How to Clean Up an Image for Your Dissertation

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

This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati

A dissertation is a paper that graduate students must write as part of their academic requirements to earn their Master’s or PhD. Some high school curricula, such as the IB Diploma, include some kind of extended writing task that is similar (e.g. the Extended Essay in the case of IB). The paper is typically based on original research to prove that a candidate has mastered the subject and its relevance in society. Therefore, it is an extensive research paper with comprehensive content, including images. 

Using images in a dissertation project

There are no rules against using images in a dissertation project. However, it would be wise only to use them when necessary. Images are particularly appropriate for visual art or film dissertation projects. Examiners can check the images in such areas to analyze your creative work.

Regardless of why you use the images, they should be clean and clear. For this reason, a background eraser should be your friend if you choose to insert images in your dissertation project. 

Cleaning up images for your dissertation

Dissertation images are unlike other images included in content writing. For instance, they do not serve decorative purposes. Instead, they are critical to explaining the content of the dissertation. So, examiners will use them to grade your paper. For these reasons, you cannot submit a blurry or low-quality image. 

What follows are some guidelines for cleaning up images for your dissertation.

#1:  Remove the background

You can clean up the image by removing the background. However, only do this if the background does not contain relevant information. Removing the background will make the focus object clearer. It will also declutter the image.

#2. Remove defects from the images

You can also clean up the images by removing defects from your picture. Such image defects include:

  • Blurriness caused by shaking of the camera or subject when taking the photo
  • Chromatic aberrations, like unwanted color lines around dark objects in the photo
  • Unwanted orbs in the photo caused by lens flare
  • Improper field of depth, where a specific portion in the image appears sharper than others

Removing the defects above will increase the image quality and make it easier to interpret. The cleaner the image, the easier you can portray what you want in your dissertation paper. 

#3. Remove unwanted people, objects, and text

Another way to clean up your dissertation image is by removing unwanted people irrelevant to the image’s purpose. Also, you can remove people from who you do not have permission to feature in your project. Additionally, you can remove unnecessary text from images, especially when using images created by graphic tools. 

Removing unwanted objects from the image will make it less “noisy.” This means that the image will focus more on a primary object instead of being too cluttered. Also, it may save you from copyright or consent issues.

However, while cleaning up your dissertation image, especially if you are an art student, it would help to be keen not to strip it of its unique qualities. Sometimes, the backgrounds and what you consider “noise” may be your image’s “it” factor.

Conclusion

When using images in a dissertation, it would be wise to consider the specific guidelines and rules. For instance, in the US, all images used in dissertations and academic papers must either be copyrighted by the author or referenced in the manuscript. The guidelines may differ depending on the location. 

So, researching the guidelines would be wise if you are an international student studying abroad. 

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

3 Ways to Keep a High School Student Motivated

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

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Accompanying podcast episode:

As your children’s high school career nears its end, achieving good grades becomes ever-more important. There’s a lot at stake, in particular, the range of colleges from which they can choose after graduation. And with the cost of a college education being so high, excellent grades could be worth money in the form of bursaries and sponsorships. Even kids that don’t want to study further need to work hard. If a high school diploma is to be their highest educational achievement, it will be with them for the rest of their working careers.

While being a pushy parent can be counter-productive, keeping your children motivated in their final years of high school can be a challenge. Try the following strategies to improve their chances. 

#1: Get Help From a Private Educational Counsellor

Can you offer the right guidance for your child to get into top colleges? Chances are, you need an inside edge. Going Ivy College Consulting works with your children to help them map out their future for themselves, choosing the right courses and the right elite colleges to set them up for success. 

If going ivy isn’t on the cards, career counselling can still be enormously beneficial. Having an impartial third party to talk to about their future helps your children to feel more in control of their future learning and career paths. With a future they decided for themselves to look forward to, the chances of giving their final years at school their best effort becomes more likely.

#2: Be Supportive

Parents want to see their children embarking on a secure career. Sadly, this can lead to conflict and a lack of motivation at school.  For example, your daughter says she wants to study drama. You’re horrified and suggest accounting instead. With your support for what she really wants to do being absent, how motivated will she be as her final high school year draws to a close? Will your support for her exam preparation make a difference?

If you think your child is making a risky career choice, tell them about your concerns by all means, but never withdraw your support. Your aspiring drama student will open several career paths through her studies. For example, if she isn’t able to become a movie star, she can still apply her skills to teaching theatrical skills to kids. Whatever happens, remember that it’s up to your children to choose their careers, and not up to you

#3: Give Them Time

Although you feel that choosing a future career is an urgent matter, your high schooler may not feel ready to commit. Let’s be fair. A school student has no experience of the working world, and may not have found his or her passion yet. Some kids need to spend a year or two in the working world before they discover what they really want from a career. Push too hard, and your children might end up studying something they committed to on a whim only to find that it isn’t really for them. 

By all means, provide opportunities for them to explore possible careers, but make it clear that you aren’t pushing for a big decision just yet. When they find a career they can fall in love with, you’ll be ready to support them. Until they find their path, you’ll still be there for them whenever they need you. Apply too much pressure, leave your child with the impression that it’s about you and not about them, and they might decide the whole thing is a nasty business and start underperforming at school. 

Strike the Balance

We all have ambitions for our children, but ultimately, their future is up to them. Although you may not be sure that your children are making the right decisions, your role is that of wise counsellor and ardent supporter. It can be difficult, but the decision maker in this instance is your child. Opposing their wishes or pushing too hard will be counter-productive. Help your child to build a vision of his or her future that’s all their own. 

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

How to Become a Leader in the Classroom

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know.

Teachers are expected to demonstrate high competency in a range of skill areas. Some skills that may come to mind are personal organisation, classroom management, behaviour management and confidence in the use of educational technology. One skill that may not immediately come to mind, however, is leadership: yet this is vital, as teachers are required to be good leaders of their students (and, sometimes, other teachers). Today, I’ve invited Mitch from Destination TEFL, Bangkok, to to share his tips on how to be a good leader in the classroom.

This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Truly great teachers must also be leaders. By devoting time and energy towards developing leadership skills, along with technical teaching skills, teachers can make a profound impact on their students that transcends the information they teach.

Leadership seems to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but maybe there’s a reason for that.

Just take a look around. In government, the corporate world, and yes, in education too, our world seems to be suffering from a lack of leadership. We have a surplus of bosses, managers, and influencers, but not enough true leaders.

But together we’re going to change that.

The classroom is your domain, one place in the world where you truly can make a difference. You may not be able to fix the government, or even the overall culture at your school (toxic bosses tend not to take feedback well), but you can absolutely change your classroom and, in so doing, your students’ lives.

