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What is the Top Action We Can Take to Improve Schools?

written by Louis Alloro 28 February 2009

Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP '08, is a cofounder of a 6-month Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology Program, Fellow at the Center for Advancement of Wellbeing at George Mason University, and founder of SOMO Leadership Labs, a community intervention. Web site. Full Bio.

Articles by Louis are here.

Enough is Enough

girl distance ppnd schools happinessWhy does school often feel bad for kids?

As a student, I often felt I wasn’t good enough: who I was and what the world expected me to be were at odds. As a result, I felt marginalized and alone at school. I felt voiceless.  Only later did I learn that feelings of “not being good enough (or smart enough, or good looking enough, or whatever enough)” were too common for school children.

And then I became a teacher. Finally! On the other side of the desk. A dream I had since as long as I could remember. But there, much to my chagrin, I saw many students—and teachers and parents with similar plights: sad, alone, and depressed—rat-racing, getting by—not enough.

What answers can positive psychology offer?  What is the #1 action we can take to improve schools?

This is A Crisis

Last week I attended a conference that Yale School of Management put on called Creating Levers of Change in education. NYC School Commissioner Joel Klein gave the keynote address. In it, he made three points:

  1. We have a crisis in public education.
  2. We don’t have to have a crisis in public education.
  3. If we keep having the same dialogue, we won’t change the reality.

The difference between this education crisis and other national crises, like the threat of terrorism or the failing economy, he says, is that we’re not all in this one together. Skin color, popularity, and zip code determine the quality of education kids receive.  I love Klein’s points – especially the third one, as it reminds me of the work of David Cooperrider who says that, “Human systems move in the direction of the questions they ask.” What questions do we ask regarding the state of our schools?  I have one:

If an alien came from Mars and dropped into a school, what would they report? That kids come, half awake, to watch adults work?

There’s An Evidenced-Based Solution

kids smiling schools ppnd happinessIn leading a bandwagon on Positive Education, Martin Seligman is fond of asking audiences he speaks to the following question: What do you most want for your children? (And if you’re not parents, consider it hypothetically – what would you most want most for your children to have in life?). Happiness? Good health? Fulfillment? Love?

Seligman then juxtaposes it with the following question: What do schools teach? Discipline? Science? Responsibility?

But suppose we can have both? This is what he means by Positive Education. In addition to what we traditionally teach in schools, Positive Education involves the teaching of character and strength, virtue, self-awareness, self-efficacy (not self-esteem), resilience, flexible and accurate thinking, strategies for high quality connections, and optimism wed to reality.

With the advent of Positive Psychology, these constructs are now grounded in theory and science – with evidenced-based interventions to build these capacities and in turn, make life more worth living – more pleasurable, more engaging, and more meaningful.

It has been shown that happier people have better relationships, earn more money, and live longer than unhappier people. If we’re finding ways that make people happier, doesn’t it make sense we teach this in schools?

There Are Three Ways In

In 2007, McKinsey published a report titled How The World’s Best Performing School Systems Come Out on Top (pdf here). In the report, McKinsey looks at the top performing schools in the world, and concludes that three things differentiate the best:

  1. Teacher quality
  2. Teacher development
  3. Ensuring that the system can deliver the best possible instruction to every child

What is the #1 Top Action We Can Take?

Laptop school happiness ppndKnowing these McKinsey results, what is the strongest lever?  What is the biggest bang for the buck?  There may be evidence that teacher development can change schools with the most impact for the most ease.  For example, Geelong Grammar School in Australia has focused on Positive Education, including as part of that the Positive Education Training Conference for teachers.

What if schools running professional development workshops – for teachers and administrators and a learning series for  students and parents – could make those strides to grow the beauty of schools and prevent possible pain to individuals?  What if these seminars were based on the research findings of positive psychology – and to include the whole system?

What if the alien form Mars could report this:

Children are enjoying some type of information.  They are smiling.  The adults are smiling.  There is a bidirectional construction of knowledge.  Everyone is learning.  Everyone is eager to return each day.

Author’s Note: If you’re reading this and thinking, “Yes! That’s what we need,” consider contacting me and my colleagues at Flourishing Schools to come and deliver workshops for your local school (or learning organization of any kind). You never know how just one phone call on your part could positively influence an entire system or community . . .

