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With only ten days to go before I head to the United States, I’ve been bust typing up odds and ends leaving me with little time in which to think about writing a thoughtful post.

Between all the assembling, wrapping and packing however a series of thoughts, some coherent, others less so; some connected others as different as the quiet of assembly to the ruckus of recess.

I’m going to jot down thoughts in random order. Here we go!

How can we improve our Knowledge Management?

Schools, as institutions for learning and knowledge-creation often do little to archive the creativity and potency of the materials that our teachers create. There are two primary gaps in our management of knowledge:

a) In accessing organisational knowledge and

b) In archiving accessed knowledge

– It surprises me how few of the teachers in schools visit other classrooms or other schools. There is so much to be gained by having two teachers collaborate on observing each other (maybe to solve a particular problem identified earlier while sitting in on a pre-determined session) or even by observing how other schools get their basics right. I would like to see Principals set a policy where every school year every teacher collaborates with another teacher for at least two half-days on peer observation.

– Rookie teachers routinely flounder through teething troubles that a well-organised experienced-teacher-written wiki could easily solve, as could a mentor at school.

– As a newbie teacher, I spent several hours designing experiments, crafting props to use in the classroom and making sure I got my hand-outs spot on. It took a lot of my time. It was easier back then without a wife to come back home to, with more energy and maybe more nerves. Sure, all of us would love to have children immerse into practical hands-on learning, we would love to wipe the dust of teacher resource books and create new materials- but if you are teaching a large number of classes (or worse, large number of students) even the best intentions can go awry. Moreover, many activities-for-teachers books are well-intentioned but often carry programs that are not-pilot tested, causing demonstrations to blooper and learning to falter.Some of us give a few classes our best, disadvantaging the others – the best of us try and give all classes our best and are forever running to catch up with own own schedules. Several of our classes then become ‘chalk and talk.’ It would be nice if schools kept teaching materials, curricular samples, worksheets from year-to year as a one-stop-resource for teachers looking for a handy resource. It would help the dull teacher make his classroom more exciting and help the reflective teacher think about improving student success rather than with cutting chart paper.

 

What makes a good teacher?

I spent some time crafting a personal vision for myself. At the very top of this assignment, I wanted help!

What kind of teacher did I want to be? Obviously the kind that motivates students towards a love for learning, that makes class fun. What did that mean? What traits would embody a teacher of that kind?

I reflected on my own days as a schoolboy and found myself remembering teachers who were as different as chalk from cheese; from the tough booming-voice Mr. Sharma who was soft on the inside, who set us dry assignments and made us read textbooks in class as a way of learning, yet who loved each of us dearly to Mr. Bhagat whose classes were an intellectual adventure like no other but who outside the classroom was unapproachable. Also Ms. Singh, who would feed us (I went to a residential school) cookies in the evenings and run an efficient classsroom in the mornings- yet who wasn’t even a trained teacher (she was a teacher’s wife subbing for a regular on leave). Why did each of them endear themself to us?

I realised that my year at Harvard would do nothing to make me a better teacher. It could probably make me a more aware teacher and a better-equipped one, but not a better teacher because teaching rises above what we are and comes alive in the moments when we reach out to a student and focus on him, not on ourselves.

Which is why most we had less hiring mistakes with those we hired post a Classroom demonstration compared to others hired through more conventional recruiting procedures.

I wonder if you could help me with this? What do you think makes a good teacher?

 

 

Who does the Principal learn from?

In this country, most Principals are captains of their own ships. Yes there are board meetings with experienced educators. Yes, there are workshops. But that happens one one or two occasions a year. A principal is coming from a context where as a recent teacher he has had a Principal/Administrator to guide him, workshops in collegial environments to share and learn from. With the elevation to Head, he moves from being to counselled to being the counsellor.

I know many people who find it rough. It can be difficult to provide all the answers when you are at sea yourself.

I call for a Learning Circle where Principals of a few nearby schools visit each other, observe, evaluate, comment, critique, learn and share. Apart from making the Principal a more able leader it would also send a strong signal to the staff about personal development and collaborative growth.

