Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

BLOGGING – the “secret weapon” that is (finally) helping TEACHers “trump” SCHOLars? (the RE-boot)…

In Adult Learners, Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 05/07/2013 at 8:39 am

big bad İSTANBUL


Still doing a couple of bloggery RE-boots to celebrate reaching my 500,000th milestone


This one took me totally by surprise and was one of the most popular posts of 2012. Initially posted at the end of May, it stayed on my list of top 10 “best-sellers” for over three monthsnot too shabby, when you realise that most blog posts these days have a shelf life of around 7 days…tops!


In a way, this post is quite significant for me (as a bloggery LEARNer) as it was the first time that I started to use images to “tell my stories” – rather than just use graphics to “support” the thunks I wanted to get on “paper” (on “screen”).

Some people have told me that this makes my posts more difficult to read…but I find it also makes them more fun to write!


Anyways, I hope you enjoy seeing it again…or seeing it for the first time!


TRUMP card Ver 02


One of my favourite EDUreads from the last 15 years or so is Larry Cuban’s How Scholars Trumped Teachers.

Larry is my kinda EDUscholar and EDUcator – a real “thunking doer” who tells it like it is and does not pull his punches where the LEARNing of others, especially our “kids”, is concerned.

He also has an amazing blog – Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice – and, if you ain’t checked it out, you just don’t know the EDUblogosphere well enough.


Anyways, the book, written in 1999 (yes, we “oldies” actually read these paper-based thingies back in the day) describes the development of the American Academe over 1890-1990 – using Stanford as his “case study”.


OK, so he picks up that old chestnut of a question:

What is more important within the university – TEACHing or RESEARCH?


But…his “answer” really hits the “spot” – and probably cost him a few “Academy pals”!


Most of us in EDUland know:

Karabell Paradox (Ver 02)

… don’t we?


Larry does! And, he basically “proves” that it is what academics are “trained” to do that has won out – again, and again, and again.

Not only in the States – all over the bloody globe!


What Larry also does is also help us “see” through the smoke n’ mirrors that have characterised the type of “changes” and “reforms” the Academe claims to have realised over the years…

It’s a good read! A VERY good read…


We TEACHers – knowing how much we have been trumped” (click this one) left, right and centre (yep, definition #02 is the one!) – have been known to get a bit miffed about this (…isn’t that Urban Dictionary just great)!

We tend to work harder (with the “people” who “matter”), we put in more hours (planning for the people who matter) – and we take more crap from the parents of the people who matter…and journalists, politicians, wanabe EDUgurus, publishers – do I need to go on?


A lot of us see conventional higher LEARNing for what it is…and accept that…

Tradition and Bureaucracy (Moe quote) Ver 02


We also know that the famed “holy trinity” that represents the “purpose” of the Academe – TEACHingRESEARCH and PUBLIC SERVICE – basically, and in practice, “translate” into:

Holy Trinity in HEd (Ver 02)


We also see that our universities can and do make some very serious “mistakes”:


Even…the best of them!


It is because of these, and that fact that we do focus so much of our energy on LEARNing the people who matter, that many of us also ask the question:

Folk Wisdom (Schleicher quote) Ver 02

A fair question really!


Because…every one of us “knows” (in our heart-of-hearts) that…

EXPERT Brain Ver 02


I mean, would any university department shiriously consider putting together a “research team” (on the back of a big, fat government grant) made up of people who had not been trained in research methodology, had limited experience of conducting field work or (God forbiddid not have clue about MLA citations.


That last one is quite interesting – and it now seems that we can even cite our tweets in MLA format. This little change is one tiny example of the “campus tsunami” everyone is banging on about these days…

Bob Dylan (for the times they are a chagin) Ver 02


The difference…is that TEACHers are ahead of the game, this time – and blogging is our secret weapon!


The WORLD has changed…

EDUcational THUNKing has changed…

LEARNers are changing…

LITERACY is being transformed

SCHOLARship (and AUTHORship) are being assimilated…


Blogging is leading the charge with allthingsdemocratisation – and TEACHers have proven themselves to be the BORG of the blogosphere. Just take a look at the blogging figures – those groups of professionals actually using the blogosphere to get their voices “out there” – and inspire others to find their voices!



TEACHers rule…and are ROCKing the blogosphere!


It used to be the case that we ran around our classrooms “exposing” ourselves to every Tom, Dick or Harriet who presented themselves to us…Now, we are sharingreflecting…and ADAPTing on a global scale – the likes of which God has never seen!


Good for us…GOOD for our LEARNers!



And, it’s fair to ask, I thunk:


Where are all the SCHOLars?




I did, in fact, do a couple of follow-up posts to this one.

But…and remember:

TELLıng theTRUTH (Ver 03)


…neither of them really took off in the same way. Maybe, I tried to push a “neat idea” a little too farmaybe I got a little too self-indulgentmaybe they were just “crap”!

There’s a BLOGGERY lesson to be LEARNed in there…

Neyse, have a look at them…if you have 10 minutes to kill!



(posted on 30/05/2012)


I’m still STANDing…yeah, yeah, yeah!

(posted on 18/06/2012)


What will Apple come up with next?

In Classroom Teaching, Technology on 15/08/2012 at 6:04 pm

This one is for Chiew Pang (aka – @aClilToClimb) – he set me a challenge!


