COVID-19: Advice for Teachers, School Administrators and School Nurses

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

UPDATED 17TH MARCH 2020

It’s the story that everyone is talking about, and that also has many school leaders concerned: COVID-19. 

The recent outbreak of this novel strain of coronavirus has caused a domino effect resulting in school closures, travel restrictions and a general, heightened sense of anxiety for many people. For schools, three major priorities now exist:

  • Protecting the student and staff body from infection
  • Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure
  • Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and which may add to anxiety

In this week’s blog post I aim to tackle all three of these priorities in a non-biased, objective way. Original sources will be hyperlinked and a full list of citations can be found at the end of this article.

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Priority 1: Protecting the student and staff body from infection

This has to be a school’s first priority right now, as not only do the symptoms of COVID-19 infection vary slightly from person-to-person, but the resulting disease caused by the virus can progress to a serious stage in some people. A community in which high numbers of people work in close proximity to one another (such as a school) is also an ideal place for human-to-human transmission to occur, should an infected person be on-campus. 

The latest official information about COVID-19 allows us to evaluate risk to some extent:

  • Transmission can occur from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient through droplet transmission. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. (World Health Organisation)
  • Current estimates of the incubation period range from 1-14 days with a median estimate of 5 days (World Health Organisation)
  • At the time of writing (March 17th), official confirmed cases globally stand at 185,067 infected with 7330 total deaths and 80,236 official recoveries (Johns Hopkins)

This interactive map from John Hopkins University is a clear a quick way to track the official numbers. 

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According to the Washington State Department of Health, schools should be doing the following to protect their communities:

  1. Develop, or review, the school’s emergency operations plan. Review strategies for reducing the spread of disease and establish mechanisms for ongoing communication with staff, students, volunteers, families, and the community. Collaborate with local health departments and other relevant partners.
  2. It is advised that students, staff, parents and guardians, are excluded from sites if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  3. When possible, regular health checks (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening on arrival at school) of students, staff, and visitors. Those who are symptomatic should be excluded. For students experiencing homelessness, use your current procedures to ensure their safety.
  4. Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of serious COVID-19 are encouraged not to come to the child care and food service setting (including employees).
  5. Practice social distancing (i.e., limit contact of people within 6 feet from each other).
  6. Provide adequate supplies for good hygiene, including clean and functional handwashing stations, soap, paper towels, and alcohol‐based hand sanitizer.
  7. Follow environmental cleaning guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently).
  8. Plan ways to care for students and staff who become sick and separate them from students and staff who are well. Use face masks as needed should this occur. Staff should go home immediately if they become sick. Contact the student’s parent or guardian immediately if they show symptoms of COVID-19.

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Priority 2: Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure

I’ve come up with what I believe to be a simple method to facilitate learning in the event of a school closure:

The Online Learning Journal [A suggestion for schools]

Step 1: Every student in the school creates a website that will act as an ‘ePortfolio’ or learning journal. Each website should contain a separate page for each subject the student learns. Google Sites is amazing for this (it’s very user friendly), but Wix, WordPress and Blogger are also good (and free) alternatives. Just make sure the students are using their school e-mail addresses to sign-up to these platforms.

Step 2: The URL for every ePortfolio for every kid in the school is kept on a centralized spreadsheet (e.g. a Google Sheet or an MS Excel sheet) that every teacher has access to.

Step 3: Work is set by the teacher through the school’s online Virtual Learning Environment or MOOC (such as Google Classroom, Firefly or Moodle) or even via e-mail. Students are required to complete their work on their website (e.g. by writing notes on each page, uploading photos of work that’s handwritten, embedding Google Slides, etc.)

Step 4: Teachers simply need to click on the URL for each website of the kids they teach and check their work. Feedback can be written on the website itself (Google Sites makes this very easy, but the student needs to click ‘share’ and share it with the class teacher), or feedback can be directly e-mailed to each student. 

You can read more about this method at my blog post here. I also made an accompanying video:

I’ve done some recent research with my own students about which online learning platforms work and my findings are given below (please share this image far and wide):

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Priority 3: Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and may add to anxiety

Keeping good communication lines open and providing regular updates is always a good idea at times like this. Consider the following ideas:

  • Send out a weekly newsletter to parents that goes through the steps the school is taking to protect the community from infection and general advice about good hygiene and best practice.
  • Encourage parents to e-mail any questions or queries they have to a designated person, or to their child’s homeroom teacher.
  • Assemblies and meetings with students and staff to go through good hygiene measures and offer advice and reassurance.
  • Find out where everyone in the community is travelling to during school vacations (Google Forms is great for this – send it out and collect responses). Analyse the data received and plan accordingly.

References and Sources

  1. World Health Organisation Q&A on Coronaviruses [https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses]
  2. Johns Hopkins University Interactive Map of COVID-19 Cases [https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6]
  3. Washington State Department of Health: School Resources for Novel Coronavirus [https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus/Schools?fbclid=IwAR1N5BPyPXKhK-aCTQqEnYSsVca3QzjY5ejuHgc-vm6v-U4YsrG7er_gsng]
  4. Online Learning That Actually Works! Richard James Rogers [https://richardjamesrogers.com/2020/03/17/online-learning-that-actually-works/]

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My Top Three Tips for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying Video:

I like it when colleagues share golden nuggets of hard-earned information: things that took a long time to figure out. Things that really work and are easy to implement.

If you could list only three things that would maximize a teacher’s impact in the classroom, then what would those three things be? 

The aim of today’s blog post is for me to share my three top tips with the whole world – in the hope that those reading this will implement my suggestions. 