 

 

Better Writing and Better Assessment

This one could interest all you bloggers and creative writing teachers. I came across Creative Writing 101- tips on better writing by Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction to his excellent collection, Bogambo Snuff Box. I have included 4 of the 8 tips here:

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot.

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible.

I found this interesting because I love to write and have penned several short stories. But his tips, especially point #2- every sentence must either reveal character or advance the plot, is relevant to every writing situation, be it blogging or even teaching- whether in class or while setting questions for student assessments.

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted. Students know when the unexpected assessment in class means that you have not prepared your material and being unable to teach, are using the assessment as a diversion. Don’t waste their time. Ditto with asking them to read pages and pages of hand-outs that have little relevance to the learning objective, simply because as a teacher, its been difficult to find appropriate passages and reading material.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot. Now wouldn’t that make for great teaching even if we were lecturing?

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia. A call to action for those differentiated instruction and differented assessment designed to meet the needs of individual students.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible. Very often we either expect students to guess what we want in response to a question on an assessment. It tickles our ego, provides us with the thrill that beseiges a creator of a good puzzle, but it does nothing to advance student learning.

 

Other Random Thoughts

– One way to promote classroom collegiality may be to shift seating plans in classes around every few weeks. It will make students more comfortable with each other. The next time there is a problem, the student in question, will have several other to consult with rather than just one trusted friend; a situation that most teachers crave.

– If there is one thing I would like to do at the start of every school year it would be meeting every student of mine for a one-on-one chat where I learnt more about him as a person, as a member of a family and community, as a young man with hopes and dreams for his future. That would probably help me shorten the learning curve and understand him better than I could even after several conventional assessments or classroom sessions.

Reading five blog posts and offering thoughtful comments and engaging in dialogue is better than reading twenty without doing any of these. Holds true for any kind of reading. I plan to stick to this principle even when new carnivals and my Google Reader conspire to seduce me into reading several blogs at a go.

 

 

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Two months ago I saw An Inconvenient Truth. It has been parodied and pilloried several times in the press, but it left me a message. Global warming is a reality and the ozone depletion is a cause for concern.

Today I finished reading Jeffrey Sachs’The End of Poverty as We Know It.” Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, ex-Adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is probably best known as the dapper economist who accompanies rocker Bono around the world trying to spread the message of fighting AIDS. His central message if “Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time.” He argues that Poverty can be eradicated in 20 years.

I’m not an economist, but the book left me with many unanswered questions. The book starts of with promise. Sachs’ tells personal stories and weaves narratives about several countries together wonderfully as he explains how Globalisation and Interconnectedness are key and how economies are linked to Topography and Natural Resources. He makes a forceful case for Technology as the killer app for development economics and surprises you with some tidbits (African Governments being no more corrupt than others, the US being amongst the lowers contributors (as % of GDP) to Foreign Aid etc. He fashions a hypothesis that 0.7% of Annual National Incomes of the 22 wealthiest countries would eradicate poverty and tries valiantly but failingly to convince you.

In the end a nice book with a lot of information, some oft-mentioned plans, but no pathbreaking ideas.

But this post is not about Messers Gore and Sachs. When I think back about the ideas presented in these two books and films, I realise it’s not about government, corporations or non-profits. It is about you and me. It is about what we can do to make our world live longer, be happier, brighter and better. It is about making a small difference, one thing at a time, and the results will begin to show.

I sat down to make my list of 10 ways I would try and make a small difference to the world and its inhabitants:

1. I will try and Pay it Forward: You may have seen the movie (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt). It’s about doing good for someone anonymously and starting a potential series of good deeds as receivers of anonymous good actions Pay it Forward by helping others in turn. I’ll let Trevor, the hero of the book and movie explain:

Trevor, 12-year-old hero, explains his idea to his mother and teacher: “You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven.” He turns on the calculator, punches in a few numbers. “Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?”

On the way back home this evening, I passed a toll plaza. I paid for the next three cars behind me. My first conscious attempt at Paying it Forward.

