Unlearning the Labels we use in Education

 

Larger labels in edThis past week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to engage in Facilitator Training with some wonderful leaders in our Board. It was energizing, supportive, informative and prompted a lot of great reflection and discussions.

How do Labels affect the Learning Process?

One of the key ideas that resonated with me was how labels affect what we think we know about someone, and the learning process.  It is amazing how our practice is often entrenched in the labels we use. Labels can be limiting, and have consequences for all key players in education. For instance, the word ‘student’ is a label that is embedded in traditional understandings of what it means to be a student. Traditional understandings of labels need to be actively challenged in the 21st century.

Effective collaboration promotes deep and meaningful change. Opportunities for effective collaboration evolves out of a respect that we are all learners and facilitators in a 21st Century learning environment.  We can facilitate more meaningful collaboration in our education systems by manipulating our use of labels, and exchange the word student, with ‘learner‘, and exchange the word teacher with ‘facilitator’. This tactic gives us permission to think outside of our ingrained schemata of what it means to teach and learn.  Often, our schemata includes visions of the teacher as a ‘sage on the stage‘, and the student as a passive receiver of information and knowledge. To solely use the labels ‘student’, and ‘teacher’ implies that the players in our education must always carry out the same roles to succeed.

However, in the 21st Century, we realise that students are also teachers and facilitators, and we understand that teachers are also learners and facilitators in the classroom environment. Further, we realise that the ‘learner’ and ‘facilitator’ are interchangeable terms, and depict roles that we must switch in and out when we are engaged in meaningful collaboration.

 

Unlearning our Traditional Views

At one point in our Facilitator session, we each had cards that were adapted from the School of Unlearning www.schoolofunlearning.com.

The card that I received had a number of questions that served as  guiding posts for me to engage in group work in different ways. Some of the questions included:

•    How do you check your ego?

•    Could the experts/research be right?

•    Is there an alternative way?

•    Can you embrace change?

•    What can others teach you?

These questions were a great reminder about how entrenched we as humans become in our existing schemata, knowledge and understanding. But in the 21st Century we need to unlearn our traditional views and embrace 21st Century schemata that acknowledges that knowledge and understanding is a fluid process that is always changing.

 A great anchor to these questions was a quote by Stephen Katz:

….Human beings are predisposed to preserve existing understandings of the world and they attempt to make new things familiar by transforming them into something that is consistent with what they already know (Stephen Katz 2010, p.19).

 

It is a natural human reaction to experience internal resistance when something we feel strongly about is challenged. But this does not have to be a ‘bad thing’ for several reasons:

First of all, this quote serve as a great reminder to take the time to look at alternative research and points of view.

Second, this quote also gives use permission that when we feel our internal resistance to new knowledge and new ways of thinking, that we are allowed to take time to pause and reflect. We are allowed to be lacking in answers and take time to check out new research consider other views, even if we don’t agree.

Third, even though the research may be different than current schools of thought, there are always alternative ways of looking at the data. We cannot make assumptions about what others are thinking and what they believe in.

Finally, this can be messy, but hopefully respectful process that can lead to shared understandings and educational success.

It is time to actively challenge the labels and roles that we are expected to play in education. We must access the research, and consider new forms of knowledge whether we agree or not. Further, it is time to take the time, to actively check in with ourselves and engage in reflection.

The following are questions that we can ask ourselves when we feel internal resistance to new information:

Do I agree with this?

What does the research say?

Can I assume that the research could be right?

What are the implications of this?

 

I am reminded of yet another great quote that was shared at our workshop:

 

Comfort the distressed. Distress the comfortable (author unknown)

 

Facilitating effective collaboration depends on the ability to comfort those who are too distressed, and distress those who are too comfortable in their practices, and can create an optimal equilibrium for promoting change.

Success in learning depends on developing this optimal equilibrium. Effective facilitators can harness this knowledge of ‘student voice’ to bring about effective changes in developmentally and culturally appropriate time frames.

New ways of thinking in the 21st Century are based in flexibility and fluidity. There will always be new knowledge and new ways of thinking that are inevitably as diverse as the learners we encounter. We no longer have to play traditional roles in order to experience success. Effective facilitation is about embracing change and promoting deep and meaningful collaboration with all learners.