The Power of Praise
“Simply Brilliant!” – Readers’ Favorite

So, without further-a-do and without a lengthy CPD lesson plan that would be impossible to implement in real-life, let’s take a deep-dive into some easy-to-implement strategies that offer maximum return-on-investment.

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Top Tip Number 1: Get up early!

Getting up and out of bed well-before school starts is a habit that has paid me massive dividends in my career as a high-school teacher. Getting up early allows me to:

  1. Read over my lesson plans for the day ahead.
  2. Take my time in the morning and not rush, which puts me in a good mood.
  3. Have breakfast and some coffee – helping me to be biochemically and physiologically ready for the day ahead (a subject matter which is not discussed enough in the teaching profession, in my personal opinion).
  4. Get clear about any meetings or events I have to attend.
  5. Do a little bit of exercise – giving me a good energy boost and a feeling of accomplishment before my day even starts!
  6. Read over any topics I am unfamiliar with – giving me the confidence I need to deliver all of the content I need to.
  7. Leave home on-time, and get to school on time.

Getting up early is a really basic skill but few adults ever really master it. I must admit that for me personally it took years to get into a good ‘waking-up routine’. Once I had built-up momentum, however (through tremendous and painful self-discipline), the benefits came quickly. I was in a better mood at the start of each day and my lesson delivery improved dramatically. 

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Top Tip Number 2: Plan lessons well in-advance

Time invested in lesson-planning always pays dividends. By waking up early on a Sunday morning to plan my week-ahead, I find that I can get really clear about:

  1. The topics I’ll be covering.
  2. The activities I need to do.
  3. Any resources that I need to upload to my school’s virtual learning environment (Google Classroom, in my case).
  4. The logistics of each lesson (where students will sit, where they will move during activities, etc.).
  5. Any homework I need to set and collect in.
  6. When I’m going to mark work.
  7. Any meetings or events I need to attend in the coming week.
  8. Any reading-ahead that I need to do.
  9. Any printing that I need to do.

I don’t believe in planning lesson-by-lesson too far into the future: plans may change as time goes by (e.g. I may get through more material than planned on any particular lesson). However, I believe that a week’s worth of planning, in advance, is highly appropriate and beneficial. 

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Top Tip Number 3: Use ‘Live-Marking’

‘Live-Marking’ is basically a way of providing feedback to students in real-time (saving you a ton of after-school and weekend marking). There are two main live-marking strategies:

Strategy 1: Diffusive Live-Marking

This is really simple:

  1. Set a task for your students to complete (it could be a Google Slides presentation, a worksheet to complete, some questions from their textbook to do, etc.)
  2. When a few minutes have passed, ‘diffuse’ through the classroom by walking around with a marking pen in hand (I use a red pen). 
  3. Mark student work in real-time, as they are doing it. Of course – reinforce your written comments with verbal feedback (and you can even write ‘verbal feedback given’ or ‘VF’ on the work).

Hey presto – you just saved yourself an hour or so of after-school marking time!

Strategy 2: Absorptive Live-Marking

In this scenario, one can imagine the teacher being like a ‘sponge’ that ‘absorbs’ the students: instead of walking around the classroom to mark work in ‘real-time’, you sit at your desk (or at a designated ‘consultation point’ in the room) and call the students to your desk one-at-a-time. 

Q & A

Same result – you just saved yourself a ton of after-school marking time. 

Which is better – absorptive or diffusive live-marking?

In my personal opinion, both forms of marking have their place. 

Diffusive live-marking can actually double-up as an excellent behavior management technique – when you walk around the classroom and check work in real-time, pockets of low-level disruption tend to fade away because of the teacher’s proximity. The disadvantage of diffusive live-marking is that it can be difficult to stand behind, or to the side, of a student and mark work on a crowded desk. 

I tend to use absorptive live-marking more than diffusive as I am lucky enough to work in a school where the overwhelming majority of the students are very well-behaved. This means that I can call them to my desk one-at-a-time and the class will still stay on-task. A big advantage of the absorptive method is that I can give more detailed and personal feedback to each student and I have my whole desk-space to neatly mark the work on. 

Here’s a video I made about live-marking (very highly recommended):

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The ‘Lazy Mindset’ – Some Teachers Don’t Even Try

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

It was a typical morning tea break in the school staff room. Typical morning grumbles. Typical morning camaraderie.

“It’s like talking to a brick wall with John”, piped in one colleague.

“Yeah he’s pretty distant isn’t he?”, said another.

“He just doesn’t try. I doubt he’ll even get a grade D in GCSE Maths”, says the colleague who started this conversation.

Then I make the biggest cardinal sin a teacher can make in such moaning contests. It was the ultimate point of flippancy for a 23-year-old like me: “He’s great in my lessons”, I arrogantly say.

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“An AMAZING book!”

The conversation went quiet.

Back then I wasn’t as polished in my speech as I am now. For some reason my colleagues still put-up with me, and I think they liked me. Perhaps I was given the benefit of the doubt because I was, essentially, a kid myself.

The truth, however, is that John was, actually, great in my lessons. The question is this: Why?

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Coursework Conundrum

Then there was that time when something I said went down like a lead balloon at a departmental meeting.

A challenging Year 10 class, who were completing Science coursework, were given to me to cover for a lesson. Their teacher was absent that day.

I write about this story in my first book as a classic example of how teacher organisation and rapport-building can generate dramatically different results to the status quo when applied consistently. Basically, I booked the ICT lab and simply walked around the class and helped the students with their work. I also took all of the loose bits of paper that were loosely organised in a blue tray (their ‘coursework’ tray), and put them in plastic wallets with each students’ name on.