2. I will volunteer: I plan to devote one month of my time every two years. The last time I volunteered was in 2004 when I worked in Tsunami Affected Areas for 7 weeks- first on relief and then on rehabilitation. It was also the last time when I felt ‘connected to the Earth.’ The last time I saw ‘all of us as one’ for weeks at a stretch. I don’t know if these words will mean much, but anyone who has experienced trauma and calamity from this close will know what I am talking about.

Getting one month off in a block is difficult, so I will try and do this over several days in the 2 years, investing evenings and weekends.

3. I will Give to Soup Kitchens: Next time I am having a get-together at home, good food left over goes to feed the needy. (dial 1098 from a PNT line in India)

4. I will Conserve Electricity: My laptop is almost always on. My Television is always on Standby. I leave the geyser running for hours to have a 5-minute shower. I forget (sometimes) to turn off the lights after I leave a room. My bedroom is wired to put on 3 halogens at a time (no single bulb switches at all). My Air Conditioner consumes energy inefficiently (yes there is a comfortable, yet energy efficient temperature for ACs). All these actions make cost more money and spend more of the limited energy resources that we have. BTW if you were wondering: leaving appliances on standby consume 5% of maximum power.

I don’t know if I am prepared yet to be carbon-neural, but many schools, and all new Government funded schools in the UK are.

5. I will Avoid the Car if I Can Manage it: Good for health and good for the trees too!

6. I will Re-commit to the reason I became an Educator: Education is the way out of global poverty and out of global violence. Everyone from Adam Smith (“An instructed and intelligent people ..are more disposed to examine, and are more capable of seeing through the interested complaints of faction and sedition. The whole society is at risk when any segment of the population is poorly educated” – from his seminal “Wealth of Nations”) and my eight year old student Harleen (I feel happy when I am at school. If everyone went to school, they would be more smiley and a lot happier)

As Teachers we can help shape the world in brighter hues than we find it today. Every day, every class, every moment spent with a child can be used to fill in him a zest of life, a joy for living, a passion for learning.

I have decided to keep a regular journal, think, reflect and recommit every day to this profession.

7. I will Smile a Lot more: I am sure there is some Psychology paper somewhere that mentions a smiling person as being more attractive, happier, more confident and a delight to be around. I know when I see a smiling person on the street, I break into the biggest smile possible. I’d like to be that way most of the day.

8. I will be more Empathetic: I want to – Say Thank you more often. Send more cards (when was the last time you did?). Say Good Morning. Good Night too. Listen with Genuine Interest. Smile at the newsboy every morning. Buy flowers for home. Call an old teacher. Call an old friend. Answer and help anonymous people who make they way to my inbox I have the time. Give more pats on the back. Say well-done more often. Criticise less. Provide more support.

9. I will Vote: I am ashamed to say that I, like more than half of my countrymen in every election, do not vote. I plan to put this right the next time and only then criticise the government for the ills we find ourselves in.

10. I will revisit this list: Ideas that are written and not implemented are soon forgotten. I am going to tack this to my softboard to make sure I see (if even from the corner of my eye), this everyday. I will try and stick to this. Try not promise, for as Amitabh Bachchan, Indian movie superstar says in his film Sharaabi (The Alcoholic): “Vaade toot jaatein hain, Koshishein Kamiyaab ho Jaati hain” (Promises are broken but efforts often become successful).

I hope that by following this (and some other little things I have jotted down) I can make a small but significant change in my immediate environment and in the World (remember the Hummingbird effect?) I believe that “When we Change the World Changes” and that all of us should attempt to make, in our own little and special ways, this world a nicer place to be in. When that happens, transformation will take place.

As Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Robert Kennedy said this in an impassioned speech in Africa (these are also the last lines of Sachs’ book):

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”

Do you want to help? (click on the numbers to read)

#1. Visit the Earth Institute’s “How you Can Help” page

#2. Read about the UN’s Millennium Development Goals; a report on Universal Primary Education

#3. Tips on Global Warming in the Classroom – educator resources from the Inconvenient Truth website (lesson plans, classroom activities, project ideas et al)

#4. More Educator Resources (including student grants of $500) by the Pay it Forward Foundation

#5. Listen to Imagine, by John Lennon (turn up those speakers!)