It is said Apple have a new “logo” – to help market iBooks Author:


I wonder how long it will be before we see this one:


BLOGGING – the “secret weapon” that is (finally) helping TEACHers “trump” SCHOLars?

In Our Universities, The Paradigm Debate on 28/05/2012 at 9:11 am

One of my favourite EDUreads from the last 15 years or so is Larry Cuban’s How Scholars Trumped Teachers.

Larry is my kinda EDUscholar and EDUcatora real “thunking doer” who tells it like it is and does not pull his punches where the LEARNing of others, especially our “kids”, is concerned.

He also has an amazing blog – Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practiceand, if you ain’t checked it out, you just don’t know the EDUblogosphere.


Anyways, the book, written in 1999 (yes, we “oldies” actually read these paper-based thingies back in the day) describes the development of the American Academe over 1890-1990 – using Stanford as his “case study”.

OK, so he picks up that old chestnut of a question:

What is more important within the university – teaching or research?

But…his “answer” really hits the “spot”and probably cost him a few “Academy pals”!


Most of us in EDUland know:

… don’t we?

Larry does! And, he basically “proves” that it is what academics are “trained” to do that has won outagain, and again, and again.

Not only in the States – all over the bloody globe!

What Larry also does is also help us “see” through the smoke n’ mirrors that have characterised the type of “changes” and “reforms” the Academe claims to have realised over the years…

It’s a good read! A VERY good read…

We TEACHers – knowing how much we have been “trumped” left, right and centre – have been known to get a bit miffed about this. We tend to work harder (with the “people” who “matter”), we put in more hours (planning for the people who matter) – and we take more crap from the parents of the people who matter…and journalists, politicians, wanabe EDUgurus, publishers – do I need to go on?

A lot of us see coventional higher LEARNing for what it is…and accept that…

We also know that the famed “holy trinity” that represents the “purpose” of the Academe – TEACHing, RESEARCH and PUBLIC SERVICE – basically, and in practice, “translate” into:

We also see that our universities can and do make some very serious “mistakes”:

Even…the best of them!

It is because of these, and that fact that we do focus so much of our energy on LEARNing the people that matter, that many of us also ask the question:

A fair question really!

Because…every one of us “knows” (in our heart-of-hearts) that…

I mean, would any university department seriously consider putting together a “research team” (on the back of a fat government grant) made up of people who had not been trained in research methodology, had limited experience of conducting field work or (God forbid) did not have clue about MLA citations.

That last one is quite interesting – and it now seems that we can even cite our tweets in MLA format. This little change is one tiny example of the “campus tsunami” everyone is banging on about these days…

The difference…is that TEACHers are ahead of the game, this time – and blogging is our secret weapon!

The WORLD has changed…

EDUcational THUNKing has changed…

LEARNers are changing…

LITERACY is being transformed

SCHOLARship (and AUTHORship) are being assimilated…

Blogging is leading the charge with allthingsdemocratisation – and TEACHers have proven themselves to be the BORG of the blogosphere. Just take a look at the blogging figures – those groups of professionals out there actually using the blogoshere to get their voices “out there”and inspire others to find their voices!

TEACHers rule!

It used to be the case that we ran around our classrooms “exposing” ourselves to every Tom, Dick or Harriet who presented themselves to us…Now, we are sharing, reflecting…and ADAPTing on a global scale – the likes of which God has never seen!

Good for us…GOOD for our LEARNers!

And, it’s fair to ask, I thunk:

 Where are all the SCHOLars?

Why do teachers get out of bed…especially on MONDAY morning?

In Educational Leadership, Guest BLOGGERS on 07/12/2011 at 12:35 pm

Those lovely “happiness engineers” at WordPress (I still love that “job title” – and trust me I have been writing a fair few job descriptions of late…) told me that this bit of scribble would be my 150th post!

Jesus, Mary and Josephso soon? It seems like only yesterday that I was trying to work out what a bloody blog was and if I had the balls to “go public” with some of my deeper, darker thoughts…on allthingslearning!

So, I had a good thunk to meself …have to do something specialsomething memorable… something uplifting!

Didn’t have bloody clue!


Of course, the sensible…and politically-correct thing to do is say…

That goes without saying…and I do not have to fake “humility” or note how “blessed” I am! If you guys had not bothered to hit a key, move a mouse to an icon or tap a link on your iPads… the bottom line is that I would have probably packed up me troubles in me old kit bag …and gone back to the library!

Or, would I?

I actually started allthingslearning to reduce the number of e-mail attachments I was sending to teachers on some “train-the-trainer” programmes we were running here in Ankara…but I also realised that I was also doing it for “me”.

I had a lot I wanted to “say” (my wife has been saying this for years), I enjoy “sharing” (some say too much – they have done for years)…and I do (in my heart of hearts) believe that LEARNing (and THUNKing) is the only way we can move education ahead!

At the end of the day, blogging is all about “motivation” – not just “numbers” or “hits”!

Bit like TEACHing, really!


I hear the Huffington Post gets around 15,000,000 “unique monthly visitors” – per bloody month (not sure what that means – something about people who eat cookies – but it’s a heck of a lot of “hits”)! WordPress itself gets just over 140,000,000 similar visits!

The thing is that a big chunk of these numbers are the result of people who are motivated to LEARN and motivated to support the LEARNing of others.

