4 October 2013

A STROLL WITH VICKI DAVIS (For World Teachers Day)

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” ~ Albert Einstein

They are my true heroes; the blackboard-cleaning, chalk bathing; men and women who devoted standing hours explaining—and sometimes angrily shouting—theories and concepts into my skull that eventually added up in making me who I am today.

I love my teachers. I love teachers and the teaching profession because, it is a noble profession dedicated to moulding the future of people and the future of the world. It is also a profession that needs a lot of patience and passion, and when you talk about passion for teaching, only a few teachers on planet earth have the kind of burning passion my guest has

Mrs. Vicki Davis is a teacher that loves students deeply. Apart from teaching students, she also makes out time to blog on Cool Cat Teacher; her award winning blog where she communicates with other teachers around the world, and cross pollinates ideas on how to move the teaching profession forward. She’s also a mom, public speaker, and the co-founder of the Flat classroom project.

She told me about her passion for the teaching profession, her different projects, and what she thinks about challenges affecting education globally. Here’s my stroll with Mrs. Vicki; you know what they say, ‘when a teacher is talking, you listen.’ So I suggest you listen attentively.

 Ebenezar: Thank you so much for being my guest on the stroll, Mrs. Davis. 

Vicki: I feel greatly honoured speaking for all teachers around the world on this great day, thank you Ebenezar.

Ebenezar: So it's World Teachers Day; a day set aside to honour our true  heroes and acknowledge their contribution to the development of our  planet. What inspired you to take up a teaching job? Did it come by chance or it was a career you dreamt off right from childhood? 

(Image Credit: UNESCO)
Vicki: As a child I remember actually writing lesson plans and manuals. I always knew I would write something but being a teacher didn't cross my mind. I was the oldest of three girls and my Dad is a farmer. I wanted to go to Georgia Tech and be a management major just like him and run my own business, so I did for many years. I was in the cell phone business as a general manager for 13 counties in South Georgia and started having children and realized that I wanted to be part of their lives daily - so after being a stay at home Mom, some local schools starting hiring me to teach their teachers how to use technology in the classroom. I also did some adult education classes and grants for some local colleges. When the curriculum director at Westwood called, she made the plea that my school needed me because we needed to move ahead into the 21st century and my children needed me at the school. I said I'd teach for one year and try it out and that was 12 years a go. I love teaching. It is the hardest job I've ever had and also the one that pays the least money and yet, it is my calling.

Ebenezar: Wow, that’s awesome...the global slogan for marking this year's world teachers day is, 'a  call for teachers', do you think we need more teachers in the world  today? 

Vicki: When visiting South Africa a few years back, I saw one teacher having several hundred students in a class. She smiled and said that she pretty much ended up working with the willing. As the children go, so goes our future. Civilization is either improving or declining. An easy way to promote decline is to decide not to educate children and a dramatic increase in class size is a decision not to educate. There are limits for the effectiveness of teachers, so yes, we need more teachers. But we also need countries to start investing in the long term future of their people by educating children in safe environments with loving, nurturing, knowledgeable professionals. 

Ebenezar: Teaching is a very demanding profession and the pressure that comes  with it sometimes can be very overwhelming, so how do you manage to  always stay motivated? 

(Image Credit:UNESCO)
Vicki: The truth is that I don't always stay motivated...

Ebenezar: (haha) Wow, that is honest.

Vicki: yeah, but I have learned to listen to my own cues. Teaching is a profession of EXPECTATIONS more than any other profession. It has been proven time and again that if a teacher EXPECTS greatness out of a class that she gets it. It is hard to have that expectation if you let yourself get down, exhausted, or too upset. So, you have to guard your thoughts and notice when you're getting too tired or too emotionally engaged in a student issue. (Sometimes when a student loses a parent or something upsetting happens, it is easy to let yourself be so empathetic that it impacts you almost too deeply.) 

When I see I'm getting exhausted, then I choose to take time that night to get myself reset by having time with my family, reading, and going to sleep early - but many teachers don't have this as an option. There are times, I have to say, that even though I may be behind on grading that I put it down and get some rest.

