this morning “WikispacesThe Best Educational Wikis of 2010” . These were the Edublogs Best Educational Wikis of 2010.

The winner was Greetings from the World

This Wiki had won the Edublogs award last year. It is teacher  Arjana Blazic’s  wiki which  gives her students in Zagreb, Croatia a way to share their own experience and explore the world. There are  Glogs posted by students from around the globe to  let us all see the world in the most special way possible: through the eyes of the people who live there.

The runner up was Metasaga

Now this Wiki was a bit special in my opinion. This is not to take anything away from the winner which has obviously impressed people two years running.

Metasaga is an amazing idea that links environment with metaphor and leadership. It allows people to explore their environment and to seek ideas from what they find.

To quote the Wiki: “Metasaga is a journey through the culture, heritage and physical landscape. It allows leaders at all levels to engage in deep self- reflection by exploring their environment. It utilises a strengths-based, whole system approach to evaluate how they operate as leaders and the performance of the organisation they lead. It makes leaders at all levels reframe their thinking using metaphor, narrative, tradition and artefacts found in their own physical environment.”

I explored the Wiki and found something that had a personal recollection for me… this was  Buchanan Street Glasgow described as the first urban metasaga.

I first went to Glasgow on a summer holiday about twenty-five years ago. I stayed in university rooms in the West End of the city and explored an urban environment that I just fell in love with.

I can remember walking down Buchanan Street and looking at the strange mix of ancient and modern architecture. I had not thought to seek ideas from what I saw that made me think about my ideals, my vision, my hopes.

Here was a walk down the same old road. This time it was a group of school leaders. There were guides who knew something of the history and stories of the place.

In the Wiki you can read a narrative and then see some wonderful photographs that one of the participants, Phil Wong, took. I felt as if I was there  and I could see the scenes and imagine what I might have thought as the questions were put to me….

What is your vision for your work and your life?

What is your motto? If you had a coat of arms what would it
be and what would it represent?

What is your dream? What do you believe in strongly enough
to fight for?

I think that the metasaga is such a great  idea if you are thinking of having some leadership training. I would strongly recommend that you investigate the Wiki and then take a walk with your colleagues and let them explore their ideas and express their dreams and beliefs. Maybe you can add to the metasagas on the Wiki.. I look forward to reading them.

Photo of the start of the journey

Teach Different

This has got to be my favourite video of the year so far. The words of the narrator say it all…. here’s to the people who push us forward… who dare to imagine a different world for education and who have the imagination to see the future when there are too many who are stuck in the past.

See if you can recognise the pictures…. there are so many of the people who I most admire in there.


What worries kids

I was recently sent the results of a survey done by my employers, Southend-On-Sea Borough Council, which involved over 3,300 children in schools in our borough. The survey was called “Your Say” . It was a particularly interesting survey because it brought out results about the children’s attitudes to a number of issues, for instance, bullying, their bodies and their feelings about school.

The section that really interested me was the section called Personal and Social and was a series of results relating to the question “which of these do you often worry about?” (P.23 of the survey PDF Download).The worries were: Exams and Tests, The Way I look, school work problems, problems with friends, family problems, money problems, health problems, bullying, career problems, puberty and growing up, Being gay, lesbian or bisexual / or being different to other people or none of these.

The result that I think is most interesting was that Exams and Tests were seen by both Primary (Elementary) and Secondary students as the number one worry and it was the number one worry by a long way (24% overall as against “The Way I look” which came second with 11% overall).

The fact that exams and tests were seen as a worry by so many students only goes to show how these things are affecting our children. I have railed in the past about the fact that no society can condone a situation where children feel under pressure and get sick because of exams and tests…indeed some of them actually take their own lives!

For what? For these things to be the be-all and end-all of their existence on this planet? For Governments to use the children as a means to punish what they see as their bad teachers. It all seems so worthless and the results of the Southend survey could probably be replicated all over my country and probably in many countries abroad.

It should be seen as a warning sign for all administrators and politicians. There needs to be a better way to assess our children’s progress, that allows them to express what they know and does not put a heavy pressure on revision and memorisation. I am in favour of portfolios of progress that can be regularly tested but not in a hothouse environment and not with the implications that failure means doom.

I would hope that a future survey would not see exams and tests at the top of children’s worries. There will still be worries, because they are human and they will have existential cares like the rest of us…. but not the heavy hand that we have imposed upon them with the test and exam culture that they have to study under at present  every day of their school lives.

Postcript: Please note earlier versions of this post had the figure of 33,000 for the survey and not 3,300 which was the actual size of the survey. Apologies if this was misleading in any way.

The confidence factor

As I set out on the journey of writing this post I have no fear. You may say that this is because I have written over 200 posts now and am very experienced at tapping the keys, inserting the videos and pictures and of course making sure that I cherry pick the Zemanta-provided references at the end.

