Monthly Archives: December 2011

The leaders we need for the 21st century Moroccan schools.

I have seen a story today in my school,and it has kept me wondering about the future of our schools considering the type of leaders we have in the present time.

The story of today has pushed my thinking to write a post on what I think are the most important qualities that a school leader should have for our schools to endorse some of the 21st Century leadership skills.

Our leaders have to understand that it’s high time for them to consider themselves as hosts in their schools and not as supreme leaders.When leaders understand that school belongs to all those who are withing its walls,and to some of those outside as well,the community,only then can they take into consideration the others when they want to take any decision.

This leads us to another quality that is needed in our current educational leaders.Decisions have to be taken in a sharing and collaborative way within the school boards and bodies.Leadership is sharing and collaborating not  taking unidirectional and bureaucratic decisions despite the rest of the school community.Students are there,and they are directly affected by any decision that is taken by their leaders.That’s why it’s necessary to take their existence and role into the utmost priority.Many  wrong decisions are taken in their absence and they just accept them because they trust us.The leaders should know that they are responsible for those kids,and they really have to care for them.

Leadership,we should assume,comes from the bottom not from the top.Our leaders should understand that what gives them power is those whom they “administer” and not those who have appointed them.This means that decisions should be taken with respect to the needs, the conditions and the environment of those who are to be affected.School leaders don’t have to execute non-practical and unsuitable  plans and decisions.This would be possible only if we take the children in our schools as ours,not as means to make money or to be promoted.

Today,we also need leaders who know how to motivate and boost their partners’ self-esteem and motivation.A lot of things inhibit a teacher’s and a student’s work in and outside school,and the school leader shouldn’t add more burden to the school stakeholders.In our schools,there should be leaders who know how to make differences between the different people who are under their supervision.These differences should stop being on “friendship” and personal relations.They should be made on professional performance and efficacy.

Linked to this is that our leaders should stop evaluating the performance of the teacher in a half in hour observation or depending on what they get from other people within or outside school.Evaluating a teachers’ efficacy has to be on  a long term process.It should be made depending on the teacher’s overall performance,on the students’ results,on the teacher-student relations, not on the teacher-administration relations.

ooooh,it’s in the end but so heavy I think.Today’s leaders have to be “literate”.They have to be equipped with some of the 21st century skills.It’s still so sad to find out that our leaders in schools are ICT illiterate.It makes me so desperate to find out that leaders think of the computer as a waste of time,and see the internet as a tool that instills bad behavior into our school life.It’s so killing to find out leaders who are scared of the student’s mobile camera and of facebook or twitter.Most of them know nothing about social networking sites except what they heard during the Lybian and the Egyptian uprisings.Leaders of today should have access to web tools that should be of great benefit to everyone in school.The leaders of today should know that a mobile phone is not bad in itself.It’s just the way we use or see it.They have to know that a mobile can be used to take photos,photos can be used in projects,projects develop speaking,listening ,reading…if this is what they -leaders-assume to be learning.

ah,again,our leaders should know that learning is not only within the walls of an enclosed classroom.They should be taught that learning takes place every where within and outside school.They should learn that extra-curricular activities are vital to an adolescent’s life,just the same as play is for a four year old child.Leaders of our present schools have to know that presentations,drama,singing,drawing…build different things.At least they make school loved and enjoyable.

For all these qualities to be in our leaders,they have to read,research,communicate and above all they have to listen to what the school says.

The death of an EFL teacher- part2

In my part one of the things that really kill an EFL teacher,I talked about certain issues that are related to technology integration and the ICT illiteracy among some head-teachers.I then concluded that to prepare our schools and students for the future,we have to allow more money to stream into professional development both for teachers and school principals as well;otherwise,we will be bypassed by the new generation of internet children who are already better than their head-teachers in this domain.

In this part,I will be dealing with the so many other things that hinder the teaching of English as a foreign language in our schools,and maybe in so many other parts of the world.In the coming paragraphs I will be dealing with things that strip the language teacher and learners of their freedom to take control of their classroom processes.