Teaching is a rubber band profession. The more time you give it, the more it stretches until you reach some invisible limit of how much time you can put in and you snap. You have to pay attention to yourself before you reach the snap point. This is something administrators should be sensitive to as well.

Ebenezar: I really agree with you on that one, very true. What can Governments and School boards do to keep teachers motivated? In my country—Nigeriateachers and lecturers go on strike regularly because of paychecks, Do you think teachers around the world need to be paid more money? 

Vicki: Motivation and money are not really in the same sentence. Read Dan Pink's book "Drive" and watch his TED Talk on motivation to see what I mean. Are teachers paid enough? Absolutely not; however, morale is more often the result of working conditions combined with poor pay. 

While teachers can be self motivated, if they are in an environment where they are continually berated, not supported by administration, and they are under constant threat from students (Not saying that teachers in Nigeria are, but I know teachers in all countries that feel this way) -- if they have these conditions I just named, then you can't pay them enough. That is a fact. 

You can't pay a teacher enough to go to work and be afraid of being harmed or to be trash talked and upset. You can't pay a teacher enough to be yelled at for not getting results while not purchasing new textbooks and putting way too many students per class. You can't pay a teacher enough for expecting the teacher to be scripted and told what to say even when the teacher knows that students will disengage. Don't take away the power of the teacher to adapt, to deal with discipline issues, and to feel safe. When you do that, you can't pay a teacher enough.

(Image Credit: The Christian science monitor)
Ebenezar: Wow... even if you give them all the money in the World Bank? (haha)

Vicki: (haha) that’s not possible, but the fact is you can’t pay them enough.

Ebenezar: (haha) I completely understand you Ma... don’t mind me, you're right the sacrifice they put in is just priceless...

Vicki: What many teachers in this world experience on a daily basis doesn't just make them heroes, sadly, it makes them more like martyrs. From the US and the almost hundreds of countries where I know teachers—I know teachers who are afraid to go to work—not afraid to teach but afraid to just walk into the building. And that should stop. 

The US capitol shut down yesterday because of a gunman and went on lock-down. Everyone was breathlessly afraid. There are schools across the world that go into lock-down not once every few years but monthly or more. The safety of our schools should be a top priority. They should be as safe as people who are in the capitols of the nations around the world. People who are afraid are impacted by that experience for life - fear often leads to hate for the perceived cause of that fear. And hate passes along the world's problems because so few people are willing to forgive in this world.

Ebenezar: Now you talked about the Capitol shooting yesterday, let’s talk about 'Security in schools’, as this is another pressing problem in the world today. The Sand Hook killing in the US, Suicide bombers attacking  schools in Pakistan, the Boko Haram attacking dormitories in Nigeria... have claimed the lives of innocent students around the world. What do you think can be done about this? 

(Image Credit: Nick Carbone)
Vicki: I'm reading a great book called "Take the Risk" by Ben Carson where he points out that the elimination of risk is not possible. Everyone born in the 1800's is dead now. We all die and that will happen. However, it should not be a risk to go to school, ever.

People who are afraid aren't going to care about calculus or physics or programming a computer. They are likely not even going to care about history or reading or math. They are going to care about surviving. The same goes with being hungry. A hungry child is listening to the alarm bells in their stomach and can't tune into the teacher. 

Hunger, violence, and oppression are rampant throughout the world. But when it becomes safe at home is when people in the local area say "not in my neighborhood - the kids will be safe here." We are each responsible to ensure the safety of children in our area and to speak out and take action when there are problems. While we can care about kids around the world - making schools a safer place always requires local action and buy in and always will. I don't care if you have children or not, we are each responsible for all of the schools in our area to see that children are safe, cared for and fed.

We must "glocalize" as Thomas Friedman says - think global and act local.

Ebenezar: Okay. I'm a big Malala fan and I usually don't hide my admiration for her boldness and perseverance in pursuing her vision of global girl child  education. What do you think about the ideology of educating only male children? It's funny that it's still popular in some parts of world. 