Images by David Niblack: girl distance, smiling children, teacher with laptop

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LeanRainmakingMachine 28 February 2009 - 11:32 pm

I had the privilege of attending the finest undergraduate school in the world–Princeton. Please know that much of its excellence involved extremely hard work, determination, focus, perseverance, competition, anxiety, desire to excel, need to be excellent, self doubt,a shared sense of our perseverance and determiantion, belief in excellence, belief that excelling was a worthy goal, and many other phenomena that are not as simple as feeling good. I am convinced that positive “emotion” includes extraordinary hard work and dedication and that simple default to “what feels good” is a recipe for failure, addiction and devolution…
be well…

Senia Maymin 1 March 2009 - 8:12 am

Hi Louis,

Having been fortunate enough to participate in the first Geelong Grammar training headed by Martin Seligman and Karen Reivich, I agree with you. There is so much progress that happens in teacher development, and that progress and enthusiasm is translated to the kids.

Some of the most powerful discussions I have ever had about positive psychology were with teachers. I think our brains need newness and need new techniques if we want to move forward. Positive psychology gives us these techniques.

Hi LeanRainmakingMachine, I think Louis would agree with you. And I think part of what Louis refers to with what feels bad is exactly that – why does the combination of hard work, determination, desire to excel, self-doubt – why does that combination often feel wrong at school? And – to a more positive psychology question – when does it work? When does it feel right and carry us forward?

My best,

Barry Elias 1 March 2009 - 11:06 am

March 1, 2009

Dear Louis,

Wonderful to see you at the Happiness Meetup this past Monday, February 23, 2009.

Your Positive Psychology News Daily article, dated February 28, 2009 and reproduced below, is prescient.

Teachers are the key.

As parents, my wife and I were my son’s first teaching team.

We instilled a love of learning at an early age (i.e., 0-5 years; before entering school) that continues to this day.

Through quality play we empowered his development as a critical, creative, strategic thinker.

He recalls the “math folder” we would work with when he was 2 or 3; he commented, at that age it was all I knew: learning.

He is a proactive, independent learner, who has taken the initiative to teach himself web design (age 11) and calculus (age 13).

Currently, he is excelling as freshman at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

As your article aptly notes, the limiting factor is the quality, not quantity, of spending for education that matters: Optimize results.

My wife markets educational products for children that focus on key developmental areas for children 0-5 years. Through quality play, these items provide the child (and society) with a tremendous return on investment: Better results with lower cost. By spending less, we do not care less; in fact, we may care more, based on the increased results.

I have been working with organiz ations to optimize their philanthropic portfolios. Charitable contributions in the U.S. total roughly $300 billion annually. This figure excludes approximately $600 billion on hand at foundations as of 2006. Many foundations are required to distribute 5% of current assets annually. These entities (i.e., social entrepreneurs), may find the value added proposition with these products quite attractive.

I would like to explore these ideas with you at your convenience.

Looking forward to staying in touch.

Barry Elias

Kirsten Cronlund 1 March 2009 - 1:09 pm


What an important subject this is! I am encouraged by the many discussions I have had with people over the last few years on this topic. It’s obvious to me that there are people already doing amazing things to make education meaningful at all levels, and there are many who are committed to reform.

I think there’s definitely merit to the idea that engaging teachers in a different way is key to forward momentum. This is at the heart of the Positive Education programs that Karen Reivich and Marty Seligman have offered at Geelong Grammar School in Australia. They speak to educators, with the idea that the concepts will be translated through them in meaningful ways to their students.

Barry, you make some interesting points about cost-effectiveness. Especially in these economic times, we need to pay attention to how to optimize results. I have some ideas about this, which I am happy to share offline with anyone who is interested (kirsten@cronlund.com), but I think ultimately the answer lies in collaboration. The more people we have involved in changing the culture of education, the more we can develop a collective wisdom which will naturally gain momentum.

Thanks for highlighting this very important topic, Louis!

WJ 1 March 2009 - 2:24 pm

Louis, I’m not sure if the GG program is a good exemplar of Positive Education (See http://www.innate-intelligence.com.au/blog/?p=428) It paints a picture of PE as being only for the privileged. I know that you are working hard to change that.