No, I haven’t had this fear from the very first post that I wrote over a year ago now. I actually find that I write very fast, with frequent typos that are so handily picked up by the editing facility that comes from the WordPress process of blog creation.

I have always enjoyed writing almost from the earliest opportunities that I had to put my pencil to paper and create something that came from the sounds created from the symbols. I never saw the process of creating a story or writing about something that really interested me as a chore or indeed as a hurdle to be overcome.

The same cannot be said about art though. I remember from an early age saying to myself (and that is the key thing) that I could not draw. When I went to school I was surrounded by children who seemed to be able to create meaningful images with no problems at all. This situation only became worse as I grew older. The demands of my art teacher at secondary school were high. We were now into perspective and the judgement of colours. I used to have a sinking feeling as the Friday afternoon Art lesson came around and I knew that I would be trying things that I had convinced myself I had no ability to cope with. The result was always the same, failure. Indeed I got to the point by my third year in my secondary school that my teacher  allowed me to “sit out” the lesson and read a book outside!

The difference between my experiences of writing and of art were very marked. When I became a Primary (elementary) teacher I relied heavily on Teaching Assistants and indeed my wonderfully artistic students (I always got the great artists in my class by some chance!) to get by in terms of display. Indeed I got through a whole career of  twenty-five years with most people believing that I had a reasonable facility with art!

Last night, I watched a programme on T.V. in which Michel Roux Jr., the famous chef, has been guiding a number of young people who have never thought of the idea, in the process of becoming waiters in top restaurants in London and indeed anywhere.

The students come from a variety of backgrounds and most of them have come to this process without any prior knowledge or skills relating to service in a fine-dining restaurant. The results of Michel’s coaching, teaching and support (along with his ex-employee Fred , a Maitre-D, at a very expensive London restaurant) have been wonderful to see. I have seen people who have come from a belief that they were inadequate and couldn’t do the tasks set to a position where they have self-belief and have begun to function as potentially excellent waiting staff for any restaurant anywhere in the world.

Michel Roux has been a revelation as a teacher. He has not shouted or put his charges down. He has shown disappointment when they have let themselves down (which they have done on a few occasions by behaviour and attitude that negates their learning). He has been willing to have a quiet word of support which has helped the would-be waiters to make progress. Most importantly he has encouraged his charges to have self-belief and confidence in themselves.

Now you cannot teach this confidence factor, it is a matter of self-persuasion.This “self-persuasion” also runs the other way. It is what made me believe that I was “no good at art” it is what makes so many adults say that they are “no good at mathematics” and it is what makes the student waiters occasionally hit a wall, because they get to the point where their own mind is telling them that they cannot do it.

I do not know where I acquired the inner self-confidence that I have with writing. I have now reached word 695 in this post (as advised to me by my word count meter at the bottom of my WordPress post) and I have not had any real problems in terms of “what do I do now?” “I’m not sure what to write” , “I can’t do this”.

We need to be aware of the confidence factor and the way that it can affect any learning. The teacher’s role needs to be to support a student as Michel Roux so ably does. Whereas we cannot teach confidence we can certainly dent it or even destroy it, particularly if it is in a fragile or developing state. Sometimes I wonder just what might have happened to our world if teachers would not have put students down or stated that what they produced was inadequate. I suppose that I was fortunate to have never been put down in my writing or not so much as to have just dented my confidence. In art I cannot say the same thing.What message was I being told when I was allowed to “sit out” the class?

Many years after this event I was doing a drawing with a child in my class. I had recently seen an article that said that drawing is aided if you look at a very small part of what you are trying to draw and not get yourself confused with the wider picture. I therefore followed this advice and produced a reasonable effort of a person’s face. The child looked at it and said “you can really draw well Mr Bellamy”. It was probably one of the best moments in my teaching career.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day

Image via Wikipedia

I have no clever words after seeing this video. On Holocaust Memorial Day I hope that children get the chance to reflect on the words and images of this video. The thing that will stay with me is the part where we look at the 1 point 5 million children who perished and think what they might have become.. the artists, musicians, scientists, scholars….. what might they have contributed?….. we will never know….

The final image is apt….. go to and light the virtual candle… and remember.

Rethinking Education

Every now and again there comes a video that changes your perspective or makes you say “yeah, that’s right I wish the politicians and the administrators would see this!”

It is a video by a Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University called Mike Wesch. He first came to public and YouTube attention with a video he made in 2007 called “The Machine is Us/ing Us” which has so far had over 11 million hits!

Professor Wesch has certainly got his finger on the pulse of our changing digital world. I feel that this latest video will no doubt be seen by millions as his other videos have…… I only hope that some of the movers and shakers of our world are able to see it and sit up and take note….. as Bob Dylan would say “The Times They Are a Changing!” and Education (at any level) needs to change ( actually it needed to change yesterday!!)