A simple tactic, but it worked really well. It meant that the students didn’t have to fish through papers at the start of each lesson and complain that bits were missing – adding to disruption.

chatting in class

I mentioned this story at that meeting, and whilst my Head of Deportment was impressed with me (he was, secretly, the person I was trying to impress anyway), the teachers of that class were not so happy with my ruthless expose’.

“If I was kid in that class and I had to root through a pile of mixed-up papers to find my coursework, then I’d be disruptive too” I said with a judgmental, 23-year-old voice.

I probably would use more tact and subtlety were I to raise the same issue today. Our colleagues are our allies, not our enemies.

So, what’s the point you’re trying to make?

Simply this:

A teacher’s behavior can have a profound, long-lasting effect on student behavior. 

Robert Greene, in his bestselling book The 48 Laws of Power describes something called the ‘Mirror Effect’. Basically, it’s a way of showing someone their faults and failures by mirroring their actions.

self-assessment

For teachers, the Mirror Effect works best by modelling the passion and determination we want to see in our students:

  • When we are passionate, our students become passionate
  • When we are relaxed, our students are relaxed [be careful how far you take relaxation, however. Relaxed demeanor: yes. Relaxed attitude to your professional role: no.]
  • When we strive for excellence ourselves, our students also strive for excellence
  • When we praise and encourage, with passion and real emotion, we inspire our students to work harder, and perform better 

One of my proudest moments as a teacher was when I was given a very shy young girl from Iceland to teach. Starting in Year 11 and studying IGCSE Chemistry with me, she had two main challenges to overcome:

  1. She had never learnt any chemistry before, and was due to take an IGCSE exam in Chemistry in 6 months time (that’s hard, by the way)
  2. English was not her first language, and I was teaching her through the medium of English

After my first lesson with her had finished she told me straight: “Mr Rogers, I didn’t understand anything you taught me this lesson.”

Discussing homework

That’s when I knew that this was serious, because I’d taught a lesson covering the basic fundamentals.

Her first test came back in two weeks – she got a grade U. She was devastated.

“I’m just going to fail Chemistry, aren’t I?” – she said

“No way. We won’t let that happen. Your target for your next test is an E, and come and see me on Monday lunchtimes so I can teach you the fundamentals. I believe in you.”

It saddens me to say this, but I received a massive public backlash about a year and a half ago when I suggested that one way that we can help exam-level classes is by giving up a few minutes at lunchtimes to tutor weak students on the run-up to the finals. One person went so far as to write damning review of my book (which, I assume, he hadn’t even read):

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Another happy customer!

I’m not suggesting for one minute that top-up sessions are the only way to help students who are falling behind, but in the case of this student (who had zero prior knowledge of chemistry) it was an essential intervention move. 

That student, incidentally, went on to achieve a grade A* in IGCSE Chemistry six months later – beating almost everyone else in Year 11. 

This happened because:

  • The student worked really hard (this is the main reason)
  • The student wanted to work hard because I kept on pushing her, telling her that I believed in her (and I meant it), and because I gave believable and achievable targets for each test (she scored a U, E, E, D, B, A and then an A* in the final).

This is a living testament of the efficacy of my core philosophy, which is this:

I believe that ANY student’s success can be engineered by a great teacher

You’ll find that statement in my bio on Twitter – it’s the personal philosophy that has guided me for more than 15 years. It works, because I’ve seen it work.

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But how do we implement this philosophy?

Use the four-step T.I.P.S. method:

Step 1: Track progress. Look for patterns in grades. Keep a spreadsheet of scores. 

Step 2: Intervene when grades slip. Have a short conversation with the student in which you use……..

Step 3: Professional Intelligence: Gather and use knowledge about the students’ past achievements, achievements in other subject areas and skills used outside of school to praise the student and remind him/her of the ability that he/she naturally possesses. Talk with other teachers to gather this intelligence if needs be. Couple this with…..

Step 4: Subtle Reinforcement: Be on-the-ball and remind your student regularly what his/her target is. Introduce new resources and offer your time to help. Remind him/her about a test that’s coming up and how you believe in their ability to get a good score. Praise small steps of progress along the way, or any positive work in your subject area. 

You can read more about Subtle Reinforcement here. Some info on Professional Intelligence gathering can be found here

TIPS RICHARD JAMES ROGERS

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Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools: Some Research and Conclusions

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Last week I wrote a short blog post about the issue of gender-neutral toilets, and how some schools in Australia and the UK are now forcing all students to use them. The reasoning that most schools give as to why these toilets need to be installed is that they are ‘inclusive’, and that they make transgender students feel more comfortable.

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Tremendous opposition to the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in schools has already been voiced by parents, students, local MPs and members of local communities. At Deanesfield Primary School in the UK, for example, parents launched a petition to remove the unisex toilets that were covertly installed over the summer vacation; with one main concern being that menstruating girls felt as though their privacy was being invaded. Many girls were refusing to go the toilet during the day and were at risk of picking up urinary-tract infections as a result. 

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“An AMAZING book!”

I made my opinions clear last week, and I still stand by them. I made the point that no school should impose new restrictions or radical changes on their students without first consulting with parents. This was a classic mistake made at Deanesfield, and it backfired dramatically (consequently, I did actually e-mail the school asking for an update on the situation but I have thus far received no response). I also questioned the underlying concept of a child being able consent to being ‘transgender’ (along with the surgery and puberty-blocking chemicals that go along with that), when that same child cannot consent to sexual activity, cannot drink alcohol, is not considered to be mature enough to vote and cannot legally drive.