Here’s how to do it.

What is true leadership?

In order to become great leaders in the classroom, we need to really nail down what leadership actually is. And more importantly, what it isn’t.

Good leadership is NOT:

  • Being right all the time
  • Never making mistakes
  • Making all of the decisions
  • Always being strong, confident, and outgoing

Surprising, right? Many of the usual stereotypes we have about leadership (ones that many leaders today try a bit too hard to represent) aren’t actually what leadership is about at all.

True leadership, especially in a classroom full of students, is much more nuanced and, honestly, more accessible than many are led to believe.

In contrast to the list above, true leadership in the classroom looks a lot more like:

  • Being human, and acknowledging mistakes
  • Letting your students make decisions, and teaching them to make the right ones
  • Being the best version of yourself, not fitting into boxes
  • Focusing on empathy and emotional intelligence

Real leadership is about putting others first, and doing your best to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. As teachers, this is something that probably sounds familiar to us!

So now that we know what leadership is, how do we grow in these areas and incorporate them into our classroom?

Becoming a leader in the classroom

The first step in becoming a better leader is to know that you can!

People are conditioned to believe that you are either born with leadership qualities or not, and this is true for something like being naturally outgoing. But that’s not what great leaders are really made of.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

Emotional intelligence is something you can work on. Taking responsibility and acknowledging mistakes is something you can work on. Becoming the best version of yourself is something you can work on. 

Real leadership is accessible, and it’s accessible to you.

All becoming a leader in the classroom takes is recognizing areas you want to grow in as a leader, focusing on developing yourself in those areas, and (most importantly) finding opportunities to implement what you’re working on in the classroom.

Maybe you want to work on developing your emotional intelligence. So you take the first step and start reading articles about improving your EQ.

You listen to their advice and start doing things like labeling your emotions, practicing empathy, and opening yourself up to feedback. The more you do this, the more you notice your sensitivity to other people’s emotions increasing.

Now it’s time for the most important step: bringing it into the classroom!

What better group of people to practice empathy and emotional intelligence with than your students? You start looking for root causes of misbehavior, and the emotions that underlie them. You teach your students to become aware of their own emotions, and the emotions of their classmates. Most importantly, you provide an example of how to do this.

Congratulations, you have not only become a better teacher, but you’ve also become a true leader. You are now impacting your students not only through what you teach them, but how you teach them.

You’re no longer just teaching them about English, now you’re teaching them about life.

Final thoughts

Becoming a great leader, and a great teacher, takes time. It isn’t something that can be done in one semester: it’s an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-improvement.

However, as people teaching abroad, we’re no strangers to this process. Living and working abroad is a journey of self-discovery, finding new and exciting pieces of yourself in different contexts and cultures, growing in ways you never thought possible.

Leadership in the classroom is another one of those ways, and it’s an area of self-improvement that will end up changing not only your own life but the lives of others.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about!

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 










How Students Can Help Reduce Single-Use Plastic

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in our Earth’s oceans every year. Campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy and the Project Learning Tree aim to inform young people about the environment and the harm that single-use plastics can cause. However, despite these excellent projects, much, much more still needs to be done to bring this critical issue to our students’ attention. Today, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento (content writer at Katreena’s Content Studio) to share her tips on how to educate children about the dangers of single-use plastics, along with advice on how to utilise sustainable alternatives.

Single-use plastics are a modern convenience, but how much is that convenience costing the environment? The manufacture, spread, and waste of single-use plastic are a major environmental issue that has been talked about yet remain unsolved.

People still openly burn plastic waste and use single-use plastics even when they can not use such things excessively. It has been the great efforts of dozens of organizations to phase out single-use plastics in the industry and replace them with more sustainable options.

Decarbonization always starts on an individual level. The individuals most affected by a toxic environment are the youth who have to grow up in it. But now the question is, where can the youth start on the mission to reduce plastic waste in the environment?

Why Is It So Difficult To Enact Change?

One of the most deceptively simple tasks you can do is actually the hardest. Most people don’t even realize how much plastic and paper they waste. On an individual level, think of how many water bottles you have thrown away in your life.

Whatever the number is, it is most likely too much. Now multiply that number by the population of the globe. This is why it’s so difficult to reduce plastic waste. Most people aren’t even aware of the fact that they are wasting plastic.

Although big strides are being made in reducing the use of single-use plastics in many developed countries, it’s a different story in less fortunate places. Many people fail to consider the necessity of single-use plastics in these areas because of how cheap they are to produce.

Not to mention, the lack of education on the negative effects of pollution is still a real issue. More efforts should be made by local governments to teach their citizens about the effects of excessive waste. Eco-friendly practices, especially the ones discussed in this article, should be commonplace and enforced.

How To Reduce The Impact of Single-Use Plastics

Truth be told, the efforts of the individual do very little in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s important to uphold these practices and share them with as many people as possible.

The more people learn from your example, the better your chances of making a difference. Here are some of the practices you should follow:

#1: Start Reusing More Often

While you cannot stop the production of single-use plastics on an individual basis, you are still capable of going against its intended purpose. Single-use is just a suggestion, not a feature. Things such as plastic bags, cups, bottles, utensils, and food packaging should be repurposed in some form.

The concern with single-use plastic is less about the material itself than the excessive use of it. Plastic wouldn’t be such an issue if there wasn’t so much of it all around the world. However, many supposed single-use plastics are quite handy as use for containers and makeshift tools.

Just make sure the types of plastic you are reusing don’t start leaking the chemicals used in their creation.

#2: Replace Single-Use Plastics With Sustainable Options

That being said, switching to more sustainable materials is not a bad idea. Whenever possible, look for cost-effective alternatives to the usual functions you use single-purpose plastics for:

  • Instead of having them bag your groceries, ask if you can have them put in cardboard boxes instead. Cardboard boxes are much less impactful on the environment and offer far more utility in a home.
  • Alternatively, bring your own cardboard boxes and eco-bags. Eco-bags are one of the handiest grocery things you can have.
  • Instead of buying plastic cups, just shoulder the admittedly less enticing washing of extra glasses. There are several cheap reusable cups in the market that you can look around for.
  • Store your lunch in jars or bento boxes instead of Ziploc bags.

#3: Push Organizations To Value Eco-Friendliness

For a more significant dent in the use of single-use plastics, the best thing students can do is make their voice known. Kids, teens, and young adults are huge demographics for many companies.

If enough of them start caring and demanding products that maximize recyclability and reusability, companies will have to listen. The businesses to start with should always be on a local level because the transport of plastic goods is just as intensive as using it.