With thanks to Dr Angela Maiers for the Facebook link!!

Thinking Mathematically

I got an e-mail a few days ago from a friend. It contained one of those typical requests to change the world by sending on my e-mail in the following way:

I am sending this note to a lot of people. If all of you send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300)….and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) … and so on.  By the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers! If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it…..


Now the way that I was educated in mathematics at school was the old-fashioned listen to the teacher who gives you the way to get it right. On that basis I would follow the logic of the above statement and say yes… it is all about multiplication and I can multiply by 10 so it must be accurate… wow imagine getting to all those people in just a few generations of e-mails!

But I have re-educated myself as a teacher and now as a mathematics consultant. I have come to realise that the old certainties do not exist in the real world. I was not taught to think but just to act and get a result… thus every triangle has 180 degrees in it and so if I know two angles I can work out the third. The formula for the area of a triangle is half the base times the height.. if I know these two measurements (or can deduce them) then I can get the answer.

In the real world there are uncertainties. There is no value in having a mean average of  26.5 in the size of classes in a school.. where is the half  child?  There is no exact measurement of the height of a building,  my measurement is accurate to within a certain fraction of a centimetre but cannot be exact. How many people are likely to enter the city of London today? How do I know? There are so many factors that can affect this number (too many to list).

I have spent a lot of the weekend reading an excellent book on mathematics called “The Elephant In The Classroom” by Jo Boaler. This book tackles the reasons why children often hate mathematics and find it difficult. The sub-title of the book is “Helping  Children Learn and Love Maths” (The book is published in North America as:  “What’s Math Got to Do with It?: Helping Children Learn to Love Their Most Hated Subject–And Why It’s Important for America”).

The central idea of the book is that the old way that I was taught does not allow children to really enjoy or experience mathematics, it is about certainties and answers and ticks on the page. Boaler puts forward the idea that mathematics should be about exploration, collaboration, problem-solving and playing around in search of the patterns that excite mathematicians but which is mostly missing from many school’s mathematics teaching.

Looking at the generating e-mails example above with the eyes of one who does not expect certainty I can say that, in the real world, there are networks that overlap and therefore the simple progression towards 300 million will not happen… thirty people may well send the same e-mail to the same person (probably me!) and I will send it on to some hapless person who will have received maybe one hundred of these and in the end will just delete it through frustration!

In Boaler’s book she gives an example of two schools that she has looked at in a longitudinal study. One school, Pheonix Park (made up name) promotes a collaborative, problem-solving, mixed ability type of teaching in mathematics whilst the other, Amber Hill, promotes a traditional “sit in rows and learn the rules” type of approach. She contacted students from these two schools years after they had left the schools and were now adults out in the workforce. She found that the ex-students from Pheonix Park had more professional positions and pay than their counterparts in Amber Hill although in socio-economic terms Amber Hill was the better off school.

What was most interesting was to read the quotes from the ex-students from the two schools. In relation to examinations and tests the two different approaches produced different attitudes from the students. Thus:

“The Pheonix Park students had not met all of the methods needed in the examination, but they had been taught to solve problems and they approached the examination questions in the same flexible way that they approached their projects – choosing, adapting and applying the methods they had learned.” (Boaler, 2009, p.62)

Trevor, a student from Amber Hill said the following when he was asked about tackling exam questions. He said, ” You can get a trigger, when she says like “simultaneous equations” and “graphs” or “graphically”. When they say like – and you know, it pushes that trigger, tells you what to do.” I asked him “What happens in the exam when you you haven’t got that?” he gave a clear answer “you panic.”

I went to a school like Amber Hill but I would only teach in a school such as Pheonix Park if I had the chance to choose. The Pheonix Park student may well have noticed the mathematical problems with the “generating e-mails” idea. Maybe the Amber Hill student may have noticed but there is a good chance that he/she wouldn’t have. In an employment situation we surely need people who can think, question and discuss possibilities and not look for “triggers” that give them answers!

It still seems strange to me that at a time when we need to be promoting problem solving and collaborative skills we need to be looking at books such as “The Elephant In The Classroom” and following the advice of allowing children to enjoy mathematics by problem solving together, recording their results and discussing ideas and not going the other way of promoting the “chalk and talk” and certainty. We should not be rigidly setting our children and labelling many of them as hopeless at mathematics. We should be promoting a generation that is flexible and adaptive and does not seek “triggers”!



The Three Year Old Inside Of You

As readers of this blog (a few hardy souls out there in internet land) will no doubt know, I am a great fan of TED Talks. I am a follower of TED on Facebook and this gives me the advantage of getting their publicity for many of the talks that they have uploaded onto their website.