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That blog post earned me some haters, with one transgender individual commenting on my Facebook posts with expletives, profanities and explicit prose. It didn’t go well for ‘them’, and that person was subsequently banned from the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group by the admin (and rightly so):

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Another happy customer!

So this is a very triggering topic, and rather than briefly summarize some of the more ‘popular’ stories by citing news articles,  I’d like to perform a brief investigation of some of the research that feeds into this topic. I won’t have time to cover absolutely everything, but I will provide a synopsis of some of the main findings.

The architectural approach

With privacy being cited as an issue for menstruating girls who are forced to use gender-neutral washrooms, one solution could be a functional one: change the architecture so that privacy is no longer invaded. 

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This is exactly the point that Sanders and Stryker make in Stalled – Gender Neutral Public Bathrooms [South Atlantic Quarterly (2016) 115 (4): 779–788. Duke University Press]. As a combined effort between a world-renowned architect (Sanders) and an LGBT professor of Gender and Women’s Studies (Stryker), this paper stands-out for it’s unique take on unisex bathrooms, with a suggested floor-plan included in the content (given below):

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Which areas would be on CCTV?

My conclusion: I have a number of issues with the architectural approach proposed by Sanders and Stryker:

  • The design still includes an area outside the cubicles where boys and girls have to mix and mingle. I think this removes the ‘communal’ factor of bathrooms, as girls and boys do like to use toilet areas for chatting and socializing with their own gender. I’m still not sure if menstruating girls would be happy mingling with boys outside the cubicle areas. 
  • Massive investment would be needed to change current girls’/boys’ washrooms in schools to the communal format shown above (for most schools). This investment seems superfluous to needs when one considers that less than 2% of American children identify as being transgender. In addition to this, it seems illogical that transgender students cannot use current boys/girls washrooms. If you are biologically a boy, but you officially identify as a girl, then you could use the girls’ bathrooms. Vica-versa if you are biologically a female [more on this later].

Public space is not a neutral space(?)

According to Kyla Bender-Baird, gender-segregated bathrooms are the result of “technologies of disciplinary power, upholding the gender binary by forcing people to choose between men’s and women’s rooms”

That’s some profound statement! I had no idea that I was being powerfully controlled by being forced to choose which washroom to enter. I thought I was consciously making a choice to enter the men’s! 

Kyla is a sociologist at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Writing in Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography (Volume 23 2016, Issue 7) she states:

The resulting lack of safe access to public restrooms is an everyday reality for those who fall outside of gender binary norms. Faced with a built environment that denies their existence and facilitates gender policing, I argue that trans and gender non-conforming people sometimes engage in situational docility. Bodies are adjusted to comply with the cardinal rule of gender – to be readable at a glance – which is often due to safety concerns. Changing the structure of bathrooms to be gender inclusive and/or neutral may decrease gender policing in bathrooms and the need for this situational docility, allowing trans and gender non-conforming people to pee in peace”

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It seems as though Kyla supports the functional/architectural approach then – advocating for the creation of washrooms that are built in such a way that anyone can use them.

My conclusion: I don’t agree with Kyla on her point that gender-segregated washrooms were invented as a human-control system (the official history certainly doesn’t support this).

One thing I will say in Kyla’s defense is that if an architectural solution is found that is cost-effective and satisfies the needs of the majority (men and women – that’s binary men and women who do not wish to change their gender), whilst also meeting the needs of the tiny minority (transgender individuals), then that could be a way forward. 

Potty Politics and the Ladies’ Sanitary Association

An interesting paper from the University of Massachusetts, Amhurst [The Restroom Revolution: Unisex toilets and campus politics] gave the timeline leading up to the gender-segregated toilets we have today. Here’s a brief summary:

  • 1905: First women’s bathroom installed in London after a tremendous effort and fight by the Ladies’ Sanitary Association and similar organisations, along with support from the famous George Bernard Shaw [This really surprised me, I have to say. I thought that women’s restrooms were a thing long before 1905]. 
  • 1970s America: Court cases were still being fought over the segregation of black and white toilet facilities. Prior to this early ‘toilet-integration’ period, blacks and whites couldn’t drink from the same fountains or use the same toilet facilities. [Note from me: I think this was a humiliating and disgraceful period in human history. The fact that fully conscious adults penned policy to the effect of segregating toilets on basis of race is frightening and baffling to me]. 
  • In the Autumn of 2001, several students gathered at the Stonewall Center (an LGBT educational resource center at the University of Massachusetts). They formed a special group to work on transgender issues on campus. Their efforts eventually resulted in gender-neutral restrooms being installed on campus through their ‘Restroom Revolution’, and they also succeeded in bringing transgender, ‘gender-queer ‘and ‘gender non-conforming’ issues into the limelight on campus. 

gender neautral toilet

Key takeaways from this paper are the very revealing opinions of both the Restroom Revolution advocates (a mix of gender non-conformists and ‘allies’ – straight people sympathetic to their cause) and their opposition.

In December 2001, the Stonewall students wrote a proposal to university administrators in which they stated: 

“As gender variant people, we encounter discrimination in our daily lives. The most pressing matter, however, is our use of the bathrooms in the residence halls in which we live. . . . We are often subjecting ourselves to severe discomfort, verbal and physical harassment, and a general fear of who we will encounter and what they will say or do based on their assumption of our identities.”

