Best Education-Related Videos of 2013

I don’t usually reblog but this list by my colleague and Facebook friend Jackie Gerstein is almost exactly the same list I would have chosen myself. If you haven’t seen them yet give yourself a real treat. Thanks Jackie.

User Generated Education

I love end of year “best of” lists.  My own list is what I found to be the most powerful education related videos of 2013. They all, in some way, address the mind, heart, and spirit of education.  Each touched me in some way to help illuminate the purpose and core of education.  They are in no particular order expect for the first one which is my number one choice and one that I believe all educators should be required to watch.

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion

Favorite Quote:

Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

Favorite Quote:

Governments decide they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble…

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Mental scars don’t show

As a teacher  I can remember the times when a child in your class would come into your class and try not to show the bruise on his arm or the cut on his leg.

Notes were made and discussions were had with my Teaching Assistant. Keep an eye out for Johnny, ask him some questions in a chatty sort of way, what did he do at the weekend? Was he feeling alright? See if he tells you anything, but no leading questions about whether big brother punched him or dad whipped him with a belt. We knew the letter of the law and understood just how delicate an area all of this “abuse” thing could be.

But what about the taunts by the bullies out of school? What about your mum’s latest boyfriend telling you for the thousandth time that you were rubbish and that you had no future and why don’t you just pack your belongings and leave the rest of them in peace?

STICKS AND STONES. How many times have we all been told that lie?

I am, at the moment, reading an excellent book by Matthew Lieberman called “Social“. Lieberman is a pioneer in what is called Social Cognitive Neuroscience. The subtitle to the book is “Why our brains are wired to connect”.

The main argument in the book is that we evolved as social beings and that much of our life is driven by the need to connect with others. There is though a dark side to this hypothesis. If connection is good then disconnection, abuse, isolation, indeed anything that cuts us off from our peers hurts. It doesn’t just cause us mental pain, according to Lieberman, it is as painful as real pain and indeed he even posits that Paracetamol, a common pain killer,can be taken to alleviate the very real pain that we feel because of the words, deeds, events that have happened to us.

The interesting thing though is that, although we may bear the scars of a physical hurt or abuse, we do not show the real pain that we feel when we are abused verbally  or are isolated and made to feel different or odd or somehow freakish in our peer group or our family.

The mental scars though can often outlive the physical. They cannot be covered over or treated and they can last with us for a very long time.

I thought about this the other day, when a friend and colleague made a very brave statement on Facebook, about the fact that, three years ago, she tried to commit suicide a number of occasions. She stated that the primary cause of this was bullying by her Principal in the school that she loved teaching in and it was obvious that the scars of that event were still very raw in her mind.

She stated that she did not write the post to elicit the huge amount of support and sympathy that she received, but to make us all think about the reality of bullying. I think that the mental scars are often neglected when this horrible subject rears its ugly head. But we must think of this.

Lieberman is correct, the mental pain  is very real pain and the scars are real but not seen. We cannot allow so many people to suffer (it happens to adults as well as children and often in their place of work).

There may be those, reading this post, who will flinch with the remnants of a pain that comes from the scar that someone inflicted upon you mentally in the past. We need to accept that these are real scars and never ever come out again with that awful lie…




What we can learn from the PISA 2013 results

The results are out.Shanghai, China sits at the summit  of the education performance  mountain, Finland has slipped back from its  position of past glory as the number 1 nation. Britain has stayed the same and some nations such as Poland and Israel can give themselves a collective pat on the back for making good progress and closing the gap between the most able and least able children in their school systems.

The PISA report from the OECD has, for a long time, stood as the benchmark for international comparison of educational achievement. It is based on a number of tests that are given to a wide sample of 15 year olds within a given country. The most able are those who get questions right that are at the highest level of difficulty in the tests. The data is collected and then published as a variety of tables.

The list of achievement is the one that is usually looked at by the media around the world. Countries like to see if they have risen or fallen (or in the case of my country the U.K. trod water). The media carries on about  the winners and losers. The United States in particular is the place where the media will jump in on the results in order to continue their long running campaign of public dismay at the failure of their education system.

But there are, to quote a famous phrase, “lies, damn lies and statistics”. The figures are based on a test and like all tests they reflect the ability to take tests. In that respect it is not that surprising to see so many of the Asian nations, China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong showing up as the highest achieving nations. It is interesting that China, for example, which is achieving the greatest results, is concerned about their lack of innovation and creativity and have been looking at the examples of the U.S.A. and Western Europe as leaders in these areas.

If education were simply about the achievement of results in a test of Reading,  Mathematics and Science, then PISA would indeed be significant. But education is much much more than the narrow confines of a specific test of these specific areas of the curriculum. I have no doubt that if there was a test for innovation and creativity then the Asian nations might well lag behind the U.S., Canada and Western Europe. Would their media have such a panic about their inability to top a table in design?

So am I saying that we should ignore the PISA results? No. I certainly feel that they have some important information to provide us. The results in regard to equity for example (i.e. those nations which have made progress in bridging the gap between their highest achievers and their lowest, or the rich and poor, which is very often the same thing) is important. The results in regards to gender (i.e. boys and reading and girls and mathematics) is valuable.

We do not live in a silo. Indeed we now live in a large global village. We can all learn from each other. The PISA data will help us to see good practice from many nations across the globe. I would be interested to see how Italy or Israel have made progress in bridging achievement gaps and how this has impacted on gender issues.

To look at the results yourself go to

I would also thoroughly recommend PISA’s own video about the results which I feel is balanced and explores other issues than the basic country standings: see