Most of the modern teaching theories and approaches such as the competency-based language teaching,the standards approach and the dogme ELT stress teaching towards a competency or excellency level.These theories adhere mostly to the view that teaching should be driven by learning and not the opposite.In other words,the proponents of these approaches see that our teaching has to focus on what the student has attained in his/her learning process.Teaching can only move into another skill or competency level if the previous goal(s) of the previous level is/are attained.

Many of the official documents and directives that are adopted in our school system urges using the competency-based approach to achieve the standrads that are outlined by the educational authorities.There is no problem with setting certain standrads that might lead our schools to common and clear goals.

The biggest puzzle lies in the contradiction between setting standards and goals that every student “must” achieve before the end of a certain level,and fixing the number of curriculum units that have to be covered,maybe before that student attains those goals.It’s a big irony to adhere to a competency-based approach that aims to “produce” competent learners,and,at the same time, forcing those learners and their powerless teachers to finish an overloaded syllabus.

As there is always a hidden syllabus behind the texts and the lines every student faces,there are also hidden policies and ideologies that do what they don’t say.The teaching of EFL in our country is producing  no more than short-term parrots  — short-term they are because what they can regurgitate lasts no more than a few days.This is the automatic result of forcing the teacher and the student to deal with certain isolated and mechanical linguistic items by the end of a specified period of time.We are by consequence of these time guidelines coerced to turn our classroom into an Olympics stadium where every learner is struggling with his/her prefered sport to reach a gold medal;and yet,in our stadium almost  none of them gets to that end because the distance they have to run is much longer than the time set for it.

Other factors that make us teaching in a vacuum ,and which are related to the aforementioned ones are the focus on exams and testing.We have instilled in our kids an “exam and grade”only culture.They  no longer consider their existence in school as a preparation for the present and the future as well.The exams-focused syllabus has made them exam-oriented machines.This has made them and their parents as well unaware of the other valuable things that are among the school’s mission including the instillation of values, critical thinking,independent and life-long learning and every thing else that builds a strong and resourceful citizen.Testing at the end of every unit,at the end of every linguistic chunk,at the end of every term and at the end of every year has created  generations  who  learn-if there is any learning- only for the test.

Our students now no longer recognize that language is part of their life.They fail to see that communication and dialog is at the heart of human existence solely because they are tested on discrete parts of language.I suppose that language teaching has to be taken as part of the student’s life in all its processes :from teaching to testing to practicing.To achieve this, teaching language has to be done in a “conversational” manner where learners choose what they will talk about and study.This learner-initiated conversation should be the corner stone of any teaching/lesson as it shows clearly the level the students have attained in their own learning.Today,we teach following what others have supposed our kids know,which is a kind of false prophesy.I suppose that the availability of technology should make us,teachers and learners,free from commercial text-books that pre-suppose what our learners know and what they should know in a fallaciuos way.The dogme ELT is so far the only approach that touches such a point.Freeing teachers of heavy materials deosn’t make their responsibility easier.Yet,it’s only then that we assume complete burden of the student we make!

Social networking sites and web2.0 tools should be available for every student and evey teacher within the walls of the language classroom,not somewhere else in school.Only in this  way can the teacher at the spot decide about where his/her students are and where he/she should take them.I suppose that the primary purpose of teaching is exactly this;it’s to know where our kids are and how they are there and where we should lead them later.In schools,however,that’s not the case.It’s clearly obvious now that teaching is driving testing and not vice versa.We are even supposed to do a certain number of tests/quizes before the end of a certain time,and this makes it clear that the primary purpose of assessment in various schools is no more than to assign a grade to a student.

All this has produced no more than dead teachers and dying students.All this has produced no more than train-like teachers and students;they know only one direction.It’s going through the exam.Our EFL has to stop producing machines.We have to take the humans as they are made first.We have to make them creative and able to think.Our students should be  critical thinkers enabled with the highest order skills that are necessary for a globally competing citizen.