#6. How Happy is the World? A map of the world with different shades for countries based on their Happiness Index (UN Data)

#7. Try Blackle.com – It’s the Old Google in New Black Clothes. Apparently booting white pages takes more out of your PC, a black Google page would save the world 750 MW of power. (Thanks Krishnan!)

#8. This one is my favourite: If you haven’t read Desiderata, read it. The best advice on a happier, more fulfilling life I’ve come across.

 

10 things to do

This image above is from the Inconvenient Truth Website (but you knew that!)

How will you change the world? Let me know! I would love to hear what you think.

Are you an Educator? Maybe you use a similar discussion in your classroom?

Read our latests posts here or leave a comment!

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Back during my MBA, I learned about network effects. Simply put, a service (for us, a blog) becomes more valuable as more and more people use it, mainly because every user functions as a switchboard connecting many (until then) unknown people together.

 

Think of it like this.

 

I have a Telephone. Noone else does. Who can I call? Noone.

 

You have a Telephone, so do I. You can call me, I can call you. That’s one call (Talk combinations possible- 1 – You and I).

 

John (J) gets a phone. You(Y) and John don’t know each other. Now you can call John, I can call John, and he can call both of us. Or three of us can be on the phone together. (Talk combinations possible – 4 – IY, IJ, YJ, IJY)

 

Priyanka gets a phone. Now John can Call Priyanka, me and you. Same for Priyanka. Also for me and you. One of us could choose to call two others on conference but not the third. (Talk combinations possible – 11 – IY, IJ, IP, YJ, YP, JP, IYP, IYJ, IJP, JPY, IYJP)

 

So now with 4 phones in the network, the number of conversations possible has increased in a proportion exponentially greater than the number of people added to the network.

 

This diagram exposes 1-1 connections :

 

Network effect

 

In fact, network effects are the magic ingredients that make sites like FlickR, MySpace, Orkut, Friendster so appealing. Every time a person joins Facebook, the number of connections he can make and every other person who has a Facebook Account can make goes up exponentially.

 

Same is true of the local mall. Every time a vacant spot in the mall is taken by a new retailer, the value of the mall goes up exponentially, the value of being in that mall for the other shopkeepers goes up exponentially.

 

Or of the local stock exchange.

 

Or of your rail or bus network.

 

In fact, it is also true of most social spaces that thrive on collaboration.

 

So, when I read Scott’s post on Top Edublogs, I started thinking of the Long Tail– the hundreds of thousands of brilliant bloggers with exciting ideas on education that have got themselves the tools to belong to a network, but still haven’t logged on. They have a blog but know of no tools to connect to the EduBlog network or have had less time/patience/energy to do so. We are missing out on voices what are yearning to think thoughts and inject ideas you and I would love to think and collaborate on.

 

Every one of these voices would exponentially improve the conversation in the blogosphere.

 

 

collaboration

 

So starting today I am going to, every two weeks, introduce a less read EduBlogger to you through this blog. My three criteria for identifying a less read and definitely-readable EduBlogger?

 

a) A Technorati Authority of 10 25 or less- this would, according to Scott’s analysis, be all blogs outside the top 500 320.

 

b) The blog should have have had one post in the last 10 days and at least 5 in the last two months (this would give me a large enough sample of posts to decide on whether the writing appeals to me as also to exclude bloggers who write sporadically).

 

c) Focus on personal, opinion-driven writing, rather than on posts linking to other writing without comments by the writer himself.

 

Look out for the first of the New Blogger Introductions today.

Update: Click right here to see our first featured Ebublogger in this series.

Also: Click here to see our latest EduPosts.

 

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I think a lot about ‘customer satisfaction’ and how to achieve it. ‘Customers’ is sometimes seen as an ugly word in Education, so let me put in this caveat: In this article I am going to mean Parent every time I write Customer.

Why is Customer Satisfaction important?

Apart from the obvious benefits, parent satisfaction leads to engaged parents. Engaged parents allow, among other things, ease of implementing innovative practices (less resistance), lowers costs (parent volunteers replace part-time hired help) and improves student learning (interest in schoolwork and showing up at PTAs) and

How can Parent Satisfaction be increased? Here are 10 Tips from experience.