So, this post is about:

Finally, he gets to the point!


In a recent post (or series of posts, actually) I made a pretty “bold statement” – I said the “big SECRET” about allthingsmotivation is that:

Now, a couple of you “disagreed” with mequite strongly, in some cases…but, as me dad used to say “It takes all sorts, lad”!

That’s OK – I could be “wrong” and to prove how “tolerant” I am of the ideas of others, I did a quick search for some ideas…thoughts about “motivating teachers”.

I now find myself owing a couple more people another word of “thanks”…for LEARNing me so much!

One of these is Troy Roddy…and his great blog, The Art of Education (a blog that I discovered only yesterday). He is a bit like me…a real “LEARNing buff” with a keen interest in allthingsleadership. As I was flicking through blog posts and articles…I stumbled upon one of Troy’s posts from July of this year – Motivating Teachers.

Troy had drawn on the work of Daniel Hocam (the “Pinks” of Phi Beta Kappa and ex-speech writer for Al Gore) – gotta love a guy that gives a shout out to his “thinking peeps” (and Pink is one of the best thinking peeps I know)!

I liked the post so much that I asked Troy for permission to re-post it – so happy he obliged. It is a great read…and I’ll save some of my own thunks for post #151!

Motivating Teachers – TROY RODDY


By far, my most popular post is the one I wrote about the three pillars that uphold a student-centered culture.  In that post, and on my “3 pillars” Prezi, I explain how communication, a growth mindset, and motivation help keep your school focused on student achievement

That post was mostly written with students in mind, but as educational leaders, we also need to apply those same concepts to teachers.  In this post, I explore the motivation “pillar” from administration/teacher point of view.  As with the “3 pillars” post, I am using Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  as the basis for these thoughts.

Let’s start by examining a few observations about the “work” involved in teaching.

  1. Teaching, as a job, requires one to use a wide range of skills.  It is not a factory job at which you do one task over and over again.
  2. Some of the tasks teachers perform are routine and do not require much in the way of higher order thinking.
  3. The task at hand should determine your motivation strategy.
  4. Educators, for the most part, are underpaid.  That makes an impact on their lives, and therefore, performance over time.
  5. In the absence of cash, what other “currency” is valued and available to distribute?


Teaching, as a job, requires one to use a wide range of skills. It is not a factory job at which you do one task over and over again.

Teaching, at least the model needed today, cannot be effective in a factory model.  Teachers must also bring a more artful approach to education.  Content knowledge, which was once the key ingredient to great teaching, is only one factor among many.  Effective teachers are flexible, imaginative, innovative, empathetic, and passionate.  These are not the qualities needed on an assembly line where following a detailed procedure of manufacturing is necessary (and also cheaper overseas!).

Therefore, motivating teachers must include clarifying their purpose (cause) and providing them the autonomy (independence) to develop mastery.  If the work of teachers was simply low level thinking and routine manual work, then financial incentives (bonuses, rewards for finishing a textbook unit, etc.) would be another effective alternative.

Some of the tasks teachers perform are routine and do not require much in the way of higher order thinking.

I find that I am trying to motivate teachers more directly when the work in question is very routine.  For example, getting grades and comments done on time for report card publication.  These less “teaching” tasks are often the ones that drive administrators crazy – much more than any real issues in the classroom.  The issue here is that these tasks are, admittedly, boring and take teachers away from what they do best – TEACH.

Because these tasks are routine, the strategies used to motivate results need to align with the task.  In other words, these tasks generally fall in the category for which some external motivation may be helpful.  Autonomy may not be an option because the reports, for example, must be completed in a standard format.  In these situations, finding the appropriate “currency” desired by teachers can provide the needed motivation to get the job done well and on time.

The task at hand should determine your motivation strategy.

As I suggest above, awareness of the type of task you need to address will guide which type of motivation strategies you should consider.  Routine tasks usually improve with external motivators.  Higher level tasks involving creativity and innovation are supported best by autonomy, purpose, and mastery.

Educators, for the most part, are underpaid.  That makes an impact on their lives, and therefore, performance over time.

Here is what I believe:

Teachers are greatly appreciated.  That appreciation take many forms.  Most educators do not get paid a salary that allows them to not need to worry about paying the bills.  For what teachers provide for their communities and our nation, a higher standard of living is deserved and, in my opinion, has been earned.  Of course, I am an educator and maybe a little biased :), but that is what I believe.

The issue with motivation strategies is that because money cannot and hasn’t been “taken off the table” it is always a concern.  This concern has an impact on the innovation, imagination, willingness to try new methods, etc.  Autonomy, purpose, and mastery will always be fighting against safety, compliance, and security when teachers are facing the tax collector and bills are due.

I am not implying that teachers need an outrageous salary that makes them completely free of financial concern.  What I am suggesting is that if teachers are thinking, “I need this job to pay the bills” more than they are thinking, “I need this job to fulfill my desire to teach and serve this community,” then adjustments to salaries may be a good strategy to motivate teachers to be better at teaching the way we need them to in the 21st century.

In the absence of cash, what other “currency” is valued and available to distribute?

This final point is one I like because often schools, administrators, and educational leaders only focus on money as the “currency” by which to engage educators.  Finding other valuable commodities hidden throughout your school may provide simple, effective, and cheap alternatives to help motivate teachers.

In my experience, outside of money, teachers value time and space.  Look for ways to use both.