Unfortunately,our schools so far have produced no more than people who accept every thing they are given.Focus on exams,constraining us to a certain time and a number of units that have to be covered during the year leaves no place for creativity in schools.There has to be times where everyone,students and teachers, think and ask questions.There must be circumstances in which I wouldn’t be obliged to stop my student from discussing a personal problem in class while this is why language is created in the first place.Our students must feel that the language class is different from other classes.If the mission of EFL teaching is to teach “the passive”,”conditionals”…and the rules,that’s no longer language.It’s some other subject.Speaking;voicing our inner selves,conversing,and talking with each other is the prime mission of any language,and EFL teaching has to make that clear within the schools. Our students have different talents,skills and dreams.They have the right to be provided with the “time” and materials that allow them to be themselves.We don’t have to teach English 24 hours a day seven days a week to produce fluent learners.Less than that will be needed if that learner is taken as a human being not as a machine.And for a learner to be taken as a human ,language should be seen as a means for conversing ,and not as a set of grammatical rules that must be mastered and tested.

The death of an EFL teacher

So many people are born everyday;many die biologically and still many others survive in death.I am witnessing the death of an EFL teacher right now,and I am ,consequently,  watching the death of the EFL teaching in many places.I am not going to speak about places where education is the last thing the authorities might think of.The biggest problem is when EFL teachers die in a country where education and training is getting a “lion’s share” in the budget,and it is considered the second or third priotiry sector in our country.

I am feeling the smell of death approaching me,and this is my tenth year of teaching English in Morocco.I feel envy while following my friends from the western countries on facebook or twitter,or when I hear them in online webinars speaking of continuos professional development and the degree they have achieved in the integration of technology in their language teaching.I get puzzled when I remember that my country spends so much money on technology integration,while in reality there is nothing of that.I can only see and feel every factor that might kill an EFL teacher,and hereabout I am disclosing some of those killing ghosts that are haunting me.

I ,and so many other EFL teachers I know,always try to integrate technology into my teaching ,and I mostly try to use technology while doing projects.Yet,all the skills and techniques that I am trying to use have been developed from my own interaction with friends and colleagues online.I have got most of my teaching  online from what teachers such as @Tomwhitby , @shellterell and @russellstanard share on social networking sites.I am indebted to these great educators and so many others for allowing the new techniques and ideas of ELT to reach into me here.Without this,one would survive in death as I haven’t seen any professional training about teaching EFL in my area for over four years.This really kills those of us who follow and know what other people are talking about on the web.

Can EFL really die somewhere in the world?yes,absolutely.It will die in places where teachers still rely on outdated methods and techniques in their own teaching.It’s in fact dying in places where students are better than teachers in their ICT knowledge and where teachers are even more literate than their supervisors or head teachers.

I am not saying that students shouldn’t be better than teachers.However,an ICT illiterate teacher is more likely to resist change,and he/she will tend to switch off a child who is keeping track of the newest things in technology.Likewise,an ICT illiterate head-teacher is more likely to hinder any new ideas that come from an ICT fan teacher.I have seen many cases where head-teachers put hinder using technology in teaching for mere predictions and outdated claims.Hence,this type of head-teachers are in the greatest need  for professional development,or they would better quit the job if we are really preparing our kids for the future.

An illiterate head-teacher is unlikely to praise and recognize any creativity on the part of teachers.This is the most killing thing in our profession.I know that most of my colleague teachers expect one word of admiration from their supervisors or head-teacher for bringing about something new,these teachers would refrain from letting their minds explore any other time if they see that people around them don’t even understand what they are doing.So many people would really wonder and keep asking questions whenever they see me taking a laptop to my classroom.They always think that I am playing music there.

How about the standrads?When you open the educational circulars and you read the official documents,one would imagine himself/herself in Fineland!The official documents emphasise linking our ELT teaching to technology.Among the 5Cs in our standrads is the “Connections” and “Communities” standrads aiming at enabling the students to connect their English language to other disciplines including technology,and the “Communities” standards aims at using English outside school to reach into other communities using technology.That’s absolutely perfect!Yet,in reality ,do students have access to technology in schools?Do they have internet connection?Can they use English outside school with their parents or friends?Definitely no!So there is a huge gap between what’s in the books and what’s in the real world.This is absolutely an other killing factor for those who love to embrace technology and to use a standrads-based approach.If we really believe that standards provide a framework for applying the syllabus and for knowing where our kids are going,we have to provide the necessary conditions and materials for applying a standrads-based syllabus.We have to decide between preparing our children for the future or saoking them in a school which they find irrelevant for their own lives, which is a reason for them to quit school or at least to misbehave in a monotonous and meaningless lesson.