The Key to the 10 Tips: The over-arching insight is this- most parents are emotionally involved with their children and take their schooling (if not their school) very seriously. Respond to parents and their queries/feedback/suggestions humanely, patiently, emotionally without diluting the professional requirements of your role as an Educator.

1. Know Thyself: Who am I ?

For Principals and Administrators looking to create Wow! in their schools, the first step is to define clearly “what the school is” and “what the school wants to be.”

This means understanding the DNA of your school (private/public, residential/day, progressive/traditional, academe-focussed/big on curriculars etc), its current culture and then what the vision for this school is.

This will then lead an understanding of how resources can be utilised and provide directionality to your actions that make you customer focussed.

The second step is to Know the Customer. During my first 2 months as Principal, we did a small survey (10 questions with mostly demographic and economic data) and were surprised by our results. We had been sending out circulars in English to parents- the data revealed that 93% spoke Hindi or Punjabi at home. This meant that most had greater familiarity with another language, and in all probability several were not comfortable with English.

Talk about a wake up call! We also discovered that most of our children came from joint families (where grandparents stayed with parents). We had been doing little to involve the grandparent (who held considerable authority) in the decision making and was an important ‘customer.’ Our orientation quickly changed.

If you are setting up a new school, you may choose to set-up a school looking at the population you will be serving. If you have a school up-and-running, this will tell you whether you need to educate your existing customers on your ‘philosophy’ or ‘brand’ of education or else it will signal that you are riding the wrong horse and you need to look at a different customer profile in the future when you admit new students.

2. Explain what Customer Service means: Once you have determined who your customer is and what your school wants to be, make sure that your team is geared to deliver. You have to tell them what great customer service means, let them know that customer service starts the moment the parent enters the school (and even outside) and encompasses both the classroom and everything outside it (in equal measure), provide them with examples of exceptional service.

Most teachers and staff-members at the school I headed, had not experienced WOW! as Customers. We took a team of teachers ,administrators and support staff (including gardeners, cleaners and a security-guard) to the Radisson. We paid attention to how the hotel greeted its guests, how the floor shone with wax, the manicured hedges, the clear signage and the alacrity of purpose in restaurant employees. Later, when the staff enjoyed their Rs. 120 (US$ 3) coffees and balked at the prices (compared to the monthly tuition fee of Rs. 800 (US$ 20), they were shown the co-relation between great customer service and the ability of an establishment to command a premium. This was connected to our school and the possibility of heightened innovation and resources at our disposal if we similarly wowed our guests.

3. Focus on the Small Things: During the administrative formalities in the days before I took over as head of school, I encountered long hold times when I called the school and on some ocassions, had to call a couple of times before someone answered the phone. One of the first things I did after I took over implementing a 3-ring policy. The School telephone had to be answered within 3 rings. If it wasn’t, it would be diverted to a voice mailbox (that was checked every half hour during school hours). I was maniacal about this. I know I have been hopping mad if I have been put on hold by call-centre manned telecom companies- it would be criminal to keep an anxious parent checking in on his child on hold for so long. This policy ensured that every individual calling the school received prompt service at his first touchpoint with the school.

There are several “small things” that go a long way- sending a small note to check on an convalescent child, ensuring that refreshments and light reading is available to visitors, ensuring every visitor is met by a member of staff as he enters the school and is guided to his destination etc.

Talk about these at staff meetings. Make sure transgressions are pointed out. Make it a big deal.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Tipping Point, talks of the Broken Windows Theory. Robberies tend to be higher in streets where there are broken windows. These streets are perceived as ‘easy.’ I reckon that the same is true of schools- wrappers lying around, broken (even chipped) furniture signal an indisciplined school (and may even cause indiscipline) and may affect how a prospective parent views you.

4. Speak to your Staff constantly: Your staff-members are your listening posts. They speak to parents and the community in greater numbers than you do and probably enjoy a closer rapport with most parents as well. Use them to gain feedback, formal and informal about how the school could improve.