Here are a few “currencies” I have used to help motivate teachers.

  • Providing food and drinks at faculty meetings.
  • Taking teachers to lunch (or paying for their lunch with colleagues).
  • “Thank you” notes and emails.
  • Substitute teaching for them to give them time to grade papers, write comments, or observe other teachers.
  • Find better space for them to work outside of class (reserve space in library, give up my office, reserve an off-campus site).

In conclusion, motivating teachers requires an artful approach and an awareness of the types of work being done.  Having motivational strategies that align with the work is important.

Çay ve Simit – and a bit of education…

In Educational Leadership, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities, Uncategorized on 07/05/2011 at 11:02 am

A few months ago I did a post on the inspirational videos that can be found on the TED (Ideas Worth Sharing) site. I was inspired to do this post by Aybike Oğuz, Head of Curriculum at SELI (Özyeğin University, İstanbul) – after she told me how she had “jumped on a plane to Bali” to check out John Hardy’s “Green School” (as soon as she saw the TED video from John).

Since then Aybike and I have been looking at doing some form of “blog project” together.

Çay ve Simit – and a bit of education… is the project we came up with.

The first of a series of interviews looking at educational issues across Turkey – with educators from Turkey.

Aybike, you have been involved in setting up one of the newer university-level language centres in Turkey. Tell us about a few of the major challenges you and the guys at Özyeğin faced – and what you did to overcome these. What did you learn about “what matters” when setting up a new ”language centre”?

It’s quite new, actually, but this is our third year now. I prefer to use the term ‘preparatory school’ instead of ‘language center’ because teaching English is only one of the things we do. I see preparatory schools as the foundation year of the university education in Turkey. Our aim is to prepare our students for what they will experience in their departments. This includes teaching English, academic study, critical thinking, research and independent learning skills.

There were two things that I found challenging about my job, especially when we first started. The first was to contribute to the establishment of a shared vision and a shared organizational culture for the prep school among the Board of Trustees, Senate, Rector, prep faculty, students, and parents. And the second was creating growth opportunities for the faculty and students. We had to do this under serious time constraints. The activities for the foundation of Özyeğin University were initiated by the Hüsnü M. Özyeğin Foundation in the autumn of 2005. However, the prep school faculty started working with three people in February 2008 and the rest of the faculty, including myself, joined the team in August 2008 and we welcomed our first group of students in September. So when all of us came together for the first time in August, all the deadlines were basically ‘yesterday’.

Our biggest advantage was the quality of the prep school faculty. Everyone in the team was very knowledgeable, experienced and passionate about what they do and they left the universities they had worked at because they believed in ‘Özyeğin vision’; I was the youngest in the group actually, so we had the ‘know-how’ but the real challenge was to define and implement what we believed mattered the most.

This required a lot of thinking on ‘creating communication opportunities’. We discussed our vision with the Board of Trustees and the Senate. We had bi-weekly update meetings with the Rector, Erhan Hoca. We had whole group and small group faculty meetings on a regular basis. We also held ‘class representative meetings’ with the students every four weeks to listen to their side of the story and to involve them in the decision-making process. Erhan Hoca met the faculty and the students time to time.

At some point, we realized that even these channels were not enough because there was too much going on at the school so we started publishing a weekly news letter called ‘SELI in a Nutshell’ (SELI: School of English Language Instruction), which was emailed to the prep faculty and Erhan Hoca every week. Student and parent orientation programs also have been useful to communicate our vision to the students and the parents. It was a good start for expectation management. We spent a lot of time and energy on involving as many stakeholders as possible in the design and the decision making process of the school and to keep everyone updated on the issues discussed in different forums.

There’s a lot of talk about the quality of language teaching across schools, colleges and universities across Turkey – and not much of it is positive. What do you think are some of the key directions that we need to take or the initiatives we need to kick start, to really make a difference to how our students learn English?

I don’t think the problem is specifically about the quality of language teaching. It’s about the quality of teaching in general.

My first suggestion would be to ask the students what’s going wrong. Nobody seems to care about what they think. We need student leaders to gain an insight into the root causes of the problems and what can be done to solve them. Student representation is very limited in decision making in our education system. Each school and university needs to have student representatives in management and student representatives should work as actively as any other management member. Now, I hear some people say “Yeah, right! Get real!” Well, actually the reality is some schools in Turkey have been doing this for centuries. The best example that comes to mind is Galatsaray Lisesi.

My second suggestion is to have confidence in the teaching talent already available here in Turkey.  Once you start listening to that talent, you will see that we have the teaching talent and also the expertise to create that talent. Last week, I was in IATEFL. Just out of curiosity, I checked the conference program to see how many people from Turkey and Cyprus presented in the conference. I don’t know the official numbers but I counted 34 workshops from Turkish and Cypriot universities and three K12 schools. And we were not represented only by Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir but also by Zonguldak, Bursa, and Denizli. And there was also one workshop by the Ministry of Education. Except for TESOL, this is the biggest TEFL conference in the world. What does that tell you?