Also, push for businesses to consider the impact that end-of-use products have. They should have professional recycling or disposal plants on call for their waste.

Schools are also subject to this. Encourage your school to go green by doing all of the above in their daily routines. Schools often go through a lot of single-use plastics, especially in cafeterias.

Another great way to reduce both environmental impact and printing costs is to print only what’s necessary. For example, some events hand out paper cups with custom-printed logos that won’t last the day. Instead of doing that, just encourage students to bring their own thermos or tumblers.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back. She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

Cognitive Challenges of Language Learners in the Digital Age

We must keep in-mind the unique challenges that new technologies create for all of our learners: especially those who are learning a new language, or who are attempting to access a mainstream curriculum via a second or additional language. Today, I’ve invited Tatyana Cheprasova (Senior Lecturer and EFL/TEFL instructor at Voronezh State University, Russia) to give her expert analysis of the situation, along with many excellent suggestions that we can all take on-board going forward.

This blog post has been beautifully illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

With digital technologies rapidly taking over various spheres of our lives, a new pedagogical environment for acquisition, processing and transferability of knowledge and skills has been created. These digital shifts will inevitably affect the educational sector as one of the aims of any educational paradigm is to prepare learners to face the challenges of the real world which now cannot be conceived without digital imprints and influence. This article aims to explore the cognitive challenges this new educational reality places before language learners in the Digital Age. It also attempts to provide EFL teachers with insights into how their teaching procedures can be altered in order to meet the cognitive needs of ‘digital native’ learners.

In order to develop the right understanding of the factors affecting cognitive processes (such as perception, learning communications, associations, and reasoning) and the behavioural consequences for digitally native learners, it is deemed essential to explore the new educational environment within which they operate and develop.

The new pedagogical reality which integrates digital language learning (DLL), as with any educational paradigm or teaching tool, can have its own advantages and deficiencies which become visible and apparent when the context which coined a new pedagogical phenomenon is carefully scrutinised. The pedagogical settings we now operate within and which incorporate DLL need to be viewed as the natural evolutionary result of the educational development we have witnessed in the last few decades. According to Warschauer (2004:10), at the early stage, within the language learning domain of the final decades of the 20th century, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) or Structural CALL was strongly influenced by the behaviourist paradigm which shaped this type of DLL as merely stimulus-response, drill-based programmes which enhanced the learning of new vocabulary items or grammar under rigid teacher supervision. The ensuing transfer from a behaviourist to a communicative approach to language learning where meaningful interactions were given the priority also affected the whole nature of CALL design, giving rise to Communicative CALL which implied the use of computers to engage language learners in communicative activities (Warschauer, 2004:11). Finally, with the onset of integrative ICT, the technologies within the new educational paradigm have moved into the era of Integrative CALL which relies on agency and interactive communications (both of teachers and students) as an effective pedagogical tool to solve real-life tasks and problems in a community of peers on the internet (Warschauer, 2004:11).

The widespread implemetation of Integrative CALL which has soared in the field of ELT in the last two decades has been seen by many researchers as a mainly positive trend which has a lot to offer ELT practitioners in various educational contexts (Li and Lan, 2021). Thus, as argued by Grosjean (2019) and Al-Ahdal, (2020), the incorporation of AI and Big Data used in various language applications can facilitate ELT in that it provides learners with real-life language use settings as well as helping to trace down their language progress via the analysis of learners’ errors in L2 writing procedures. Additionally, the use of AI can lead to a more individualised, rather than one-size-fits-all, approach to language teaching where the pedagogical strategies and procedures are designed to meet learners’ requirements and profiles at its best (Li and Lan, 2021). Finally, mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) and game-based language-learning (GBLL) have been regarded by many scholars as possessing high teaching potential in terms of EFL outcomes as they provide students with language learning opportunities at their fingertips, anytime and anywhere, stretching beyond learning a language as limited to only traditional classroom settings (Shadiev, Zhang, Wu & Huang, 2020; Li and Lan, 2021).

Notwithstanding all of the above-mentioned advantageous implications DLL can offer as the new pedagogical dimension, both ELT practitioners and researchers have started to question its overall positive effects on learners’ cognition,  psychological and speech development, and their flux of consciousness, thus approaching the issue from both cognitive and social perspectives (Warschauer, 2004; Komlósi, 2016, Voulchanova et al., 2017; Chernigovskaya et al., 2020). The impacts these DLL-driven pedagogical settings can have on language learners are going to be discussed below.

At this point it is worth mentioning that the whole nature of the concept of ‘knowledge’ seems to have radically changed as the Cognitivism learning model has given way to the Constructivism Paradigm. Apparently, when learning occurs within a particular teaching model, the nature of knowledge evolves on the basis of how new data is generated and pedagogical assumptions about which strategies comprise the educational process, as the following comparison illustrates (see the table below):

As it is illustrated above, knowledge is no longer approached as a monolithic unit transmitted from a teacher to their students but rather as a dynamic heterogeneous construct characterised by boundless hypertextual structure where the reader (or a knowledge receiver) acts out as the author (or knowledge co-constructor) (Warschauer, 2004; Chernigovskaya, 2020).

This innovative type of knowledge might inevitably affect learners’ main cognitive processes. Indeed, as argued by the famous Russian neurolinguist Tatyana Chernigovskaya, the hypertextual nature of knowledge leads to the formation of an innovative learning environment, which she refers to as “shared consciousness”, where learners have to rely not on their memory capacity to recall various information quanta but rather on their ability to remember the source of the particular data storage, which, in turn, can seriously weaken working memory, especially that of young learners. Additionally, the hypertextual characteristics of the new type of knowledge  are believed to affect the development of learners’ reading skills as this process now implies the inclusion of critical literacy at the very early stages of their cognitive development. This represents a challenging task for young learners whose abilities to compare, contrast and analyse, as well as to make inferences, are not so well-formed as those of adult learners (Warschauer, 2004; Chernigovskaya et al., 2020). These factors might lead to the formation of new and superficially scrutinised skills of digital knowledge management which will need to be specially addressed when teaching L2 reading comprehension.

More importantly, according to Zou and Xie’s (2018) research on the integration of MALL in language learning, this new format of learning, although enhancing personal learning processes, can seriously impede learners’ attention: shortening their attention spans for learning, and therefore, affecting learners’ ability to concentrate and control their attention. In the same vein, as argued by Hsu et al. (2019), adolescent excessive use of mobile devices might have adverse effects on their abilities to integrate scientific knowledge and to make inferences, thus leaving them with a rather distorted, disintegrated and mosaic-like scientific worldview.