If I was told I was allowed to speak to only one person in a school, I would speak to the receptionist (the lady who receives parents at schools and also their phone calls). If you don’t speak to your receptionist, I recommend you start doing the same. As someone who handles parents everyday, she probably knows of (even if she doesn’t understand) the many complaints, apprehensions and anxieties that they have.

5. Speak to your Customers: While I would be vary of allowing parents to have a say on every decision the school takes, I feel parent representation on school boards, PTAs and the like are great ways to listen to what parents have to say. Then we go further.

We started a Parent-School Partnership Dialogue where 10 Parent Representatives (from parents on one Yeargroup) met and discussed a pre-determined agenda once a month with me and two teachers who dealt with that yeargroup. This was a fantastic success- the parental cohort self-corrected its parental enthusiasm, shared their concerns and suggestions, listened to what the teachers had to say on matters ranging from trip planning and discipline to curriculum and parent-school communication. Parents were allowed to raise any issue they wanted, nothing was taboo (although the veto option was mine- never had to use it). The members understood that these meetings were for sharing ideas and brainstorming and that decisions would rest with the school. Minutes of these meetings were circulated to all parents.

These meetings helped build confidence in the school- we were a school that cared.

Make sure your parents have several ways of communicating with the school and that every parent knows of all possible ways. Research has shown that very few people want to complain/recommend/suggest improvement and you want to make sure you make it easy for those who want to.

All these are very important for the customer knows what he wants better than anyone else does.

Think about these tips and share some of your own! Also, do come back for the Final 5 Tips tomorrow!

 

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This post is both, personal and professional. After five short paragraphs, there are thoughts on how to talk to children about death.

My apologies to readers who have visited over the last week expecting to find new posts. I have not found the time to write as I was dealing with an intense personal loss- that of my Grandmother. She was 89. She had a zest for life, was loved by all and for me, was my first experience with an adult figure (I have the notion that for children their parents are not ‘adults’ – they are just Mom and Dad).

Under Hindu custom, the body of the dead is bathed and clothed and then burned to ashes in a holy funeral pyre. The ashes are then taken to the Ganges (considered the bestower of wisdom and the purgator of sin) and offered to the river. After this, it is believed, the soul leaves for its Eternal Home.

We didn’t have a close relationship, Dadi and I. She stayed in Assam, four hours away by an airliner. I saw her for a few days once every two years, maybe three. Yet, as I, with my uncles and cousins bathed her body before the Final Journey, I was choked with emotion. I missed her.

Thoughts about Death and Dying flooded my mind. I imagined my parents on their dying day. I imagined them breathing their last and me setting fire to their pyres. I imagined myself being laid down similarly a few decades from now by yet unborn children and grandchildren.

I thought about my nieces. How would they react to Dadi‘s death? Their parents had decided not to bring them to the funeral so I couldn’t speak to them one-on-one, but if I could, what would I say? What is the best way to speak to children about Death? Below I have reproduced some thoughts (in random order) that I had on the day of Dadi‘s death:

1. There are different ways to talk to children at different ages. But one thing is probably a constant. As with almost all things, being upfront and honest about what has happened is often the best way to deal with Death. Sure, we must break the news gently, but the news must be expressed clearly instead of being clouded with ambiguous terms like “long trip”, “far away”, “in the sky” etc. Protecting our children by not sharing the facts with them is certainly not the right thing to do, because this leaves them confused, bottled up and unable to express themselves.

2. Children know about Death before we think they do. They may not comprehend the finality of death- at younger ages most children think that this process must surely be magically reversible or that that the departed is around, maybe not at home, but just around the corner somewhere or on some kind of holiday and will be back soon – but know that death as a concept exists. They see death on TV, hear of it at school (friend’s relatives, pets etc), maybe even act it out in their own role-plays.

If the death is anticipated, it is probably better to speak to the child before it happens. This will allow the child to share & express love and emotion towards the departed and make the parting easier.

3. Allow the child to tell you what she thinks happens to people when they grow old. Where has Dadi gone? Listen carefully and clarify any misconceptions children may have. With younger children parables, analogies, metaphors would probably work best. Provide short, clear answers. Do not overwhelm them. Check on what they have understood. This can be critical as often understanding may be muddled.