Louis Alloro 1 March 2009 - 9:18 pm


Good to hear from you. Glad you had what sounds like a good learning experience at Princeton.

As Senia pointed out, I’m not suggesting that we need to reconstruct cultures of schools so that they are simply all “feel good.” That’s ridiculous. Positive Psychology does not discount the negative parts of human experience; in fact, those could often lead to great learning moments.

The combination of hard work, determination, desire to excel, self-doubt, etc. sure do contribute to success — for successful people (perhaps the people that get to go to Princeton). These are the kids that often have a passion that allows for perseverance. They’re the ones who work hard and are determined because they see things more positively — i.e. a bright light out of a 18+ year educational tunnel.

But what about the kids who don’t? For them, resilience and flexible & accurate thinking strategies (Reivich et al), self-efficacy (Bandura) and hope (Lopez & Snyder) are crucial. Everyone is entitled to creating the life they want to live, not just the ivy-leaguers, don’t you think?

Louis Alloro 1 March 2009 - 9:35 pm

Senia — Muchos gracias for the intriguing questions. I agree that training teachers has enormous consequences, but it can’t stop there.

I remember speaking with Marty Seligman this time last year about making the efforts viral at Geelong. He was wondering how it could be done (and even solicited our MAPP.3 class for suggestions.)

I asked him one question that raised his brow: Are the teachers and staff “living it?”

That is, it’s great to provide training and workshops, but unless there is a call-to-action which challenges people to live from a positive paradigm in daily life, then there is no reason to really change the way we think and behave (remember what William James says about habits being the enormous flywheel of society).

Helping people “live it” is vision I have for Social-Emotional Leadership© (http://repository.upenn.edu/mapp_capstone/10/). That in looking out for the well-being of others, Social-Emotional Leaders© emerge within our communities to remind us to “live it” when we are challenged–when it may seem easier to fall back into our habitual ways.

Social-Emotional Leaders help us create new habits, customs, and ways of being (and thinking) that are sustainable because they come from the ground-up and within loving relationships in which there is a shared vision for a better, more ‘positive’ future.

Can you see this call-to-action working within any community (family, school, work setting) that you are a part of?


Louis Alloro 1 March 2009 - 9:51 pm

Hi Barry,

Was good seeing you too. And thank you for the example of your son. Love-of-learning must be one of your top strengths — and we can see how that has been translated to your son’s success today. Evolution at its finest, I’d say.

But what when parents now raising children were never given that modeling? We create a chain of dysfunction that remains perpetuated until we find a way to encourage people to really rethink the ways they think and behave (see my response to Senia above on Social-Emotional Leadership©. Sometimes Social-Emotional Leaders are not the oldest members of the clan, but the youngest. This is not a hierarchy).

I agree that there are ways to do this that don’t cost much money. My colleagues and I at Flourishing Schools (www.FlourishingSchools.com) work hard to equip school systems and communities (networks of families) with internal resources to sustain this positive change process. I think people are hungry for it.

And yes! Play! It’s so crucial. Consider the joy and excitement of a youngster at play — full of curiosity and wonder. Please share your website with us.


Louis Alloro 1 March 2009 - 9:54 pm

Yes, Kirsten, collaboration — at the very heart of positive psychology — and the very reason I love working with you so much. Thank you for embodying it.

I’d love to hear some of your ideas. Do you feel comfortable sharing any of them in this discussion?


Louis Alloro 1 March 2009 - 10:00 pm

Hi Wayne,

Yes, we’re working hard to change that — but this requires school systems rethink budget structures and where they place their emphases. And surely, what’s being done in Australia is not the only curriculum or model.

Tell us more about your Acceptional Thinking program, please.


Kathryn Britton 1 March 2009 - 10:01 pm


Just because a place of privilege leads the way, why does that mean that a program is ONLY for the privileged?


wayne j 1 March 2009 - 10:15 pm

Kathryn, there are broader issues – the program run at GG is extremely time (according to the brochure its’a a full week program)and cost intensive. The question is can better programs be developed at reduced costs?