Furthermore, as stated by Komlosi (2016:167), the onset of DLL will urge researchers to reconsider and revisit the essence of communication as the new digital teaching paradigm has introduced radical changes in social cognition and communication in the new form of digital culture, which implies that its members operate in connected networks constituted by several types of ‘cognitive identities’. This newly coined term refers both to human and non-human social actors that function smartly and are expected to operate within a highly interlocked framework of multifaceted information flow and exchange. The agents of info-communications in the digital world are related to each other not by commonly shared cultural narratives, as negotiated within the traditional cognitive cultural anthropology, but by fragmented narratives revealed through spontaneous and rather unstable shared interests in networking, information construction and exchange, thus facilitating non-linear, multidimensional communicative interaction which can seriously impede the traditional vertical, authoritative and declarative patterns of cultural knowledge transmission (Komlosi, 2016:167). This change in the social cognition and behaviour paradigm might have adverse effects on learners’ cognitive skills as the long evolutionary process of linear information processing typical for any culturally coherent human community is now challenged by parallel and connected network-based information processing: making use of fragmented, encapsulated information chunks provided by a plethora of information sources, which, in turn, forces learners and educators to seek new strategies of information management and info-communications in novel contexts (Komlosi, 2016:168).

Conclusion

At this point, an important conclusion which can be drawn is that the wide incorporation of DLL we are witnessing now needs to be approached as an irreversible process offering a new perspective on information processing and knowledge management of language learners in various contexts.  Notwithstanding its obvious advantageous effects, DLL has already signposted certain cognitive, behavioural and communicative challenges for learners. More research providing evidence of direct comparison between learning from others and learning from digital tools is required to develop a better understanding of the standard modes and channels of language transmission in in the digital age and to conceive the cognitive and behavioral consequences of learning in digital ecosystems.

References

  • Al-Ahdal, A. (2020). Using computer software as a tool of error analysis: Giving EFL teachers and learners a much-needed impetus. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change , 12(2), 418–437.
  • Chernigovskaya, Tatiana & Allakhverdov, Viktor & Korotkov, Alexander & Gershkovich, Valeria & Kireev, Maxim & Prokopenya, Veronika. (2020). Human brain and ambiguity of cognitive information: A convergent approach. Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University. Philosophy and Conflict Studies. 36. 675-686. 10.21638/spbu17.2020.406.
  • Grosjean, F. (2019). A journey in languages and cultures: The life of a bicultural bilingual. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Hsu, C.T., Clariana, R., Schloss, B., & Li, P. (2019). Neurocognitive signatures of naturalistic reading of scientific texts: a fixation-related fMRI study. Scientific Reports,9(1), 1–16.
  • Komlósi, L. (2016). 13. Digital Literacy and the Challenges in Digital Technologies for Learning. In D. Dejica, G. Hansen, P. Sandrini & I. Para (Ed.), Language in the Digital Era. Challenges and Perspectives (pp. 162-171). Warsaw, Poland: De Gruyter Open Poland. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110472059-015
  • Li, P., & Lan, Y. (2021). Digital Language Learning (DLL): Insights from Behavior, Cognition, and the Brain. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1-18. doi:10.1017/S1366728921000353
  • Shadiev, R., & Yang, M. (2020). Review of studies on technology-enhanced language learning and teaching. Sustainability, 12(2), 524.
  • Sidorova, I. (2019). Learning Via Visualization at the Present Stage of Teaching a Foreign Language. Astra Salvensis, 6 (1), 601-607.
  • Vulchanova, M., Baggio, G., Cangelosi, A., & Smith, L. (2017). Editorial: Language development in the digital age. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, Article 447. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00447
  • Warschauer, M. (2004). Technological change and the future of CALL. In Fotos, S & Brown, C (eds.), New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 15–25.
  • Zou, D., & Xie, H. (2018). Personalized word-learning based on technique feature analysis and learning analytics. Educational Technology & Society ,21 (2), 233–244.

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

5 Ways That Teachers Can Work Effectively With Parents to Help Their Students

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

I’ve made the point before that parent’s are our allies, not our enemies. It’s important to foster productive relationships with the parents of our students so that our learners feel fully supported in their education. How exactly do we foster those relationships, though? This week, I’ve invited Kat Sarmiento to share her thoughts on how to keep parents on our side.

Kat Sarmiento

Parents and teachers share the same goal: to ensure that students have the most excellent educational experience possible. In a study by the National Committee for Citizens in Education, one of the best approaches to creating a positive learning environment is encouraging parents’ engagement in their children’s school lives. 

Teachers who focus on involving parents see a profound change in their classrooms. Parental involvement begins at home, with the parents providing a safe and conducive environment for learning, experiences, support, and a positive outlook about the importance of education.

Parents actively involved in their child’s education provide the home support and knowledge that their children need—not just to accomplish assignments—but also to develop a lifelong love for learning.

Given that the importance of parents’ help in a child’s learning is beyond dispute, how can teachers work effectively with parents to help their students?

#1: Open reliable channels for communication

In a parent-teacher relationship, frequent two-way communication is essential so parents can stay updated on what is happening at school. At the same time, inform teachers about the important things concerning the child. 

A common mistake amongst teachers is not communicating enough or only getting in touch when there’s already a problem. It is best not to wait for situations to arise before reaching out. Teachers need to interact frequently and positively with parents to build a relationship before facing any roadblocks. Especially with today’s technology, teachers can do weekly reviews and quickly update parents on what’s going on in the classroom. 

It is critical to identify the best communication tools, develop messaging plans early in the year, and maintain consistent communication throughout the year. Maximize video conferencing apps, messaging boards, emails, social media, memos, newsletters, phone calls and find out what works best.

#2: Be collaborative

If communication is frequent, then collaboration will be easier.

A collaborative approach means that parents participate in the school’s decisions and work together to enhance the students’ learning and development.

Parents are well aware of their child’s lifestyle, developmental history, and interests. At the same time, teachers know how they can best guide and help their students perform in school.

Parents and teachers collaboratively sharing knowledge will go a long way to support a child’s growth and academic success. It includes relating what a child learns at school with what they learn at home.

The goal is to create a partnership in which teachers and parents share expertise to provide the best education for the students. Reciprocal respect, sharing of planning, and decision-making responsibilities are the essential components for true partnerships between parents and teachers.

#3: Encourage learning at home

Parents should support after-school learning by talking positively about school and teachers, creating a supportive home environment.