The 21st Century is about Paradigm shifts, new blended models, inquiry processes, collaboration, globalization with technology, and changing classroom ecology. Facilitation skills are very important in all areas of education, and I am looking forward to this new journey.

 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Educational Leadership and Principles of Cognitive Psychology

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Educational Leaders can benefit greatly from the principles of Cognitive Psychology. It is a valid, quantifiable field that is able to help us understand a wide range of issues as they pertain to Education and Learning.

The research behind Cognition has been focussed on how we think and the way we learn, and more specifically on the systematic biases in of the schemas that we hold about the ways the world works. The theory behind our Cognition basically posits that our cognitions (thoughts, beliefs and assumptions), will trigger our affect, behaviour and our motivation. In other words, how we feel will affect how we behave, and they will in turn have profound effects on our motivation to learn.

Basically, biases and distortions are often the barriers to an effective education, and therefore, we need to address them within our education system.  Once we begin to recognized what those barriers are, we can engage in discussion, assessment, and appropriate intervention strategies. Intervention strategies can include effective ways for educators to begin to disrupt the thought patterns that lead to ineffective learning behaviours. This is essential to help students and Teachers alike to create positive change in the education system.

 All humans have the ability to engage in metacognition, and evaluate our own thoughts, it is those thoughts which in turn elicit behaviours. Thoughts certainly affect personality. Therefore, Educators and Leaders can use this premise in order to help students and employees to identify and change any dysfunctional or maladaptive thoughts, in order to improve behaviour and increase achievement and success.

Three cornerstones of Cognitive Psychology in Education Leadership includes:

a) The necessity to recognize the ability for students to self-monitor their own thoughts and behaviour,

b) The ability for Educator(s) and students to collaboratively engage in appropriate activities and schedules, and

c) Continually and actively challenging and what you think you already know about learning and education.

Self-monitoring is an excellent tool that teachers can use with students, to encourage more reflection, and metacognition skills (thinking about the way we think). Once students develop an increased awareness of their thoughts, then educators can help students engage in appropriate activity scheduling to help students actively dispute maladaptive thoughts, which will in turn affect maladaptive functioning and behaviours in the classroom.

Ineffective behaviours usually arise due to ineffective thought systems and reflexive responses. However, we as humans have the power to be active agents in our own development. Therefore, educational leaders can help students and stakeholders to engage in  activities that include strategies to invoke explicit and deliberate thinking, goal setting, problem solving, and long term planning. With careful questioning and activities such as personalized homework assignments, Educators can help students learn to use conscious control of their thoughts in order to recognize and override unsuccessful behaviour patterns and ineffective choices.

Other specific activity scheduling strategies can include (but not limited to)

  • Role Playing
  • Social Skills training
  • Assertiveness Training, and
  • Talking Circles.

In addition, embedding Character Education, Community building, and a Culture of Caring within our schools is also extremely important to restoring public confidence in the education system, in addition to improving transitions from elementary to high school, and high school to higher education.

It is important for Educators to use active questioning strategies to bring about new learning by:

1) Working with Students and Colleagues to clarifying and defining problem areas

2) Assisting in the identification of thoughts, images and assumptions

3) Examining the meanings of events for a student

4) Assessing the consequences of maintaining maladaptive thoughts and behaviours

5) Actively challenging those thoughts, images, and assumptions via appropriate educational intervention strategies.

Educators have the ability to impact the ‘whole’ student, and also using these Cognitive Psychology principles to understand how we learn, in addition to other dimensions of a student’s personality, including anxiety and depression in our students. An increasing variable that we as educators are facing when educating each cohort. Cognitive Theory posits that people suffering from depression and anxiety are not consciously seeking failure in their lives, but distorting their own reality by adopting negative views of themselves, and of their potential for happiness. Another key assumption is that negative automatic thoughts are developed through everyday experiences that are perceived as negative. To manage these variables, Educators can engage in Activity Scheduling interventions are excellent ways to actively dispute negative thoughts and behaviours!