Olaf Aprans, a writer for the Minuteman (an on-campus student publication), expressed his strong opposition by questioning the foundational motives behind the Restroom Revolution: 

“The most probable motive for the Restroom Revolution is not the
need or want of transgender bathrooms, it is the desire for attention. Transgender students have been using gender-specific bathrooms for years without any complaints. Why the sudden outcry for transgender bathrooms? The answer is easy, the activists behind this movement are using a petty issue like bathrooms as a medium to throw their lifestyles in the face of every-day students”

Biological identity, supported by irrefutable genetic evidence, is also cited by the paper as one of the modes of opposition: 

“There are only two things that make me a man and they are my X chromosome and my Y chromosome. . . . People have the right to feel that they should not be the gender that God gave them. . . . However, the fact that some people do not live in reality or that some wish reality were not true, does not entitle them to a special
bathroom in a public university”

My overall conclusions

  • The concerns that transgender individuals have about their personal security and comfort when using restrooms seem legitimate. However, the concerns of women who do not wish to share washrooms with men are equally legitimate [and as we saw from the UMass article, women fought very hard for the right to have their own restrooms in the first place]. The issue of ‘washrooms for all’ seems to me to be a classic example of an old conundrum – that you can’t please everyone. We can, however, aim to please the majority. The minority will have to adapt. 
  • An architectural solution may be viable, but its application needs to be consistent (and this will require excellent international collaboration). It also needs to be cost-effective, and provide suitable privacy for everyone. I can’t see how this can be done, even when one applies Sanders’ and Stryker’s design, without invasive CCTV systems in place. 
  • An architectural solution may work in a shopping mall or other public place, but I’m not sure if it’s a feasible solution for a school. Children are not as mature as adults, and issues such as bullying, up-skirting, inappropriate use of smartphones, silly and disruptive behaviour, etc. are difficult to police in a gender-neutral facility without invasive CCTV systems, some form of staffed duty or an open communal space that removes comfort, rather than adds to it. 

I will end by saying that schools would be well-advised to avoid forcing all of their students to use gender-neutral toilets. The variables one has to deal with in such scenarios are immense and difficult to police/control. If needs be, provide adequate male, female and gender-neutral toilets so that students can at least make choices that feel right for them.

 

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What Should Teachers do with their Time-Off?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying video:

One of the massive perks about being a schoolteacher is that we get loads and loads of holidays. In fact, in my particular case, I’m only actually in school for around 180 days per year. That’s a lot of free time to deal with. 

snacking

So, with this in mind, I find myself asking a rather controversial question: Are we using this free time productively?  

I’ve been lambasted quite viciously in the past for expressing my views on this particular issue. My views haven’t changed, however, so if you’re one of those snowflakes who gets easily triggered, easily offended or who has a nervous breakdown when someone has a different opinion than you, then you might want to stop reading now.

The laziness of it all?

With all of this free time in-hand, I often wonder why more teachers aren’t starting their own businesses, writing books, setting up podcasts, starting up blogs, doing online marketing or anything to better themselves or improve their quality of life. 

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What would Elon Musk, one of the world’s most successful businessmen, do with 185 free days each year? Perhaps this quote from an interview he did (video embedded below) will shed some light on things:

Interviewer:

Did you ever consider retiring?

Elon:

No, not really. I did take a bit of time off. I did reasonably well from Paypal. I was the largest shareholder in the company and we were acquired for about a billion and a half in stock and then the stock doubled. So yeah, I did reasonably well, but the idea of lying on a beach as my main thing, just sounds like the worst – it sounds horrible to me. I would go bonkers. I would have to be on serious drugs. I’d be super-duper bored. I like high intensity – I mean, I like going to the beach for a short period of time, but not much longer than a few days or something like that.

So we can conclude that this formidable titan: some would say an example of what we should all aspire to become, would use 185 days productively. He’d take some short-bursts of time-off, but mostly he’d be working on new projects and new ideas, or furthering current ones. 

An ancient Chinese proverb that keeps me striving and moving ‘forward’ when I have free time is this:

An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold.

Mediocrity breeds more mediocrity?

One core philosophy that I think all teachers agree with is that with enough hard work and effort, our students can become anything they want to become (notwithstanding significant physical and psychological hindrances). 

Surely then, as teachers, we also need to be at the top our game if we are to truly live that message: that a human really can become anything with enough effort. 

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Why then do so many teachers fall short of this principle? So many of us are one-timers: we got a university degree, trained to be a teacher and that was it. Zero significant achievements since then. 

And yet, we expect our students to be excellent. We expect them to make excellent progress. We expect them to use their free time productively. We expect them to aspire, push themselves, have goals and achieve big. 

Maybe it’s about time that we modeled that process. Only then can we really know what excellence is.

As for me, I’m not perfect but I’m no hypocrite either. This Christmas vacation, for which I get three weeks off school, will be divided between a number of tasks. I’ll take a short holiday for a few days, but the rest will be spent becoming a Google Certified Educator, completing a Certificate in Data Science from Berkeley and a number of additional tasks linked to this blog, my books, a new business and things to get me ready for my classes in January (including a rigorous gym schedule). 

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If we’re not advancing personally, then how can we encourage our students to advance?

I’ll post an update at the end of my Christmas vacation, to let you know how I’ve managed. After all, if I’m going to preach the ‘be useful and be productive’ mantra to you, my readers, then I absolutely need to lead by example and practice what I preach. 