Vicki: I'm the daughter of a farmer who had only girls. As we were moving a battery to jump off an irrigation system when I was about 8, I dropped my end of the heavy battery in disgust and said "I can't do this, I'm just a girl." Dad dropped his end and came around the battery and kindly but firmly looked in my eyes and said "Vicki, I never want to hear that again - You are worth as much as any boy could ever be to me. Tackle any problem that comes your way and never ever let me hear you say that." For a farmer in rural Georgia in the 1970's - he was admittedly progressive. I went on to a male dominated school, Georgia Tech, and graduated first in my management class because I was not limited. Some of the greatest liberators of women throughout history have been their loving fathers.

So, I believe that every girl should be educated, but yes, it is sad that girls are basically seen as a liability and like property in many parts of the world. This is an incredibly hard, cultural thing to overcome. If you read the book "The Influencer: The Power to Change Anything" by Kerry Patterson, et al, you'll see their research into changing hard things like the Guinea worm blight in many countries. Change didn't happen with "outside consultants" coming in and telling the villages what to do to eradicate the parasite from villagers. No, the Carter center found that it required training local shamans and village leaders on why this needed to be done and how to do it - that was the focal point that helped the dramatic decline happen in the painful infestation. Local ownership and buy in makes the difference.

I live in a small town. When someone comes down and tells us "this is how we do it in Atlanta" we roll our eyes and tune them out. Change happens from the inside out. We must educate leaders in all areas of the world of the benefits (both economic and socially in terms of the decline of poverty and more children being born into poverty) and show them how to do it. The statistics are there and they are striking of what happens when people are educated.

But in many places it isn't about education. If you look at black slaves in the south before and during the United States Civil War, it was illegal to teach a slave to read. Why? Because owners knew that once slaves could read that they would open their eyes and see the truth of the world. They knew that power was going to be hard to hold onto. The white slave owners feared the power that slaves would wield once they were educated. In many parts of the world, the facts of the improvement of society when women are educated are not enough because there are those who wish to continue to treat women as property. Slaves of ignorance are easier to control because educated slaves see oppression for what it is.

Malala speaking at the UN

I applaud you for using your platform to recognize women like Malala.

Ebenezar: Thank you very much ma, I applaud greatness wherever I see it.

Vicki: You’re welcome, the thing is we need men and women around the world to take a stand that women are not property and should be treated with respect. This one thing - educating girls - can do more to diminish poverty and improve the quality of life than just about anything else we can do. It takes brave people within cultures who are willing to speak out and do something.  When I traveled to the UN this past December, I was impressed with how this issue is being addressed and hope that local people around the world take notice.

People of all cultures should start waking up and realizing that these problems even exist. This is one big reason that we should connect our classrooms with the world like I discuss in my book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. Most people in the US probably don't even know that the education of girls is a problem in many parts of the world - but there are many countries who don't realize it is a problem, not just mine. 

In our interconnected world, social media and the PR outrage it incites has far more impact than many political leaders wish to admit. A global society who is fed up and takes an issue to the world -- causing hashtags to trend and blog posts to be written in fury - those issues start getting addressed by mainstream media and politicians because they have to. 

It is more important than ever for the common global citizen to be aware of the injustices of this world and speak out about them. (I empower my students to be brave social media authors.)

It is also scarier than ever for some who are afraid of being "unfriended" or "unfollowed" in social media. But the important issues of our world and our times are never popular - until the brave souls are able to shift the tide of public opinion and it becomes, well, popular. 

We need more courageous people willing to speak out about human rights issues like this in social media and we need more brave people within all cultures willing to take action. For me, this includes speaking out about the human trafficking travesty that plagues the city of Atlanta. If it is on your back door - it is your problem - we should all have that attitude -- and this problem of not educating girls is in most neighborhoods - whether it is caused by human trafficking or a house of cards educational institution that only pretends to educate or a complete denial of any education at all-- it is there and it is important to women and men everywhere who care about moving society forward.

Ebenezar: Let's talk about the 21st century classroom. The 2013 TED Prize Winner; Prof. Sugata Mitra believes the current educational pattern we are practicing is outdated. He believes we should change the structure of our classrooms to fit more into our century, and that we need more of mentors than teachers... What do you think about this? 