This form of involvement includes parents assisting their children with homework or taking them to a museum. These activities foster a school-oriented family and encourage parents to be involved in the school curriculum. 

Activities that encourage learning at home provide parents with information on what children are doing in the classroom and how to help them. Research shows that parental engagement is associated with increased productivity and academic achievement in many ways.

Participating in a child’s education shows that parents values their learning. The more help and guidance a child feels at home, the more effectively they will learn at school.

#4: Build a trusting relationship

In many respects, the first interaction between a teacher and a parent is the most crucial. During this time, a rapport is established, and trust can begin to develop.

Trust is a crucial component of any successful partnership. Teachers must maintain a trusting, private, open, and honest relationship with parents and ensure they always have the students’ best interest at heart. At the same time, parents should be confident in the competency of the teachers who are professionally involved in their children’s education.

#5: Make the curriculum transparent

Part of keeping parents informed is letting them know what their children are learning, how they are processing it, and how it will help their child succeed.

One way to do this is by conducting workshops for parents to inform them of the school curriculum and remind them that they are still their child’s most important teachers.

The bottom line is that education is a critical stage in a child’s growth and development. When parents and teachers collaborate as a team, children learn more effectively. And like any team, parents and teachers have one goal: provide the most incredible learning environment for children to promote their physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat is a Molecular Biology Scientist turned Growth Marketing Scientist. During her free time, she loves to write articles that will bring delight, empower women, and spark the business mind. She loves to bake but unfortunately, baking doesn’t love her back. She has many things in her arsenal and writing is one of her passion projects.

We welcome you to join the Richard Rogers online community. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter for daily updates.

7 Effective Ways to Cultivate Student Resilience in the Classroom

richardjamesrogers.com is the official blog of Richard James Rogers: high school Science teacher and award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management. This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Resilience is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. Resilience is an important life-skill for children to acquire whilst at school. Reach Out Australia, for example, states that “When students feel like the outcome won’t affect them negatively, they are more likely to try new and more challenging things in the classroom. Being able to learn from mistakes and challenges in a place where they feel supported and encouraged will build their confidence, self-belief and resilience. Today, I’ve invited Jessica Robinson, educational writer at The Speaking Polymath, to write this excellent blog post describing seven ways to cultivate student resilience in the classroom. Enjoy!

“When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.”

Jaeda Dewalt

Life is a beautiful adventure that has its ups and downs. Unexpected things happen in this world and within moments your life turns upside down. Take the example of the pandemic: one day, suddenly, we got to know about a virus that had infected masses of people in China and within days the virus spread to multiple countries of the world. It caused wide-scale casualties, governments imposed lockdowns and the sad ‘new normal’ began.

Sudden events that happen in life can make you realize how important it is to be resilient. If we are resilient, we can withstand the storms that come our way and emerge victorious. During our days in quarantine, as I spent this trying time with my kids who were feeling anxious, I realized that the pandemic is a big challenge, especially for children. They are facing such difficulties at a very young age in their lives. This experience motivated me to start cultivating resilience in my kids. Every day, I make them engage in different activities that can empower their resilience. Watching them become emotionally and mentally stronger has motivated me to also work on cultivating student resilience in the classroom.

Here, I am going to share some effective strategies that have helped me turn my kids into more resilient beings. I have started using these strategies with my students too and I hope that you’ll also use them to help your students cultivate strong resilience.

#1: Make children engage in activities that challenge them physically

This is one of the best ways that have helped me cultivate resilience in my kids. Anything that challenges them physically, helps them gain confidence in themselves, their abilities, and their body. This self-confidence gives them the strength to bear difficulties in life with courage. So, you should try to make your students engage in activities that challenge them physically. You can make them play new games that require more physical as well as mental efforts and help them develop confidence in their physical and mental capabilities. As far as I am concerned, I make my students participate in different kinds of races to challenge their physical capabilities and scavenger hunts with challenging quizzes to help them develop confidence in their mental capabilities. Moreover, I also tell them to not compete with each other but strive to become a better version of themselves. Believe me, this tactic really works.

#2: Help them inculcate confident and influential body language

Do you know that your body language and your feelings are interconnected? Yes, this is true. That is why, whenever you are sad, you sit or stand with a hunched back, look down and your smile fades away. This is an example of how your emotions impact your body language. In the same way, your body language also impacts your emotions. You can use this connection between emotions and body language to help your students become more resilient. You can help them learn body language techniques to regulate their emotions. For example, power posing in a confident way can help your students face challenges with courage. To know more about power posing and the benefits of influential body language, you can watch the Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. Further, you can also read different books and watch videos on Body Language to help your students inculcate confident and influential body language.

#3: Make them engage in creative pursuits

According to one study published by Colin G. Deyoung and Paul J. Silvia in the Journal of Positive Psychology, creativity encourages positive emotions that can unlock our inner resources for dealing with stress and uncertainty. This implies that we can help kids develop a strong resilience in an interesting way by making them engage in creative pursuits. If a child loves painting, you can let him express his creative self through painting for some time every day. If a child loves dancing, you can let him express his creative endeavors through dancing. By engaging in their favorite creative pursuits, your students will develop strong resilience over time. Along with this, they’ll also become happier and calmer versions of themselves which will ultimately help them become more resilient in life.

#4: Create a gratitude ritual and practice it together

‘Gratitude’, we have heard this word a lot and we have also received the advice to express gratitude from many influential people. But, we often feel that expressing gratitude cannot do us enough good as it is a very simple practice. We think that we need to look for something better and so on. But, believe me, we have been wrong whenever we have thought this way. I have seen tremendous positive changes in myself and my kids by following a gratitude ritual for the past two months regularly. We are happier, more optimistic, and therefore, more resilient too. Moreover, research also shows that gratitude can help us rewire our brains towards positivity. So, you should try to create a gratitude ritual and practice it with your students. A simple gratitude ritual is to write down three things that you are grateful for every day. You can try this one or create your own gratitude ritual.

#5: Help them build meaningful social connections

The American Psychological Association wrote in its resilience report, “Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.” When you have supportive relationships in your life, you feel safe and protected. You know that there are always people you can count on whenever you get faced with any problems in life. This knowingness gives you the strength to withstand the challenges that come in your life. This implies that we can help our students build strong resilience by encouraging them to cultivate meaningful social relationships with others. We can help our students build strong friendships with each other and cultivate good relationships with us as well as other people from the school staff. This way, we can teach our students to form meaningful connections with people and boost their resilience.