What’s even more promising is that we are not taking part only in one-shot events. We are also taking a leading role in Special Interest Groups, which requires long-term commitment at an international level. Just a few examples, Zeynep Ürkün from Sabancı University in Testing SIG, Ayşen Güven from Bilkent University in EAP SIG, Birsen Tütüniş from Istanbul Aydın University in Teacher Training SIG. And is it just the universities? No! I met Özge Karaoğlu and Esra Girgin Akışkalı from Şişli Terakki (a private K12 school in Istanbul). Meeting them and talking about the kind of work they do at K12 level was inspirational. It gave me a lot to think about primary and secondary education. And it raised my awareness of the importance of understanding K12 education to understand university education.

Can you imagine the impact of creating a forum which brings all of these people together? Ask them what’s wrong about English teaching. They are the experts. Get them to work together. We don’t need to wait for international conferences. We can easily create such forums ourselves. A good example is the forum Sabancı University School of Languages initiated two years ago. The FOCI (Forum on Curricular Issues) events bring together curriculum coordinators in prep schools in Turkey and Cyprus twice a year to discuss the common challenges we face at prep schools in terms of curriculum design and delivery. I have learnt so much in these meetings about the English teaching at tertiary level in Turkey. Maybe a similar initiative needs to start between K12 schools and universities. Can you imagine the impact of all of that expertise working together?

You’re Head of Curriculum at Özyeğin. Do you think our schools and universities have the “right take” on what curriculum and assessment is all about – should be about? How have you tried to “renew” the Özyeğin curriculum and assessment model?

Ours is quite new actually as this is our third year. Based on the feedback we receive from our colleagues and students throughout the year, we make revisions every summer but currently we are still working around the curriculum model that we designed in 2008.

I think before asking ourselves if we have the “right take” on curriculum and assessment, we need to ask if we have the “right take” on university education and the role of prep schools in universities because curriculum and assessment, to me, are the manifestations of our educational philosophy and organizational culture. So we are all tested in walking the talk through the curriculum and assessment models we design in our programs. And naturally prep schools are manifestations of the universities they are a part of. I will take the liberty of adapting a Turkish saying. ‘Bana hazırlık okulunu söyle, sana kim olduğunu söyleyeyim.’

Unfortunately, the power and the role of prep schools in universities in Turkey have been undermined for a very long time. Very recently, we see some examples of universities which understand that ‘it’ all begins at prep schools. So it is, at best, naive to expect to have “super” graduates if universities do not invest in prep schools, especially considering the fact that the majority of high school graduates in Turkey start their university education life with little English. This means that most of the student population in Turkish Higher Education spend at least one year in prep schools when they start studying at university. One of the things we have started doing at Özyeğin is delivering a course called ‘Üniversiteye Giriş Dersi’ (Introduction to University Life) for prep school students. What you might find interesting is that Erhan Hoca, the Rector, has designed and has been delivering this course. You can think of it as a-year long orientation program where the students are exposed to different topics like plagiarism, discrimination, team work, CV building, entrepreneurship, creative thinking, student exchange and internship programs, research and presentation skills, etc. We also invite guest speakers to share their success stories with us, one of the guest speakers being Hüsnü Özyeğin.

As for the English component of our prep school curriculum, we decided on a couple of things that we all agreed on as of day one. These were putting ‘learning’ and ‘investing on student competence’ at the core of all the activities, using educational technology resources intensively to extend the limits of learning from ‘classroom’ to ‘student life’, assessing student competence both through standardized tests and projects which give students multiple opportunities to prove themselves.

To achieve this, one of the first things we did was to write a five-level, integrated-skills syllabus, which describes our overall program and level objectives. The empowering power of this ‘50-page document’ is that it gives the stake holders (the faculty and the students) a clear understanding of where we want to go in the program overall and at the end of each level. It also gives the faculty the space they need to use their individual expertise to design courses based on “their’ students’” learning preferences and needs. From the students’ perspective, having such a document gives the students a sense of direction and a framework to guide them in managing their own learning. Finding the middle ground between ‘standardization’ and ‘customization’ is always an issue in prep programs (unlike department courses) as you know so what we aim to do is to define where want to go and respect individual differences in choosing the path.

One of the challenges we all have is that our students study English in a non-English speaking environment. Therefore, in order to maximize their exposure to the target language, we use Moodle to continue interacting with our students when they leave the classroom. This helps us provide extra resources for practice, carry out online class discussions, give online feedback on student writing and speaking (via video journals uploaded into Moodle) skills. In order to cater for all of these needs, we work very closely with the Information Technology and Library Services teams in our university. For example, at the beginning of each course, our library team gives training sessions to our students on the online resources available in our library, which students need to do the tasks we set. To achieve this, we had a series of meetings with the library staff to present our curriculum to them so that they know what to focus on in their training sessions.

As for testing, in addition to mid-terms and finals, our students also do projects which involve a series of integrated tasks around one theme. These tasks require them to do very basic research on a problem, analyze the findings, and to synthesize them to propose solutions. In the project component, the students are given multiple opportunities, through feedback processes, to work on and improve the outcome.

Another focus we have is creating opportunities for peer-learning and support. We have a student buddy system called SBSS (SELI Buddy Support System), which we are very proud of because it is a student initiative. One day, when I was working in my office, one of our students, Gökhan, (the followers of this blog might remember his name), came to my office and shared this idea with me. And now that idea is a fully functioning student buddy support system designed, introduced, and managed by the Student Union with Gökhan’s leadership. The idea is that the students who finish our prep program and move on to study in their departments help prep students in their studies and adaptation to life at Özyeğin. I think this is what happens when you involve students in the decision making of the school. When students are invited to do things together, they do feel the responsibility of contributing to the learning environment.