In terms of applying principles of Cognitive Psychology, we as educators can use these thoughts to serve as hypotheses and subject them to validation. Examples  of validating our hypotheses of our students may include the use of homework tasks and assignments where students  actually test their own understanding and hypotheses about themselves and their own learning. This essentially builds excellent metacognition skills. Examples include helping students  and can make personal observations to refute (or confirm) their hypotheses of their own thoughts and behaviours. Therefore, Educational Leadership is always about allowing others to be active participants in developing their own metacognitive and reflection skills!

D. McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Science: How thoughts and behaviours impact achievement and success in Education

Cognitive Science is a valid, quantifiable field that is able to help us understand a wide range of issues as they pertain to Education and Learning. The research behind Cognition has been focussed on how we think and the way we learn, and more specifically on the systematic biases in of the schemas that we hold about the ways the world works. Our biases and distortions are often the barriers to an effective education, and therefore, we need to address them within our education system.  Once we begin to recognized what those barriers are, we can engage in discussion, assessment, and appropriate intervention strategies. Intervention strategies can include effective ways for educators to begin to disrupt the thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviours. This is essential to help students and Teachers alike to create positive change in the education system.

Aaron T. Beck developed Cognitive Theory because of the belief that humans have the ability to evaluate their own thoughts, which in turn elicit behaviours. Thoughts certainly affect personality. Therefore, individuals must identify and change dysfunctional thoughts and maladaptive cognitive functioning, in order to improve behaviour.

The theory behind our Cognition basically posits that our cognitions (thoughts, beliefs and assumptions), will trigger our affect, behaviour and our motivation. In other words, how we feel will affect how we behave, and they will in turn have profound effects on our motivation to learn.

Self-monitoring is an excellent tool that teachers can use with students, to encourage more reflection, and metacognition skills (thinking about the way we think). Once students develop an increased awareness of their thoughts, then educators can help students engage in appropriate activity scheduling to help students actively dispute maladaptive thoughts, which will in turn affect maladaptive functioning and behaviours in the classroom.

Three cornerstones of Cognitive Theory include:

a) The necessity to recognize the ability for students to self-monitor their own thoughts and behaviour,

b) The ability for Educator(s) and students to collaboratively engage in appropriate activity scheduling, and

c) Active thought disputation.

Maladaptive behaviours basically occur because of maladaptive thoughts and reflexive responses. However, we as humans have the power to be active agents in our own development. Therefore, dysfunctional thoughts can be replaced if an individual engages in activities including deliberate thinking, goal setting, problem solving, and long term planning. With careful questioning and activities such as personalized homework assignments, Cognitive Science really helps to teach us that students can learn to use conscious control of their thoughts in order to recognize and override maladaptive behaviours and poor choices. Other specific activity scheduling strategies can include (but not limited to) Role Playing, Social Skills training, Assertiveness Training, and Talking Circles.

In addition, embedding Character Education, Community building, and a Culture of Caring within our schools is also extremely important to restoring public confidence in the education system, in addition to improving transitions from elementary to high school, and high school to higher education.

It is important for Educators to use questioning to bring about new learning by:

1) Clarifying and defining problem areas

2) Assisting in the identification of thoughts, images and assumptions

3) Examining the meanings of events for a student

4) Assessing the consequences of maintaining maladaptive thoughts and behaviours.

Cognitive Science also has the ability to inform maladaptive behaviours and thought patterns including anxiety and depression in our students. An increasing variable that we as educators are facing when educating each cohort. Cognitive Theory posits that people suffering from depression and anxiety are not consciously seeking failure in their lives, but distorting their own reality by adopting negative views of themselves, and of their potential for happiness. Another key assumption is that negative automatic thoughts are developed through everyday experiences that are perceived as negative. Activity Scheduling interventions are excellent ways to actively dispute negative thoughts and behaviours!

In Cognitive theory, we as educators can use these thoughts to serve as hypotheses that can be subject to empirical validation. Many Educators appreciate the tasks of homework assignments where students  test their own hypotheses, and can make personal observations to refute (or confirm) their hypotheses of their own thoughts and behaviours. Therefore, individuals are always active participants.

 

D. McCallum