#6: Make them engage in healthy risk-taking

The development of self-confidence is crucial for us to cultivate strong resilience. You can help your students become self-confident by making them engage in healthy risk-taking. For example, if your students are afraid of dogs, you can bring a little puppy and encourage them to play with it. No doubt, they’ll feel a little afraid in the beginning but then, after playing safely with the puppy, their confidence level in their abilities to take risks will increase. As a result, they’ll cultivate a strong resilience over time.

#7: Teach them some coping mechanisms to calm themselves under overwhelming situations

If you have the ability to help yourself calm down even under challenging times, you naturally have strong resilience. You feel confident about yourself and know that you can handle yourself even in difficult situations. So, you can help your students develop a strong resilience by teaching them some coping mechanisms to calm themselves under overwhelming situations. Belly breathing, focusing on the sounds that are happening around us, and feeling deeply are some simple coping mechanisms that help us calm our nervous system under challenging situations. Furthermore, you can watch YouTube videos to learn about belly breathing and then you can teach this calming technique to your students.

The pandemic has taught us that we should help children develop a strong resilience right from their childhood. It is only in the presence of a strong resilience that they can face any challenges that life throws at them and emerge victoriously. Furthermore, as teachers, we can help our students cultivate a strong resilience through the different ways mentioned above. Now, I wish you all the best, and may your efforts to help your students develop a strong resilience bear fruits.

An ardent writer, Jessica Robinson, works for ‘The Speaking Polymath’. She uses this platform to weave her magical words into powerful strands of content and share with her readers.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

How to Develop a Passion for Reading in our Students

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying video/podcast:

The ability to read is possibly the most important skill that students should master whilst at school. It is so important, in fact, that a simple Google search of the phrase “The importance of reading for students” brings up hundreds of millions of hits (around 717 million at the time of writing this article, to be exact).

Do your students love to read?

There are numerous benefits of reading: for adults and children alike. I could choose to spend the rest of this article describing those benefits, but I fear that I would be preaching to the converted. As teachers, we already know that reading is important. I hope you will permit me, however, to at least include my favourite quote about reading from one of my favourite actors:

For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.

Will Smith

So, we know that our students must learn to read. However, what’s equally important is that our students learn to love reading. And this is what I want to explore with you today: How do we get our students, or our children, to enjoy reading? How do we prevent reading from becoming a laborious, dull part of their schooling and instead turn it into to a relaxing and, dare I say it, exciting past-time?

Tip #1: Turn reading into a collaborative task (with a creative output)

Reading is all-to-often seen as a solitary activity, which is most unfortunate. Set up times, or clubs, where students can read to each other and perhaps generate some kind of creative output – perhaps building a model of what they’ve read (Design Technology), calculating and mapping the frequency of different words (Mathematics) or even creating the costumes the characters might be wearing (Textiles). When reading becomes an active process, students realize that there’s actually a lot of ‘juice’ one can squeeze from a book, or even a short segment of text.

Perhaps you could couple collaborative reading with a technological task too – such as creating a Minecraft landscape of the setting for the story, or even setting up a Google Site online journal of learning.

My award-winning book for teachers is a popular choice for teacher book clubs.

The possibilities for collaboration in reading, coupled with creative outputs, really are limited only by one’s imagination. In fact, you may wish to ‘crowdsource’ ideas from the children themselves, perhaps by using a worksheet/prompt like the one below:

Could this be a tool to help your students read collaboratively?

If you like the above tool, then you can download it as a pdf here.

#2: Host reading and reading-related competitions and events

Some ideas to consider are:

  • Celebrate World Book Day by allowing students to come into school dressed as their favourite book characters. Perhaps offer special prizes for the best costumes, or even run a fashion show on the day. Award plus points/merits/whatever your school’s ‘reward tokens’ are for students who bring in their favourite books on the day.
  • Invite a local author to come into school to talk about their work. As an author myself, I know for a fact that the author will love the opportunity to gain some exposure, and if you ask politely you may even get some free, signed books for school out of it.
  • Run book clubs or events by genre – specialization can generate more interest in reading. Have a day for self-help books, one for non-fiction, one for animals – anything that the students are interested in.
  • Take the students to a reading-related place, such as a local library or actual location from a book. Students will often be unaware that these places exist in the first place, and their discovery may set in-motion some profound changes that result in a love of reading. My primary school took me to my local library as child, for example, and that place became my study-hangout in my teens. I just loved being surrounded by all of those books. It’s a feeling that’s very unique.

#3: Read with your students, and to your students, with passion

Get involved in all of the activities listed above. Join the collaboration groups, for example, even if only for 10 minutes at a time. Read topical news articles, extracts from books, quotes of the day or any materials that provide positive messages for students. Have a sign outside your door that tells students what you are reading at that time.

Bottom line – get stuck in yourself! Never underestimate the subliminal messages that students pick up on when they see us model positive behaviors.

Further reading (no pun intended):

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

richard-rogers-online

Excessive Screen Time is Harming Children’s Mental Health

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Parents and teachers have long been concerned about the mental health effects of excessive screen time on the children we care for, and teach. Oftentimes, we compare the lived experiences of modern day teens and young adults with what we went through at that age. Legitimate worries are attributed to questions surrounding disproportionate tech use – questions such as:

  • Are students today less fit and healthy than they were before the World Wide Web became mainstream?
  • What are the negative mental health effects of social media on adolescents?
  • Is there a causal link between tech use and mental health issues in teens?
  • Has technology usage increased the prevalence of mental health issues in teens?

The short answer to the last question is that there’s not enough evidence to suggest that tech use has increased mental health issues in teens – that, at least, is the conclusion of a recent Oxford University study. Unfortunately, however, the directness of this conclusion was lost on the BBC who made the unforgivable blunder of misrepresenting the study completely. Their headline shockingly reads ‘Teens, tech and mental health: Oxford study finds no link’

To most professionals in education this BBC headline, and indeed the conclusions of the actual study itself, seem premature, inaccurate and potentially misleading given evidence that has arisen from other studies that aimed to investigate causal links between screen time and mental health issues in children, teens and young adults.

So, what was special about the Oxford study? Were the researchers even able to come to such a broad, valid conclusion in the first place? I will answer these questions via a series of bullet-points:

  • The sample size was large, with 430,561 teenagers and high school children being involved in the study
  • Only UK and US students were studied
  • Participants were aged 10 – 15 years old
  • The data was collected by MTF (since 1991), UndSoc (since 2009) and YRBS (since 1991). Only 40,000 out of the 430,561 students were from the UK.
  • Only 139,264 of of the participants were asked about their social media usage (because, of course, much of the data was collected before 2009, which is when social media became accessible via mobile devices).