OK, let’s come back to teachers. You’ve heard about the MEB initiative to bring in 40,000 native speakers to teach in our schools. With all the talk about global varieties of English (or “Englishes”), do you think this is the best strategy? What else could, should we be doing?

Well, I think I kind of answered this question already. I can’t help but ask “why”. What is this decision based on? On what needs? One of the first things that can be done before implementing such projects is to do research to identify the needs. If research has been done, then the findings need to be shared with the public. The first example that comes to my mind on this the kind of work is Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Do research, share the findings with the public, based on the finding do projects, evaluate and improve them.

One of the MEB projects that I appreciate is the intensive training programs they organize where they bring together teacher trainers at universities with MEB teachers. Some of our colleagues at Özyeğin University have given sessions in these training programs and they were so energized by the motivation and commitment of MEB teachers. They advised us all to experience this great opportunity. We will continue working with MEB in similar projects. Maybe one of the things we can work on together is offering a follow up program for these training sessions.

I recently did a session with a group of young, Turkish “trainers-in-training” and we were discussing “teacher motivation” (because in all our discussions on motivation we tend to focus on the “student variety”). Like many other countries, Turkey is facing challenges with teacher motivation. What do you think our priorities should be? What do you do differently at Özyeğin to deal with these challenges?

We need to invest in managing human resource. The whole Human Resource Management cycle basically. What are recruitment, orientation, retention, mentoring and coaching, and performance appraisal and review policies?  We need to look at each of these stages carefully. How do we recruit teachers? Do we have orientation programs to support the faculty in their adaptation to the organization? Do we support them in their professional development and create career opportunities? Do we acknowledge and reward their performance? And when they decide to leave the institution, do we respect their decision, acknowledge and praise their contribution and accept the fact that people move on?

What we do at Özyeğin is to follow an individual approach in supporting our colleagues in personal and professional development. Each of us is given different opportunities based on our interests and needs. We are very lucky in this sense because the university has the budget to support us financially to attend and present in national and international conferences and to take courses. We have presented papers and workshops in Greece, England, Holland, Malaysia, UAE, Cambodia and some other places I can’t think of right now.  We have also started benefiting from Erasmus teaching exchange opportunities. One of our colleagues gave a two-week teacher training course at a college in Holland last summer. Another colleague is going to the same college this summer. Some of us have taken courses on educational technology, teaching Academic English, teacher training, etc.

We also share our experiences with the other universities in Istanbul. For example, one of our colleagues was invited to Doğuş University prep school to give a presentation on how we use Moodle in our courses. Next week, I’ll meet a group of people from Kadir Has University prep school to discuss the curriculum changes they are planning to make in their program. Two of our colleagues were invited to Fatih University to present how we adapt a course book both universities use in their programs. And what you might find surprising is that one of our colleagues who presented this workshop is in her second year in her career. As I said before, we also work with MEB in the teacher training programs they offer. A group of us will visit Sabancı University soon to exchange ideas on curriculum and assessment issues in our program.

We also take courses with our students in the departments. For example, currently I’m taking a BA level course on Modern Middle East from Cengiz Çandar with two of my colleagues at the prep school. Some other colleagues are taking Italian courses with the freshman students. It’s a great experience. I mean experiencing what we are preparing our students for first hand.

Our sports center also works for us very actively. Another course I took two years ago was Latin Dances. You can also see some of us at the Sports Center doing ‘Zumba’! As a university (academic and admin staff and the students), we also attend Eurasia Marathon every year. You can see us anywhere, doing anything. We are a crazy bunch…

Another “hot topic” across the country is that of “distance language learning” and even “distance teacher education”. What are your views on this – are we heading in the right direction or perhaps another “dead end”?

I’m not sure if we are heading in the right direction but I’m sure that it’s definitely not a dead end.  There is a huge market out there promoting this idea and offering different programs for different purposes. What we need to be careful about is the content of these programs and what they offer to the participants. One of our colleagues is doing an online EAP course at Nottingham University, for example, and she is very happy with the quality of the education. I believe it all depends on what the design is.

This area touches on “teacher learning” – a complex area. If you could wave “a magic wand”, what type of teacher learning programmes would you recommend? What about trainee teachers on undergraduate programmes – what needs to change to improve the quality of teachers our education faculties creating?

I can’t suggest a learning program right now. It would take another interview to do that but I can share my latest self-reflection on my own learning for whatever it’s worth.

I learn from people (professors, teachers, students, parents, friends, managers, taxi drivers, curriculum designers, doctors, test writers, etc.)  who inspire me. Obviously, their concern is not to inspire me. That’s who they are and their ‘vibe’, in some cases, is independent of their educational background. I want to have people around me who I respect and look up to. And that is what I hope to be for my students.

Therefore, I think our first duty, as teachers, is to be keen learners. And my first suggestion would be reading outside the field. Deniz (Kurtoğlu Eken) Hoca has been highlighting this issue in her training sessions and talks. Working at Özyeğin University has raised my awareness a lot in this sense. When everybody talks about economy, finance, and entrepreneurship, you feel the need to read about it. We need to read about economy, history, psychology, philosophy, whatever we find interesting. I totally agree on the importance of the environment in growth but I believe in the power of the individual more than anything else. We are responsible from creating ourselves learning opportunities.