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Preparing Students for Mock Exams

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Mock exams offer an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to assess current knowledge and discover common misconceptions. They (should) provide a rigorous and thorough ‘trial run’ of the finals and may even act as a sharp and frightening wake-up call to some learners. 

chatting in class

Considering the immense importance placed on mock exams (not least for providing a good basis for making final grade predictions), one would assume that the preparation of students for them should be organised like a well-planned military operation. 

That’s certainly what should happen, and the aim of this article is to cover the ‘battleground’ that your students will need to fight through in order to be well-trained for those all-important practice exams. 

Roger that! Let’s get right into it then!

Go through past-exam papers

These are by far the best revision materials for exam-level students. Rigorous past-paper practice, under timed conditions, offers a number of benefits:

  • Students become used to the ‘style’ of questions that will be asked in the real thing.
  • Frequent exposure to the ‘command terms’ that will be used in the real exam (words like ‘Deduce’, ‘Explain’, ‘Sketch’ etc.).
  • The level of challenge presented by past-paper questions will be at the level expected by students of that age-group. 
  • When taken under timed conditions, students can develop their time-management techniques too (ensuring that they don’t run out of time in the real mock exam – a common problem!).

Giving feedback

Some examination boards share their past papers for free (e.g. Edexcel), whilst others sell them them for a small fee. If you have the money (or if your school has the budget), then they are always worth the spend. Some ideas for saving money when purchasing exam papers include:

  • Keep any spare examination papers that you get sent each year by the exam board, and scan them to pdfs. Within a few years you’ll have a comprehensive bank of exam papers ready to share with your students.
  • Purchase a user account to an exam-board’s question bank and share the account with colleagues.

Make sure your students go through the model answers (mark schemes) when they’re done, and make sure they know how to actually use the mark schemes (Do they know that OWTTE means ‘Or Words to That Extent’, for example? Do they know what M1, M2, etc mean?).

Should your students be strict or lenient when marking past-paper questions? 

Always be strict, because the examiner will strict and the final exams will probably contain questions that the students will never have seen before. If the answer does not match the mark scheme, then mark it wrong.

What about handwriting?

If the examiner cannot read the answers given, then your students will be penalized. Make this point really clear, as it is an issue that does affect many students (especially when rushing under exam conditions – another reason to train students by exposing them to past-papers under timed conditions).

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Go through exam-style questions

These are a little different to past-paper questions and tend to be found within textbooks, on great websites (like BBC Bitesize) and inside revision guides and workbooks (like those made by CGP, for example). 

These provide much of the same benefits as a past-exam paper questions and are often organised by topic, allowing students to reinforce their subject knowledge in stages and target areas of weakness with relative ease. 

Make sure that model answers are provided and that students mark their work strictly (just like with past-papers).

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Provide a topic revision list

An obvious one I know, but worth mentioning. If students don’t know the topics that are going to come up on their mock exams, then how can they possibly prepare?

Share the official syllabus, perhaps through your school’s VLE, MOOC or even by e-mail if you have to. Make sure the students know which topics from the syllabus are going to come up in the mocks. 

Provide topic summaries

Summaries of key topic areas can really help students to grab the essentials in a short space of time. Share these as Mind Maps, bulleted lists, end-of-chapter summaries in textbooks and even, again, revision websites that you recommend.

making plans

Share textbooks

A lot of schools cannot afford physical textbooks for every student. However, we should at least be recommending textbooks that the students can buy themselves if they want to. 

One way to solve the problem of textbook costs is for schools to build their own (e.g. from slide presentations that teachers create), get students to create textbooks for themselves by setting up a learning journals system and even paying for an online subscription through the publisher’s website (which is often cheaper than purchasing physical books).

Recommend revision websites

There are many great websites that offer excellent, free resources for revision. My personal favorites are:

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David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me: What can Teachers Learn From This Book?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Warning! – This blog post contains expletives and graphic language. If you are prone to being offended, triggered or distressed by such language, then please stop reading immediately. 

84kg.

That’s how much I weighed three months ago. I was fat, tired and lazy. Too many things were not proceeding with momentum in my life. I had become ‘soft’. 

After a day of full-blown mediocrity at some point in mid-August (whilst I was still ‘resting’ in my summer vacation from school), I took the time to sit in a Starbucks coffee shop during the late evening and take-stock of my life. I’d woken up late, I felt like crap and I had procrastinated all day long. It was a wasted day, basically. 

What would my students think of me if they knew that I wasn’t ‘practicing what I preach’ to them: to chase your goals, be resilient and to work hard each and every day?

Then, I reflected on who I was as a teenager. Richard James Rogers: the kid version, went to karate class three times a week, absolutely smashed-it at Army Cadets twice a week (and many full weekends and summers on training camps) and never wasted a single second. He put up with some messed-up stuff too (home-life was a bit, well, crazy to say the least), but he didn’t point the finger at other people and blame them for his misfortunes or disadvantages. In fact, he saw his difficult life-situation as a powerful catalyst for self-improvement: he had every reason to just ‘go for it’, and he knew he would end up a total loser if he gave in to life’s relentless cry to ‘give up’. 

That woke me up. 

Army cadet
Me as a 16-year-old Army Cadet, 20 years ago

Sometimes, I believe, we have to look back on those things we’ve done many years ago and ask some very honest questions, such as ‘Am I better now, or am I worse?’. ‘Have I climbed, or did I slide?’ and ‘Am I a loser, or a winner?’