So, basically, what have the Oxford team done? That’s right – they’ve taken legacy data, overwhelmingly biased towards the American demographic, and analyzed the results using some statistical tests. Apparently, this is enough for the esteemed academics at Oxford to come to the conclusion that “There Is No Evidence That Associations Between Adolescents’ Digital Technology Engagement and Mental Health Problems Have Increased”. The BBC takes this adulteration further by boldly stating that “There remains ‘little association’ between technology use and mental-health problems, a study of more than 430,000 10 to 15-year-olds suggests.

A teacher’s perspective

I’m personally quite angry by the misleading messages that these inaccurate conclusions have transmitted to the masses. Anyone reading the BBC article, in particular, would think that there’s no need to be concerned about excessive screen time and social media usage in teens. The real story, however, is quite different:

  • A Dutch study involving 10,000 participants in Rotterdam concluded that smartphones are causing nearsightedness in children. This has also been backed up by studies and observations in CanadaAmerica and Ireland.
  • The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health caused shockwaves in 2016 with the conclusion of its study: that smartphone and tablet use correlates strongly with obesity in teens. Similar findings have come from a number of respectable sources, including a massive, global joint study between Stanford University and the American National Institutes of Health which was concluded in 2015.
  • Sleep-deprivation is a common side-effect of smartphone and tablet addiction. Research from the Division of Cardiology at the University of California (San Francisco), for example, has found that the use of mobile devices near bedtime is connected with low-quality sleep. 

However, these aforementioned studies focus on the physical effects of screen time on children: nearsightedness, obesity and sleep-deprivation. The Oxford ‘study’ focused on mental health issues, so what point am I am trying to make?

Do causal links exist between nearsightedness, obesity, sleep-deprivation and mental health in children and teens?

  • A number of studies have reported significant associations between obesity and poor psychological wellbeing in children but findings have been inconsistent. A 2007 study of 3,898 children from England concluded that “being overweight, rather than obese, had no impact on overall reported mental health.” However,17% of children with obesity were above the suggested screening threshold for emotional problems.
  • Perhaps the most obvious link occurs between sleep-deprivation and mental health, and numerous studies conclude that a causal relationship does exist. A 2013 study concluded, for example, that “early sleep deprivation in childhood may result in long-term behaviour issues” and even that “sleep problems impact core symptoms of common neurodevelopmental disorders”.

Studies such as these seem to have been ignored by the Oxford team. Maybe, however, I’m making tentative links between mental health and physical problems, and then linking those tentatively to screen-time and social media usage?

Hold your horses, because there’s more.

A report published by the Telegraph includes a headline is enough to stun any parent or teacher: 

Children spend up to 10 hours a day ‘mindlessly swiping’ their mobiles, study finds

The article summarizes the findings of technological research into what young people actually do online. It’s thought to be the first time that technology has been used to analyse the mobile-device usage habits of children.

The findings are alarming:

  • Behavior is compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

In many cases, children are spending up to 12 hours on their phones per day! Take this shocking example for instance (quoted from the Telegraph article):

Typical was Olympia, aged 17, who in one 24-hour period spent 3.3 hours on Snapchat, 2.5 hours on Instagram, 2 hours on Face Time, 2.4 hours on What’s App and 1.8 hours on Safari – a total of 12 hours.

I could go on to explore more sources to support the argument that social media usage, and screen-time, negatively affect the mental health of teens and children. I fear that this blog post would become a behemoth of statistics if I were to do that, however, so I’ll leave you with a few links to peruse yourself:

  • Ofcom 2017 ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report‘. Amongst the key findings were the shocking revelation that 77% of 12-15 year olds play computer games for around 12 hours per week, and 99% go online for around 21 hours per week. The 2020 report suggests that screen-time has increased, with children using devices for a much wider-variety of purposes than in 2017.
  • A November 2020 study by the University of British Columbia found that “Longer screen time (more than two hours a day) was associated with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.”

Overall conclusions

I think it was highly negligent of the University of Oxford to ignore the links that clearly exist between screen time and….

  • Nearsightedness
  • Obesity
  • Sleep-deprivation
  • Lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism [UBC]
  • Higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms [UBC]

As an influential university, Oxford should really have done it’s due diligence before releasing the paper. The message that has been interpreted: that no causal link exists between tech use and poor mental health, is just plain wrong. The BBC, also, should be held to account for their blatant dilution of the study’s findings: from “There’s not enough evidence to suggest that mental health issues have increased as a result of tech” (the Oxford conclusion) to “No link exists between teens, tech and mental health”.

If anything, today’s blog post has been an interesting expose’ of big institutions, and their overwhelming negligence despite their good public standing.

We welcome you to join the Richard James Rogers online community! Join us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates, giveaways of Richard’s books, special offers, upcoming events and news. 

richard-rogers-online

3 Things That Make a School Outstanding

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The bell rang at 12.30pm to the typical sigh of relief from students who’d been sat in lessons all morning. Bustling through the corridors towards the school canteen, library, school field or some other designated ‘turf’ were the majority of my classmates at St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School. I, on the other hand, had an appointment with my favorite teacher.

It felt like an easy journey to the German classroom. I was excited because I would be practicing my German oral phrases and responses with my teacher, who had been giving up a good portion of her lunchtimes for the past few weeks to help me become more confident and competent. She was always patient, and always willing to help.

Then, there was that time when my Biology teacher talked me through an end-of-unit test I had completed, so that I could know exactly where I had lost marks. I still remember the conversation word-for-word, almost thirty years later. I finally grasped some important concepts that day.

At the core of my good fortune to attend an outstanding school as a teenager was one most important thing: outstanding teachers. All of my teachers really cared for my wellbeing, and they often went above-and-beyond to provide me with extra tuition, or even to have one-on-one conversations with me to put me on-track, or to reprimand me when I had slipped up. Great teachers, I found, were more important than great facilities.

There are other factors that make a school outstanding, however. Even the best efforts of a team of outstanding teachers can be thwarted by the subterfuge of negligence, bad policies or even school culture. In this blog post, I will explore all of the key factors that work together to make a school outstanding.

#1: The school’s vision and mission are the starting points

A well-crafted mission statement that infuses everything the school does as a community can have a massive and profound impact on students’ lives.

At Saint Richard Gwyn, for example, our slogan was “Learning Together In Christ“. This phrase was spoken at every assembly, written in many school publications (such as the school’s weekly newsletter) and was reinforced by teachers during some of our lessons. I don’t think I and my peers fully realized the power of this collective action by the school back then, but that statement was actually having a dramatic effect on the way we saw the world, and ourselves. Whether you are religious or not, you can appreciate that this statement sent home a bigger message than just those four words:

  • At our school we learn together. Our focus is serious, and we help each other.
  • We have faith in Christ at our school. We are expected to follow the moral principles outlined in the gospels.