4. Talk to the child when you and she both are comfortable.

5. Hearing about death for the first time, children may become insecure about their parents and wonder if they too will die soon. Assure them that their parents are not going anywhere soon. When I was 6, my parent’s attended the funeral of a distant relative. A few days later, Mom was prescribed spectacles for the first time. When I saw her with the glasses perched on her nose, I started crying for I thought that meant that she too would die soon.

6. Assure the child that She has nothing to do with the death– it was not her fault. Likewise, assure her that the person in question did not die because she was a bad person. Children have the proclivity to equate death with being a ‘bad person’.

7. Express your own feelings about the death, maybe even relate your feelings when you were a child and a close relative died.

8. Some children may not react as we expect. They may displace their feelings through anger, loss of appetite, attention deficiency. They may not talk and express themselves openly but may provide signals about their feelings through drawings, role-plays etc. It will help to be watchful and patient, talking to the child as necessary.

9. Make sure that the school and parents talk. You don’t want the teacher at school and the parents at home to give the child confusing, or worse, contradictory signals about Death and Dying.

Lastly, I’d like to reemphasise honestly and directness. I know of a family where a child was told his Grandfather (who he shared a room with) had “gone to sleep forever”. The child was frightened of nightfall, was afraid to go to sleep and started wetting his bed at the age of 9. It would have been best if he had been explained this in a sensible and clear manner.

I have limited experience of dealing with children who’ve lost a relative; this list is certainly not complete. This topic is important to me, I’d appreciate your comments and suggestions about how best it can be handled.

Rest in Peace, Dadi.

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One of my biggest learnings of 2004 was understanding Reading levels. I knew, earlier than 2004, that there are reading levels, age-appropriate bands of text complexity, determined by research for classroom settings.

This meant that in your classroom you would want to use text:

a) That was at the reading level of the children in your class or just slightly above

b) That there was the possibility that some there may be a range of reading levels in your class: some students may be reading ahead their age-appropriate reading level and some behind

c) That you would have to make allowances for this spectrum of reading levels, especially in Individual reading classes or Sustained Silent Reading Lessons, else you may end of frustrating the reader (should there we a dissonace between his reading level and that of the text he is offered)

I used reading cards and books in the class that came with the publisher’s recommended reading level guidelines. Else, by scanning the material I made an educated guess on what the reading level could be.

That’s when I stumbled upon stuff like the Gunning Fog Index and the Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease.These are tools to determine the reading levels of any piece of text.

 

The Gunning Fog index can be calculated with the following alogritm (courtesy wikipedia). Don’t get bothered by the computation; towards the end of the post I will provide links to sites that can compute this stuff in seconds for you:

  1. Take a full passage that is around 100 words (do not omit any sentences).
  2. Find the average sentence length (divide the number of words by the number of sentences).
  3. Count words with three or more syllables (complex words), not including proper nouns (for example, Djibouti), compound words, or common suffixes such as -es, -ed, or -ing as a syllable, or familiar jargon.
  4. Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words (ex., +13.37%, not simply + 0.1337)
  5. Multiply the result by 0.4

 

gunning fog index

 

 

 

 

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease can be calculated like this:

flesich kincaid reading ease

 

The Gunning Fog Index gives you a number that corresponds with the number of years of schooling one would need top understand the text. A number of 6, for example, would mean that a 6th grader could understand the text.

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease would return a number between 0-100 with numbers closer to 0 being meaning easier text.

The alogrithms look complicated in their computation, but simplistic in the number of variables they take into account. The shortcomings of this approach may be that the formula cannot account for

  • account for writing style or genre
  • usage of passive/active voice
  • redundancy of expression
  • use of language that is simple or familiar
  • complexity in ordering of logical thought,

all of which are important in making text readable and determining what grade they could be appropriate for.
Here is a look at some popular texts and what their readability is like (GF: Gunning Fog, FRRE: Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease)

New York Times (webpage at http://www.nytimes.com), GF 9.04 FRRE 60.09

Wall Street Journal (webpage at http://www.wsj.com), GF 9.18 FRRE 59.33

Walt Disney Company (webpage in the site disney.go.com), GF 7.13 FREE 54.02

The Bible has a GF of 6, Reader’s Digest of 8, Time Magazine of 10. A GF of 16 or above means readibility suitable at a post-graduate level.