Reading outside the field is one way of doing it. Another is going to the museums, concerts, exhibitions, spending time with people from different walks of life, dancing, doing yoga, jogging, whatever we find interesting and is convenient for us.   The best way to inspire others is to inspire ourselves and to me learning is all about inspiration.

Aybike, thank you…more Çay…Simit?

ASSESSING How We ASSESS Learners (Part Two)

In Assessment, Our Schools, Our Universities on 11/03/2011 at 5:17 am
Our lives in the world of education, whether we like it or not, are dominated by assessment. Indeed, it is this fact that has led commentators to suggest that “assessment is the sharp end of teaching and learning” (Race).

In Part One of this little “series”, I tried to emphasise the importance of principles or “guiding lights” for how we “run the business” of assessment in schools, colleges and universities. I genuinely believe that this type of approach is the best way to really make a difference – firstly, by helping us review our assumptions about assessment and then by allowing us to take a “perspective” on assessment. Taking a perspective is very different to simply “having a perspective” (bit like having an opinion but not doing much “with” the opinions we have) – I learned this from Alverno.


However, there is another way – a way that many people find useful. Less “philosophical” – as if that should be a problem for all us “thinking doers” in education.

This second approach is grounded on “problem-solving”.

The problem-solving approach, however, relies on the understandings we have about the nature of the problem itself – as my dad used to tell me, “Lad, you can’t fix it, till you know what’s up”!

The factors affecting the quality of assessment practices are woven so tightly together that they must first be teased apart before an effective strategy can be developed for learners, educators and staff.

So, what is the problem? Depends who you speak to…

What do STUDENTS say?

  • Assessment “overload”
  • Assessment is not related to what we do in class
  • Insufficient time to do assignments, projects and study
  • Too many assignments with the same deadline
  • Not enough information on criteria or marking schemes – we do not know what teachers want
  • Inadequate or superficial feedback
  • Teacher and institutional “obsession” with what’s on the test
  • Different teachers have different “expectations”
  • Too little choice and flexibility
  • Assessments are not authentic or based on real-life
  • Grades tell us very little – but we like it when we get high ones (!)
  • Some teachers just enjoy making things “hard”
  • Testing does not help us “learn”
  • Teachers do not always follow up on the learning from assessments

What do TEACHERS say?

  • Assessment “overload”
  • Marking “overload”
  • Institutional assessment is not related to what “we do in class”
  • Difficulty of assessing independent critical thinking, creativity, academic or life-skills as opposed to “subject content”
  • Insistence on reliability has resulted in curriculum areas that are inadequately represented in examinations and tests
  • Some students do very well in tests, others do better in other forms of assessment
  • Student “obsession” with what’s on the test


  • Assessment matrixes are rarely, if ever, based on the principles that follow a specific vision for education (AAHE, 2006)
  • “Overuse” of certain modes of assessment (e.g. written tests, essays) – 90 percent of typical university degrees depend on unseen, time-constrained written examinations, and [instructor]-marked essays and/or reports (Race, 2002)
  • The vast majority of assessment tools in education still focus on declarative knowledge (“knowing that”), frequently overlook procedural (“knowing how”), schematic (“knowing why”), and strategic knowledge (“knowing when certain knowledge applies, where it applies, and how it applies”). Even less attention is paid to personal, social, and civic abilities (Shavelson and Huang, 2003)
  • There remain many practical issues related to validity, reliability, transparency and “fitness-for-purpose”
  • Many quality issues in assessment come down to a “poverty of practice” among teaching communities (Black and Wiliam, 1998)
  • Many institutions have been charged with “abiding amateurishness” (Elton and Johnson, 2002) in the way they put together assessment tools
  • Many institutions still use “folkloric systems of equivalence” (e.g. a three-hour paper is “equivalent” to a 3000-word assignment)
  • Assessment tasks often distribute effort and “assessment burden” unevenly across a course (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004)
  • Examinations and terminal assignments are frequently critiqued for encouraging memorisation or surface approaches to learning (Ramsden, 2003)
  • Many educators (esp. in higher education) have never received formal training in curriculum and assessment design
  • The majority of traditional assessment tools rarely resemble the “tests” students will face after they graduate and even fewer help prepare them for a “career” of lifelong learning (Lombardi, 2008)
  • Student achievement is still frequently only measured “within courses” – with limited attention to cumulative learning outcomes (AAHE, 2006)
  • Change in the area of assessment practice has been surprisingly slow – many of the innovative approaches, or at least critiques challenging traditionalism posed in the late 1960s, have failed to bear fruit in any meaningful way across education.


That’s a pretty impressive set of “challenges” (don’t you just love that word – makes it all seem so harmless)!

For a change, I’m not going to say much – I think perhaps David Boud said it best:

Students can escape bad teaching; they can’t escape bad assessment.

Over to you…problem-solvers!


P.S: I actually missed “Fatmagülün Suçu Ne” to write this one – but then I guess one “dizi” is pretty much the same as another!

Putting Our Own House in Order – as the CEO suggested!

In Our Schools, Our Universities on 27/02/2011 at 5:33 am

The quality of a question is not judged by its complexity but by the complexity of thinking it provokes.