The ‘Goggin’s Video’ was something I had watched a while back, and I thought it was pretty cool. I thought it was time to watch it again that evening. I’ve embedded it below:

I’ve read a lot of great self-improvement books in my time (Awaken the Giant Within, Think and Grow Rich and Outwitting the Devil come to mind instantly). However, reading these books never really spurred me on to take the massive action that would cause big changes in my life. This Goggin’s video, however, with it’s raw honesty inspired me to actually do something about the pervasive mediocrity that seemed to have taken hold in my life.

If you feel that you could do more, or if you have a nagging feeling inside of you somewhere that says ‘you’re not enough’, then watch the video above in full. I think it will resonate with you. 

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In the video, Goggin’s talks about being brutally honest with yourself and taking action to change things. If you’re fat, then blurt it out: ‘I’m fat. Roger that. Now what am I going to do about it?’ 

As a former Navy SEAL (who’s been through Hell Week three times), the 2013 Guinness World Record holder for the most pull-ups in 24 hours (he did 4030) and the Infinitus 88K race winner in 2016 (one of the most brutal races in the world): Goggins knows more than a thing or two about perseverance and pain. His story inspired me to do more. 

I decided to hit the gym every day, running at least 3k each time (I’ve now brought that up to 5.5k) and doing abs and weights on alternate days. Some days it was really hard – I’d get home from school, nap (like a lazy *&^#@$%) and then wake up a few hours before the gym closed (thank God it closes at midnight!). I felt sluggish, but I said to myself ‘Do it now you ‘insert expletive here’).

78.6kg

That’s how much I weigh today. I’ve lost 5.4kg in three months. It’s not an amazing amount of weight, but I feel an amazing difference and my BMI (Body Mass Index) stands at 25.2, which is almost at my target (24.9).

I feel better. I look better. I wake-up better (I don’t feel too zombie-like anymore). This was me last week:

Richard James Rogers lost weight

Interestingly, as well as giving his insights on making massive changes in your life, Goggin’s also shares some really insightful stories from his time as a schoolkid. In his book, ‘Can’t Hurt Me‘ (highly recommended), Goggin’s describes in graphic detail the massive difference between a teacher who actually gave a damn about him, and a teacher who gave up. I’ve included the extracts below:

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Goggin's 3

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In these extracts we see clearly the differences between Ms. D and Sister Katherine, and the profound effect that a teacher’s behavior can have on student self-esteem. Here are the lessons that I drew from Goggin’s experiences:

  • We must take full responsibility and accountability for the progress of our students. We must never ‘give-up’ on a student and take the easy ‘way-out’ by using past academic struggles, Special Educational Needs or emotional problems as excuses not to try. 
  • Students remember the impact a good teacher has on them well into adulthood. Goggins’ fond memories of Sister Katherine show this. Can you remember a good teacher you had at school?
  • Sister Katherine had a ‘no excuses’ mentality, and made her students realize that it is their responsibility to make life happen. How taboo is that mentality these days?
  • A bit of extra time spent helping and mentoring a student can have a massive effect on their sense of self-worth. Does your school have an active and useful mentoring system in-place?
  • As soon as we ‘label’ students we have a choice to make – dedicate more time and effort to help them out, or give-up on them. We have to have the mentality that ‘all students can be helped’. We just need to figure out the best ways to help them. 

I highly recommend Goggins’ book to any teacher who wants to get a brutally honest insight into the life of child who went through hell growing up (it’ll help you get a perspective on the reasons behind some of the behaviors you might see in-class). It’s also a good book for leveling-up in life. 

Purchase Can’t Hurt Me from Amazon here

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Cognitive Sandwiching: A Method for Teaching Difficult Topics

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Memory is the residue of thought

 – Daniel Willingham

This is one of my favorite pedagogical quotes and I’ve found it to be 100% accurate over the years. 

As an International Baccalaureate Diploma chemistry teacher at an international school, I often have to teach topics to my students that are really, really difficult. Furthermore, the students will be examined on these topics at some point in the future, and those grades really mean something: the students will be using them to apply to study at universities all around the world. 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

A key question I often ask myself is how can I get my students to think deeply about the topics they are learning, so that they remember enough details to get excellent grades on their exams?

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I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years, but I think I’ve finally nailed-down a system that works with every difficult topic I teach:

  • Explore
  • Question
  • Teach
  • Test

Hopefully you’ll see that this is a system that can be applied to your subject area/teaching context too. 

Step 1: Explore (Thinking Intensity 2)

Provide the stuff you want the students to learn in multiple formats. Some that you may wish to use could be:

  • Online videos
  • Websites
  • Simulations
  • Textbooks
  • Podcasts
  • Magazine entries
  • Revision guides

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Get the students to work in groups or pairs to produce some kind of creative, collaborative output. Examples include:

  • Create a Google Slides presentation about…..
  • Create a stop-motion animation about……
  • Create a large infographic about…….
  • Create a digital animation about…..

At the end of this exploration step, the students should present their work to the class in some form. This simple act of articulating what they have learned will cause deep-thinking (and therefore, memory) to take place. 

Step 2: Question (Thinking Intensity 3)

Give the students a series of exam-style, challenging questions on the topic to complete under timed conditions. The students can work together on this if you wish, and may use the resources they have for help. 

When the time-limit is over, provide the model answers (and make sure you actually have model answers available). Students can go through these answers via peer-assessment, self-assessment or even automated assessment (in the case of online teaching systems, like MyMaths and Educake).

Discussing homework

As a teacher, I also like to go through any particularly difficult questions with the students so as to clear up any misconceptions. This is especially true if, for example, nobody in the class can do question 2. 

Step 3: Teach (Thinking Intensity 1)

This acts as an incredibly useful review for students after what has been an intense exploration and self-assessment of stuff that was, essentially, self-taught (with a bit of help from the teacher).