Recently, they started to upload a number of the excellent talks that take place in the TEDx (where x= independently organised TED event). I have a couple of these talks in my latest Top TED Talks list (which has now reached 15 with the addition of the talk that I will be referring to in this blog).

About two weeks ago I followed a link from Facebook from TED to a TEDx Talk from Toronto by a man called Neil Pasricha called  “The 3 A’s of Awesome” Now usually I would have put the whole talk as an download to my post but this time I wanted to concentrate on just one small part of the talk (which I would still advise everyone to watch as it is excellent).

So I decided, for this post, to concentrate on just one small part of Neil’s talk. It is the part where he goes into the second A of the three A’s of the title…and this is Awareness. Now I was able to concentrate on just a part of the talk by using a website called “Safeshare” This is a really good site that actually allows you to check videos for comments and use the parts that you want to use in talks or for classroom use.

It allows you to download the YouTube video and then search for the relevant section and then it will give a start and finish time and you can then get a URL for the section that you want to show… my section is as follows:

If you watched the section of the talk you will see that Neil refers to us seeking the awareness that exists inside of each of us… he does so in a very powerful way… by saying that we should bring out the three year old within us and look upon things as if for the first time.

I feel that this is so important in education  and indeed in life generally. So often we bore children to death with examples that they have seen for the hundredth time and we wonder why they turn off and seek other courses of action such as talking or prodding each other. We do not do as Neil has suggested and ask them to look upon the familiar with the eyes of someone looking at something for the very first time.

In artists we often see this skill and also in the descriptions of the everyday and the mundane (as we see it) by those who have lost their sight and then regain it.  I remember being brought to tears once listening to a man who had gained his site for the first time in his life  who described the intensity of his experience of seeing the sea for the first time.

Please feel free to use the Pasricha clip with your class, watch the whole talk and when you go on a walk this weekend (or next) look at the beauty that surrounds you with your three year old inner self’s eyes and marvel at the detail of the wonderful place we are so privileged to live in.



The trouble with boys

I watched this TED Talk a few days ago… TED sells it as: At TEDxPSU, Ali Carr-Chellman pinpoints three reasons boys are tuning out of school in droves, and lays out her bold plan to re-engage them.

Ali started her talk with data that showed just how many boys are underperforming as against girls. She stated three main reasons for this:

(1) Zero tolerance in schools: Schools do not allow swords, knives and guns. Boys (and girls) are not allowed to write about violence and video games.

(2) There are fewer male teachers in schools. In U.S. elementary schools the number of male teachers in the totla teaching workforce has fallen from 14% to 7%. This means that there are very few male role models for boys in school where they spend six hours or so a day for five days a week.

(3) The curriculum has become compressed. As Abi says “kindergarten is the old second grade”. This means that teachers, who are pressurised to get test results put pressure on their students to succeed in tests which gives turns boys off.

What she feels needs to happen to combat this is:

(1) The video games industry need to design better games to engage and educate children

(2) There needs to be more men in the classroom where zero tolerance needs to be relaxed

(3) The curriculum needs to be uncompressed so that boys (and girls) can express themselves creatively  and explore new ideas.

I have to admit that many of Ali’s points struck home with me. Her hard data of just how many boys underachieve  in relation to girls and how many become “special needs” or are diagnosed with ADHD or ADD should make politicians and school administrators take note. There is a lot of sense in her solutions as well.  But her point is well made about the yolk of the testing regime that compresses and starves the curriculum of the sort of open-ended creativity that would allow boys to flourish.



John F. Kennedy’s Harvard application

Photo portrait of John F. Kennedy, President o...

Image via Wikipedia

What I like about the internet revolution is the accessibility that students have to some wonderful source material. As a follower of Scribd on Facebook I learnt about a recent addition to their extensive materials. The Kennedy family had allowed John F. Kennedy’s Harvard application of 1935 to be uploaded for free public perusal.

I went through these papers and found some really fascinating material. The future President was not good at Physics or French. He seemed to excel in the subjects like History that really interested him. He was, according to his father someone who would only work at subjects that interested him.

It reminded me so much of so many boys that I have taught. By all accounts JFK was a bit of a rebel when he was young and found it difficult to shine in the shadow of his eldest brother Joseph. Joe was very much the A student, football star and the chosen one to ascend to great things. In this period of his life JFK was the second born who was considered the shadow to his brother’s powerful presence.

There is so much that a student can learn from this material. The thing I did wonder about was where Kennedy would stand in today’s test-centred education systems. As a student he would be struggling in many respects according to this evidence… as a politician would he feel that tests and exams should dominate the educational agenda? We will never really know… but I do feel that these materials should be shown to as many students as possible and they should be allowed to get from them whatever they they see it.


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