So much I have to say next about other things that  kill both an EFL teacher and student in relation to syllabus,testing and exams.That’s in part two of “what kills an EFL teacher”.

What do children value most in school?

I had been shaking my head for a long time before I finally decided to start putting my ideas,my thoughts,the things that puzzle me ,that make me angry or happy in my teaching days into this site.You cannot imagine that this space was created a year ago but I have never been able to write any word till I have finally come to an agreement with myself as to where and when to start.

There are,absolutely,so many stories that happen in our everyday lives ,and that we want to share with others.And since I have no one to share with in my real life,I cannot make the nights of my wife so sad by the things that happen in my school.I will,therefore,throw them online lest they find a reader or two!

As to the story of today,it’s not really something new in my professional life;but,as I was following my great friends on twitter today (@abouaimran) I  had to reply to a question put there by @SimpleK12 about what is important most for children in school.I really thought that children forget the teacher’s knowledge of the  skills as well as technology tips or any other matter as soon as they feel that they are ignored ,abused or marginalised.Hence,my answer to @Simplek12 ‘s question on twitter was “democracy”.

Today,as I was heading towards the door of my classroom in the end of the session I found out that one of my students left a handwritten note on my bag.The note says exactly ” Please teacher stop racism,please!”. I cannot decide about the definition of “racism” for an adolescent.But,I am absolutely sure that someone in my class was feeling down today.I was really sad as I felt that I might have said or done something that was not appropriate.I am sure that I was monitoring homework tasks on modals and my words might have hurted one of those who didn’t do the homework.

I remember I didn’t say any of those bad words or insults that might be considered racist.I remember that I was dealing with my students all in the same way.And I thought that I was behaving according to the interests of secondary school students who are taking their baccalaureat exam in the end of the year.

This lesson has taught me,though;that students are very sensitive and that they give more attention to our words and our feelings towards them that our methods or garmmar lessons.I have learnt that I have to take greatest caution lest I offend on of those I value most in my school,students.I know now in real-not from theory-that students care more about relations with teachers and less about what the teacher is saying about the syllabus.

I-or we?-have therefore to stop thinking that to be a good teacher,it’s enough to master the topic ,and it’s enough to make it clear to the students.There so many unnoticed things in our classes.They are unnoticed because there so many absurd parts in the human beings.The teacher trainings ,therefore,have to focus more on those unseen parts of the student and less on the things that can be reached from a google click such as how to make a lesson plan fgor a reading text.

Our teaching has to take the whole child into consideration for it to be successful and here’ s where the dogme might have some strenghts.Were I using this approach and not forced to follow a prescribed syllabus that has to be finished,my students would have voiced his/her feeling out.The humanitarian theorists were absolutely right in saying that the child’s inner fellings determine how much learning takes place in the classroom.

But,don’t you see that the teachers’ inner feelings have to be taken into consideration first.We are bieng treated as machines that have to perfoprm certain tasks-finish the program by the end of the year- regardless of what happens in our schools or classes.How  would a teacher-machine then have enough time to look for the unnoticed things that pass by in his/her class?It’s completely impossible I think unless the student is brave enough to stand and say what he/she feels.That’s another story because our educational system is not building such a oerson fornexactly the same reason.We are focusing on how much that has to be covered and we ignore that in this “how much” almost ,nothing is learned because so many things happen at once in our classes and they are left unresolved.

I have to deal with this situation tomorrow.I should know what happened exactly and I have to understand the meaning that is used for “racism” in the mentioned note.I am sure that “racism” should have gained a new meaning in my class today since I am teaching students who are culturally,linguistically…of the same race.

Our teaching has to stop  being machine-like.There must be times to stand up and reflect on what’s going on in our classes.The hidden things that we don’t see have to be uncovered if the filter(Krashen’s) is to be lowered.

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