Go through the key points of the topic traditionally, perhaps using a slide-based presentation, video, animation or even notes written and explained on the whiteboard.

Make use of a few learning games to spice things up a bit, especially if key vocabulary needs to be learned. Spend time going through common misconceptions: those things that students get wrong year-after-year. 

Step 4: Test (Thinking Intensity 4)

Test the content covered using the most difficult questions you can find. Don’t go beyond the syllabus or above what’s been taught (obviously), but use past-paper questions that really do get the students to apply what they’ve learned to unusual contexts. 

Prior to the test, you might want to provide questions of similar difficulty (with model answers provided) for the students to go through at home. 

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Make sure you go through the test afterwards too. Provide the mark scheme and make it really clear where, and how, marks have been lost.

Fluctuations

By fluctuating the intensity of thinking in this way (2,3,1,4) we’re exercising the brain in a similar way to how we exercise the body – gradual increases in intensity, followed by rest, followed by higher intensity. 

I’ve found that this model works really well for getting students to understand really difficult topics. 

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Exciting New Online Course for Teachers!

UKEd-Acad

The Fundamentals of Classroom Management: An online course designed by Richard James Rogers in Partnership with UKEd Academy 

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been busy building an online course that covers all of the fundamental concepts in my widely acclaimed debut book: The Quick Guide to Classroom Management, in partnership with my good friends at UKEd Academy. Details are given below:

Course link: https://uked.academy/product/cmf/

Price: £30.00 (which includes a copy of my book) or £20.00 if you’ve already got a copy of my book (you’ll have to enter a discount code found within the book)

Launch date: October 21st 2019 (but you can start the course at anytime)

End of course certificate?Yes, endorsed by UKEd Academy and Richard James Rogers 

Course structure: Videos, quizzes, study notes, reflections and activities

Course schedule: Flexible (work at your own pace)

After successful completion of this course you’ll earn a certificate that will look very impressive on your C.V. and you will gain lots of knowledge, new techniques, tools and skills.  

I look forward to mentoring and guiding you through the key concepts that make an excellent teacher, well, excellent!

If you have any questions at all about this exciting course, then please e-mail me at info@richardjamesrogers.com

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The Disconnect: How Over-Rewarding Fails Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Reading time: 3 minutes

A dangerous culture has quietly found its way into a large number of American and British schools in the past decade. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that seems pretty on the surface but harbors malice within; over-rewarding continues to take hold like a malignancy to this day. 

Betty Berdan was an American high-school junior at the time of writing this excellent opinion piece in the New York Times. She eloquently summarizes her thoughts on over-rewarding as follows:

Like many other kids my age, I grew up receiving trophy after trophy, medal after medal, ribbon after ribbon for every sports season, science fair and spelling bee I participated in. Today the dozens of trophies, ribbons and medals sit in a corner of my room, collecting dust. They do not mean much to me because I know that identical awards sit in other children’s rooms all over town and probably in millions of other homes across the country.

Rewarding kids with trophies, medals and certificates for absolutely everything they do, including participation in a sports event, seems harmless at first glance: what’s wrong with encouraging kids to take part, right? 

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My thoughts on this are simple: the real-world doesn’t reward mediocrity, and if school’s are designed to prepare kids for the real world, then they shouldn’t be rewarding mediocrity either. 

Your boss doesn’t give you a pay-raise or certificate for turning up to a meeting: it’s a basic expectation. You don’t get instant recognition and brand awareness for starting an online business: you have to slog your guts out and make it happen.

The world is cruel, but it’s especially cruel to high-school graduates who’ve been babied right the way through their schooling and come out the other side believing that they’re entitled to everything: that they’ll receive recognition for doing the bare-minimum. 

Some teachers may feel that rewarding everyone, but keeping ‘special rewards for winners’ is a good way to go. But what benefits can be extrapolated from removing first, second and third place prizes at a sporting event, or even removing winner’s trophies completely?

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According to Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: 

A key takeaway here is that awards aren’t bad just because the losers are disappointed; everyone (including the winners) ultimately lose when schooling is turned into a scramble to defeat one’s peers

Really, Alfie? So awards are bad because losers and winners feel bitter? I think school culture has got a lot do with that. In school’s where students are encouraged to celebrate each other’s achievements, and aspire to do their best, overall achievement and attainment increases.  A massive study by the University of East Tennessee, for example, found that classroom celebrations of achievement enhanced:

  • Group solidarity
  • Sense of belonging
  • Teacher’s ability to find joy and meaning in teaching

I don’t see much about bitterness there, Alfie. 

Here’s another one I pulled-up: A meta-analysis of 96 different studies conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta found that (look at the last sentence especially):

…….reward does not decrease intrinsic motivation. When interaction effects are examined, findings show that verbal praise produces an increase in intrinsic motivation. The only negative effect appears when expected tangible rewards are given to individuals simply for doing a task.

This confirms what teachers have known for years (at least those with brains in their heads): that awards have no value when they are given to everyone, but have lots of value when they have to be earned. This coincides with the Four Rules of Praise that I wrote about in 2018 (supporting video below). 

Conclusion

Teaching profession, some words of wisdom: Awards and rewards only work to improve motivation, attainment and achievement when the students have had to earn them. Foster a school culture of collective celebration when students achieve success (such as using awards assemblies), and articulate the skills and qualities needed to achieve success to those students who sit and watch the winners, hopefully with smiles on their face and pride in knowing that one of their own made it happen, and they can too. 

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