America’s Center for School Change has the following to say about a school’s Vision and Mission:

Developing the school’s vision and mission are two of the most important steps toward creating a successful program. Done well, they give clarity and direction for a school. A muddy vision or mission can help lead to continuing conflicts, and a school that has difficulty identifying priorities.

Center for School Change

I like that last part about “identifying priorities”. What does your school’s vision and mission and say about your institution’s priorities, and how well-embedded are those priorities?

Over the years, many educational scholars have stressed the importance of the school’s vision and mission, and how well those ideas are communicated and transformed into expectations. A classic amongst these scholars is William Rutherford of the University of Texas who, as far back as 1985, stated that effective school leaders need to:

  • have clear, informed visions of what they want their schools to become; visions that focus on students and their needs
  • translate these visions into goals for their schools and expectations for their teachers, students and administrators

So it would seem that simply having a vision and mission for a school is not enough to make a school truly outstanding. That vision and mission must focus on students and their needs, be translated into workable goals and be formulated as expectations for teachers, students and all staff members.

#2: Outstanding teachers make an outstanding school

A school’s best resource, by far, is the body of staff that comprise that school. Get that right and a school will usually be able to cope with the ebb and flow of daily circumstance in an effective manner. However, still to this day, schools are focusing far too much on teachers’ qualifications rather than experience, references and reputations, in my opinion.

This is the point where I’m going to have to speak bluntly and directly: an advanced degree does not make someone an amazing teacher; nor does a degree or qualification from a top university. Those credentials, actually, are meaningless in the context of determining one’s ability to manage behaviour, plan lessons thoroughly, teach with clarity and teach at an appropriate pace. Those qualifications may, however, allow a school to better market itself to parents and potential clients/customers (particularly in the private sector), but those qualifications never, in my honest opinion, determine a person’s ability to teach properly.

Teaching is a vocation: plain and simple. It’s a profession that one has to be built for, and one has to be passionate about in order to succeed. Experience has taught me that qualifications alone are not enough to determine a teacher’s suitability to teach. I, for example, have worked with a number of Oxford, Cambridge and PhD graduates over the years who were awful teachers who couldn’t communicate effectively with students and, in a significant number of cases, couldn’t teach at an acceptable pace or keep students engaged for long periods of time. On the other hand, I’ve also worked many such high-level graduates who were excellent teachers and helpful team-players.

Have you experienced the same in your time as a teacher?

My message for schools is simple: Focus on what the students and colleagues think of the teacher you’re hiring. Place more emphasis on teacher-portfolios and references – evidence of actual teaching ability – rather than the quality of a candidate’s qualifications.

#3: Effective systems make a school outstanding

Systems are like the glue that holds everything together. When a school has a clear vision and mission that’s backed-up by outstanding teachers and effective systems, everything then falls into place and runs smoothly (most of the time).

The most essential systems that schools need to have in-place can be remembered by what I hope is a useful acronym: C.A.R.S.Communication, Action, Rewards and Sanctions.

  • Communication systems need to be easy to use, and suitable for purpose. Schools that use the same system to communicate with parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders tend to experience better overall harmony than those that do not. Many schools, for example, choose to use e-mail for these purposes as it is a professional system that everyone can access. However, some schools (e.g. those in China) prefer to use a more real-time system for staff (e.g. chat apps like QQ and WeChat) and more traditional systems, like e-mail, for communicating with parents. Systems like this can cause undue stress to teachers, however, as it can be easy to miss messages posted within a chat stream. Teachers can also feel under constant pressure to respond, even outside of official working hours.
  • Action systems need to be workable. Teachers need to do things every day in a timely manner. Printing and photocopying, for example, should never be problematic (massive headaches are caused when printers don’t work, or when teachers are restricted to quotas, for example). Reports need to written via systems that are shared, and easy to navigate and access. Mock exams and internal exams need to be delivered via systems that make it easy for everyone to get their papers printed and organized in a timely manner. Timetabling needs to be seamless. Student locker systems need to be accessible and workable. The role of the form tutor/homeroom teacher within the school, and the systems needed to fulfill that role, need to be easy-to-use (a house system can often help with this). Registration systems need to be workable. Assessment systems and instructional software need to be carefully chosen and subscriptions need to be renewed on-time. File-sharing systems need to be in-place so that teachers can share useful resources with one-another.

Which action systems do you use in your school, and how could they be made to be more workable and accessible?

  • Rewards and sanctions systems – with emphasis placed more on rewards than sanctions. The consensus on the approach that should be taken is pretty clear in educational circles, and has been for some time. The UK’s Department for Education and Skills summarizes the key components of such systems best in my opinion:

Rewards, or positive consequences, are likely to encourage pupils to repeat the associated behaviour. Systems that emphasise praise for positive behaviour or regular attendance are more effective in motivating pupils to make appropriate choices. These appropriate choices contribute to a positive ethos in the school, thereby creating an environment for effective teaching and learning. . . . [S]anctions might be used only as a last resort, because using every opportunity to reinforce positive behaviour will have a greater and longer lasting effect than the constant use of sanctions for negative behaviour.

UK Department for Education and Skills, “Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour.” pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

In fact, it’s been known for some time that rewards work better than sanctions for promoting positive behaviour. The most notable foundational statement on this matter, for example, was made in the concluding text of The Elton Report (1989):

Schools which put too much faith in punishments to deter bad behaviour are likely to be disappointed

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html

Conclusion

Outstanding schools always have the following elements in place:

  • A clear vision and mission that’s student-centered and easily translates into goals and expectations for students, teachers and all stakeholders
  • Outstanding teachers, with a proven track record of excellence in teaching (not necessarily academic excellence)
  • Effective communication, action, rewards and sanctions systems

Bibliography and references (in order of appearance)

W.L. Rutherford. School principals as effective leaders. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 67 number1, 1985, pp. 31-34

UK Department for Education and Skills. Behaviour and Attendance Strand. Toolkit Unit 2. Key Stage 3 National Strategy. Everyday Policies: Rewards, Sanctions and Promotion of Positive Behaviour. pp. 21. [Online] Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5708/1/6c37a9499c7e75eaa76fd736c63ca731.pdf

GREAT BRITAIN, & ELTON, R. (1989). Discipline in schools: report of the Committee of Enquiry chaired by Lord Elton. London, H.M.S.O. Available at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/elton/elton1989.html