Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gr. 12 Exit Interviews: Sharing Passion & Talent

A few weeks ago our Grade 12 students participated in our annual "exit interview" from St. Patrick Regional Secondary (special thanks to @maricelignacio for organizing this event)

This is a formal and structured time when every staff member (including non-teaching staff) is assigned a handful of Gr. 12 students to meet and listen to as they share their Graduation Transition Plan

The plan usually covers short and long term goals as well as future aspirations including post secondary schooling plans and/or possible career plans.  Students are also asked to reflect and consider such things as financial plans and healthy living plans (food, nutrition, exercise  etc.) as they move into adulthood.

A further reflection point for students is in the area of meta-cognition.  Students are asked to reflect on themselves as learners and to showcase examples of strengths and challenges.

Since we adopted this "exit interview" model, a few positives have emerged:

  • Having students present to a audience in a formal setting has given more meaning to the interviews
  • It has broadened the circle of insight regarding our students' successes, challenges and talents - which only makes our community better.
  • Speaking for myself, it has created a meaningful opportunity to ask students about their high school experience and gather information that can make our school better.

This year, for the first time, one of the students in my group decided to use digital media to assist him with his interview.

He didn't have to.  He chose to.  Which fits nicely within our BYOD approach to technology.  For this student, the use of this technology was an appropriate amplifier of his message.

I have added his 4 minute video presentation below (with permission) - it is worth the watch


I am always really proud and amazed by the variety of talents and interests our students display.   The exit interview has been a wonderful vehicle for students and staff to gain inspirational insights regarding the passions and talents of our students.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Collaboration AND Competition

I am a big proponent on the need for professionals and students to increasingly tap into power of collaboration to promote and increase creativity, productivity and innovation.

I've seen first hand how authentic collaboration - rooted in vulnerably - encourages critical reflection,  deep learning, new ideas and personal and systemic improvement.  I've seen how real collaboration can keep us accountable to each other and the goal at hand.  

Truthfully, however, I've also seen evidence of how competition promotes innovation, productivity and improvement.   For example, we have recently been interviewing potential teachers for next year.  The current job market for teachers is competitive.  Teachers that articulate and promote their vision  and provide clear evidence to support that vision will "win" positions over others.

Recently, the book Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing has had me thinking about the role of competition in our world.  It has me thinking about how competition motivates (or not) me as a person and professional.  It has me thinking about my own children and students and how we are preparing them for the "world" as it is and how it might evolve.  Globalization, if we've learned anything, has increased competition for post-secondary opportunities and career opportunities.

Which gets me to my main point  - I don't think we should promote collaboration at the expense of competition.  Nor do I think we should promote competition at the expense of collaboration.

There is a place and a time for  both.  My nuanced take on this "dance" is that to be competitive in today's world you must find ways to effectively collaborative.  In other words, to be competitive, you must be collaborative.     

Some thoughts and pitfalls of competition 

Competition without collaboration promotes closed systems.  It closes classroom doors and prevents innovation and new ideas.

Developmental researchers are finding that, in general, learning processes that promote competition can have a negative effect on the learning process.    (see this post I wrote on Dweck's book Mindset and grading practices).  I have been witness to far too many students who, in an effort to be competitive with their learning, will either take any and all shortcuts to "win" or "play it safe" with their learning.

I worry that a focus on competition can also cause more stress and anxiety.  In an effort to gain an edge over others, I wonder if we are "burning out" with more frequency.  Certainly in schools, we are seeing more and more students falling victim to anxiety related issues.

A focus on competition can lead to an undermining of the common good, the narrowing a common vision and atrophy the growth within schools (and organizations).  Competition at all costs, can undermine the efforts between those who actually share a common purpose.  I have seen witness to this in schools where "programs" compete for students attention and time at the expense of the broader vision.  I have seen schools within the same system or district compete for students.  On a broader level, in British Columbia, I see a general lack of cooperation and dialogue between independent and public schools (despite sharing much of the same purpose) at the expense of what is best for our students.

Some interesting points 

I came across this great article  on the Competition/Collaboration debate.  Here are some the high lights of the article for me:

Research has shown that collaboration/cooperation is more effective than competition for completing complex puzzles and tasks.  In general the competitive groups were more focused on beating each other than solving the problem. As was quoted in one research study “greater productivity occurs when the members of a group are organized in terms of cooperative activities rather than competitive ones” 

The research has shown that competition can be effective for increases the speed at which a task is performed. While cooperation increases the accuracy with which the same task is performed. "In other words, if you want the job done fast, competition is the way to go. If you want the job done well, you're better off with cooperation".

One very interesting research study that the article references attempts to see the correlation  between competition, collaboration and students' self esteem. The findings:
in societies where competition is encouraged, children associated competition with greater self esteem. However, in societies where cooperation was encouraged, children tended to associate cooperation with greater self-esteem. In either case, it was not some inherent quality of the child, but rather the culture itself that most influenced self-esteem

The article attempts to answer whether as humans we are predisposed to collaboration or competition.  The answer:
"there is no major natural tendency for humans to be competitive OR cooperative; the type of behaviour favoured is based on the situation at hand. Depending on whether competition or cooperation is called for, humans will do what we do best: adapt to the situation at hand, and present the behaviour that favours our survival."
As we navigate through the collaboration/competition discussion I think we would be best served to understand the place of both collaboration AND competition in our society so that we can be better teachers and role models for our students.