Bir sorunun kalitesi onun ne kadar komplike olması ile ilgili değil, cevaplandırılması için gereken derin düşünceye ne kadar yol açtığı ile ilgilidir.

Joseph O’Connor

In a recent post, I posed a number of questions for CEOs (who might be interested in promoting “learning” across their organisations).

My friend, Bruce, took the post and re-wrote it for Principals. Thanks Bruce and “Kia kaha” to all our friends in NZ!

I had actually originally designed that post for “university deans” – but changed it to CEOs at the last minute (I had made a promise to someone that I would also touch on “business- proper”).

Wish I hadn’t!

I got a very “loud e-mail” from a “CEO” who told me (and I quote) – “you bloody teachers should put your own house in order before you try telling us how to do business”!

Now, I’m not sure if he (it was a “he”, BTW) really got what I was saying! But, to redress the imbalance that I have obviously created in the universe – teachers / lecturers – I have some questions for you:

Hey! Teacher…

Think about a recent class / lecture you had with a group of your students:

  • What was the topic or theme?
  • What did you teach?

That was easy, yes? OK, let’s try a few more:

  • What did the students learn? How do you know?
  • What else did the students “get” from the session? How do you know?

Mmmm, getting tougher, yes?

  • What difference did the session make to the lives of the students? How do you know?
  • In what ways did the session promote “learning that lasts”? How do you know?

Let’s really push the envelope – and take things “wider” than a single class:

  • Who are you as an educator?
  • What are your passions as an educator?
  • What is your purpose as an educator?
  • What “business” are you in as an educator?
  • What do you “do” as an educator? Who are you doing this for?
  • Who does “your shadow” touch most – students, colleagues, parents? In what ways?

  • What do you know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do you do with what you know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do you do to improve what you do with what you know and understand about learning and teaching?

  • How do you know all this?

As I prepare to turn these questions into pixels, what strikes me is that this blog is probably the wrong place to be posting these. If you are reading this, you are probably the kind of teacher who has been reflecting on these types of questions for years.

Now, if only I could me get an e-mail address for the “rubber room”!

I’m only doing as I was “told”.

I’d love to hear what you think though – perhaps then we can show “the CEOs” of this world that we are also working to put our houses in order, too.

Hey, perhaps we should do it together…more.


In The Paradigm Debate on 18/02/2011 at 11:00 pm

It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get.  

Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan

It’s a relatively self-evident truth that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. However, and as a growing body of evidence and research is demonstrating, most learning in the world takes place without any form of formal teaching.

We all know there is a great deal of teaching taking place across classrooms (in every corner of the world) without much learning happening!

So, is teaching important? What makes an “effective” teacher?

Research on teacher effectiveness consistently shows that the formal education and learning of students is greatly dependent on the quality of teachers, the teaching they receive and the level of student engagement created by teachers. The “teacher effect”, as it goes, is higher than that of curriculum renewal, textbooks and materials, and (even) school leaders.

In studies, for example, where students have been assigned to “ineffective teachers”, students have significantly lower achievement and learning than those assigned to “effective teachers” – TRUE but,  WTH would even set up this type of study?

So, what is an “effective teacher”?

Everything we come across suggests effective teachers do exhibit a number of common personal qualities and instructional skills:

  • Treat students with respect and a caring attitude
  • Present themselves in class as “real people”
  • Spend more time working with small groups throughout the day
  • Provide a variety of opportunities for students to apply and use knowledge and skills in different learning situations
  • Use active, hands-on student learning
  • Vary instructional practices and modes of teaching
  • Offer real-world, practical examples

For many of us teaching is, in essence, about believing that all students can learn and doing anything and everything to help and encourage students to grow and develop as whole people. Teaching is about engagement and designing learning opportunities and environments that focus on what students can do with what they learn – and giving learners control, not trying to control learning.

One of my favourite reads on this topic is Bain’s book “What the Best College Teachers Do” (which won the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for outstanding book on education and society) and while a review of individual studies on teaching effectiveness reveals no commonly agreed definition of teacher effectiveness, Bain’s book provides an excellent conceptual model for what is it that makes a teacher “effective”.

He bases this on a series of questions:

Bain’s work suggests that the most effective teaching is not a question of  age or experience or expertise in a given discipline (although a sound knowledge of the subject-matter of a specific discipline is a given) but rather the result of a number of attitudes, conceptualisations and practices – these are typical of teachers who “take a learning perspective”.

Indeed, many of the understandings and practices of these teachers are very similar to those practices of highly effective institutions investigated through Project DEEP – and stress the importance of:

  • A “living” mission and a “lived” educational philosophy
  • An “unshakeable” focus on student learning

Teachers that take a learning perspective also extend these ideas to their own understanding of themselves as professionals, and the ways in which effective teachers work to learn and grow include:

  • Reflecting on their own performance in order to improve
  • Using feedback from students and others to assess and improve their teaching

BUT, and this is where I throw LEARNING back into the ring, we said that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.

I would propose that we keep Bain’s approach but modify some of his questions a little –

  • What do effective teachers know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?
  • What do they do to improve what they do with what they know and understand about learning and teaching?

That last one is a bit of a mouthful!

Some different questions like these might help us really get to the heart of what makes a truly effective teacher. How would you answer these questions?


What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

Learning That Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development and Performance in College and Beyond by Marcia Mentkowski & Associates (Alverno)

Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter by George D. Kuh, et al