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Vicki: Every Friday in my classroom is genius hour. The students pursue technology-related personal interest projects and I coach them to move forward. I think good teachers have always coached. There are times and places for lecture but it isn't all the time. There might even be a place for a worksheet - but I doubt it and I doubt it is best done on paper - if it has to be used, it should be done in a way that gives immediate feedback on right and wrong so you can learn - not wait a week to see how you did. So, yes, I do agree that we need to move education forward.

Ebenezar: Okay?

Vicki: There are those who criticize the move to teachers as coaches because, for example, when someone wants to evaluate me, it is hard to evaluate my "lesson plan" when the students are working on projects and I'm coaching. They'll often wait until I'm 'teaching' which usually means a teacher-guided discussion. In my classroom those are rare - I might lead a discussion but it is rarely just me talking. 

Good leaders facilitate, they don't dominate.

But I think that almost everything about education and how we view it is designed to keep the status quo. From the research silos that require me to have a subscription to read current research on classroom techniques to how teachers are evaluated and the world wide mania to test students relentlessly - these are things that stand in direct opposition to taking risk and change. Change is always risky and it isn't going to happen when we make people afraid to change and experiment. Taking a risk means that you can easily fail. Sadly, the world doesn't see that our biggest risk is staying entrenched in a status quo that clearly isn't working for today's students.

(Image Credit: The Flat Classroom) 
Ebenezar: Can you tell us a bit about your books that will be published next  year? And what is the Flat classroom project all about? 

Vicki: My second book is Reinventing Writing: the 9 tools that are changing writing, learning and living forever and how to teach with them. This book is written for any teacher using or trying cloud documents with students. The book is written for the non-technical type teacher and teaches them how to select the write tool for teaching, how to set it up quickly, and how to prevent common mistakes.  I also work to convince teachers that it has never been easier, more convenient (and often free), and more important than right now. There is no reason for paper for 70% of the tasks in the classroom if you have the technology to support the move to ePaper, for example, but most teachers (for the reasons I named in the previous answer) don't know how.

In 2006, a fellow teacher, Julie Lindsay (then in Bangladesh) and I started the Flat Classroom project to study Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat. It won ISTE's online learning award that year and has been widely recognized as a best practice to create globally aware citizens and inspired our book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. The projects have grown rapidly to include Kindergarten through college students involved in some way.

While I'm personally having to step back from day to day management of the projects in order to stay in the classroom, the principles of flattening your classroom are something any teacher can apply. Don't talk about the world, talk with it.

Ebenezar: (hmmmm) Nice, I like that.

Vicki: We are building the bridges today that the society of tomorrow will walk across. By participating in such projects, students can educate themselves on the people of the world without having the stereotypes of history perpetuated via text and lack of firsthand knowledge to the otherwise. Massive global projects are imperative for our future and should be part of any school where the administrators wish to claim that students are well educated. We must support poorer schools with the Internet connections and technology to help them be part of this growing, vibrant, interconnection of schools. Connecting classrooms is vitally important and something I'm passionate about supporting wherever it happens.

Ebenezar: That is really great ma. Thank you so much for talking with me, I really had fun and learnt a lot in course of this stroll. I wish you success in all your projects, God bless you

Vicki: The pleasure was mine Ebenezar, thank you and God bless you too.

For more about Vicki(@coolcatteacher), visit her blog here

William Arthur ward said; “the mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” The world needs a lot of great teachers to inspire kids; people who are passionate; and are ready to be models to kids. Not people who stumble into the profession because they’ve got no other job to take up.

I really want to salute these true heroes of mankind; the men and women who are often overlooked because; the world has failed to realize how important they are in the society. I salute you all... God bless you all.

To people who call themselves terrorists who go about shooting kids in their dormitories while they are asleep or while they are returning home in the school bus, aren’t you guys ashamed? I think you guys need basic education so you can be able to clearly understand what vulnerability and stupidity means. Turn from your evil ways. In the words of Malala; “one child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” Let’s give education a chance.

Till my next stroll; remain teachable, Jesus Loves you.

Ebenezar Wikina (@EbenezarWikina)
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