I ran tests on the first page of my blog and came up with this:

Total sentences – 455

Total words – 4936

Average words per Sentence – 10.8

Words with 1 Syllable – 3298

Words with 2 Syllables – 963

Words with 3 Syllables – 410

Words with 4 or more Syllables – 265

Percentage of word with three or more syllables – 13.68%

Average Syllables per Word – 1.52

Gunning Fog Index – 9.81

Flesch Reading Ease – 67.04

Flesch-Kincaid Grade – 6.60

 

This seems to suggest that my blog is readable by some 9th graders and most 10th graders: given the directionality of the content on this site, I am happy with that. Ideally, I would recommend a readability between 8 – 10 on the Gunning Fog Index.

How does one use this in the classroom? Here are instructions on calculating readability statistics for Webpages, Word Documents and Texts:

Word Document: Fortunately MS Word has an inbuild functionality for this- for many years I was just ignorant of it!

1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
4. Click Spelling and Grammar on the Standard toolbar.

Now every time you spell check a document, Word will give you data on Reading grade and Level. As a bonus, it will also tell you how many of your sentences are passive!

Web Page: I recommend Juicy Studio– thats where I ran the stats for my blog shown above.

Text: There are several on the web, I love Jack Daniel’s is one.

The good news: It has its limitations, but can be handy for a quick check of readability and hence a great help in the classroom. Also, it unfortunately it won’t make you a great writer, but it can stop you from being an ordinary one!

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Most of my thinking happens at the cusp of Management and Education. Sometimes when I rue guidance counselling and wish that I’d not done an MBA or working as a business consultant, investing those years in learning about schools and education, I am quick to remind myself that most schools and their leaders today are increasingly influenced by Business Writing.

Today, while reading through Guy Kawasaki’s blog, I came across an interview with Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor at Stanford and author of some of the finest books on Leadership –

Two questions and anwers made me smile. I’ve reproduced them here:

Question: What is the key to global competitiveness?

Answer: The data on this are clear—companies choose to locate their R & D facilities on the basis of the availability of talent. This is more important than tax abatements and certainly much more important than rates of pay. If location was determined by cost, Silicon Valley would be empty. The best way to build human capital is through education—both elementary and secondary as well as higher education that is truly world class. This costs money, but it is worth it.

Question: What is the proper role for a CEO?

Answer: To develop others and their talents and to create an environment in which people can do their best and want to. It is not to make all the decisions or, like some kind of “sun king,” absorb all the light and the attention.

In fact, sometimes, as the Grammy-award winning Orpheus Chamber orchestra shows, the best leadership is less leadership. No seed can grow if it is dug up and examined every week, and for people to innovate and get things done, sometimes they need some time and space and resources. In fact, sometimes, as the Grammy-award winning Orpheus Chamber orchestra shows, the best leadership is less leadership. No seed can grow if it is dug up and examined every week, and for people to innovate and get things done, sometimes they need some time and space and resources.

the sun kingMost schools are rather bottom-heavy pyramids- lots of teachers/staff at one level of the hierarchy, and relative to other organisations, too few administrators and Principals at the top. This is true of India certainly; I assume with the cash crunch in education around the world, it is likely to be true of other countries as well.

In addition, with teaching increasingly becoming a less preferred vocation and attrition soaring higher, Principals are more likely to find themselves leading a team that they find ill-equipped, relative to their own days as members of a teaching cohort.

Because of these two reasons, (what with hundreds of children quaking in their boots at the sight of the Principal) , many of us who’ve led or lead schools can find it very easy to be drawn into this Sun-King delusion.

The best Leadership is not really Leadership in its glorious, warrior sense, it is compassionate & motivational direction-giving, appreciation and monitoring. The Principal could do well by thinking about a school and a team that he shepherds rather than controls.

It is not as exciting or sexy as it looks from the outside, this style of leadership, but it’s effective and in the long run, satisfying.

Are you a Principal or desire to be one? What has your experience been?

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