WJ 2 March 2009 - 1:52 am

Hi Louis, If you are interested on the ACCEPTional program I can send you more information. Email me at wayne(at)i-i(dot)com(dot)au

Jeff Dustin 2 March 2009 - 4:41 am

This week, I watched the psychologist Philip Zimbardo on Youtube talk about the Abu Graib Prison torture. He said that atrocities like the Abu Graib Prison are perpetuated by psychologically healthy people placed into bad situations. The soldiers there were not sadists. His book The Lucifer Effect chronicles the backstory if you are interested. I draw parallels to
our problems in education.

He put it so well. You have normal apples, in bad barrels, built by bad barrel makers.

In Abu Graib, there was poor supervision at all levels, locally and nationally. There were Army Reservists with inadequate training living in the bad barrel of Abu Graib. They displayed poor but predictable judgment, just as some teachers do, in response to an irrational hierarchy. The soldiers tortured. Teachers burn out. Both groups lacked best practices.

I want to be a better role model. What is the *best* practice (shorthand for: high ROI of time-money-effort) to improve my positivity, grit & hopeful behavior? I think the best way for me to teach these strengths is through living the talk. Which intervention or method would most likely grow my skill in hope?

I would like to open up this question to any interested PPND author.


Kirsten Cronlund 2 March 2009 - 8:30 am

Hi Jeff,

What a very good, very practical question. Yes, we do need to change the educational system, but you’re right – for the time being we have teachers who are still working in the current system and we would be foolish to sidestep providing help to them (you) RIGHT NOW. I have some ideas, at least to begin a dialogue on this topic. And, to give myself a little more credibility, I am also an educator. I have taught 6th and 3rd grades, and now I work as an academic tutor and a TA and a teaching fellow at Penn. So my words come not just from my studies, but also from my work experience.

In the book Resonant Leadership by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, the authors talk about the qualities of really good leaders. These qualities are in the emotional competence realm, specifically mindfulness, hope, and compassion. They also talk about burn-out and something they call the Sacrifice Syndrome and Power Stress. These concepts address what happens to anyone when they are in a high-stress situation for long periods of time (an inability to sustain their high performance, physical and emotional breakdown, loss of resilience). To mitigate these issues they introduce something they call the Renewal Cycle, basically made up of the concepts of mindfulness, hope, and compassion. The cultivation of these is at the heart of establishing and maintaining high functioning.

But how do you do that, I bet you’re asking. Well, my studies of mindfulness make me point to it as the foundation for cultivating hope and compassion. There are many ways to approach mindfulness, the most obvious of which is to practice meditation. That’s a pretty good ROI, since all you really have to do is learn a bit about the different types of meditation and breathing techniques (as easy as buying a book or a CD) and practice every day. I read a recent article by Jon Kabat-Zinn in which he recommends meditating for a half hour a day. What happens is that you train yourself to view your internal and external environments nonjudgmentally and so you cultivate a flexibility of mind and heart to the twists and turns of life.

There is biofeedback software, which you may have read about here on PPND before (Wayne Jencke – see his past articles on this site) that helps speed up the mindfulness practice because it helps each individual to identify which practices are most effective for them in achieving calmness (mantras, particular breathing techniques, savoring positive memories, etc.). It also gives immediate feedback about how negative thoughts directly impact the physiology of the body, even while engaged in rhythmic breathing.

So, to sum up, I would highly recommend three things: 1. Get and read Resonant Leadership (and there’s a follow-up workbook called Becoming a Resonant Leader) by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee; 2. Engage in a regular practice of mindfulness; and 3. Speed up the impact of your mindfulness practice by using the biofeedback heart rate variability software (you can contact Wayne at wayne@innate-intelligence.com.au for more information about that – or see his past articles on PPND). Oh, and exercise is also really good. So I guess that’s four suggestions. None of these things is extremely pricey, and I’m guessing you’d more than get your money’s worth on them all.

Joan Young 2 March 2009 - 10:57 am

As a kindergarten teacher and a tutor/coach for kids ranging from ages 9-18, I deeply appreciate this article. I have been interested in applying positive psychology research to classroom practice for the past few years and though I have limited influence over my peer teachers, there are changes I have made in my own classroom that have prompted the reflection of other teachers. Many teachers continue to do “what they have always done”for several reasons:
1) They aren’t convinced there is a better way.
2) They don’t feel empowered to try new things; micromanagement often happens with schools under program improvement, and teachers are directed to follow a “script” to ensure learning.
3) Some teachers don’t know how to work effectively with parents: it’s easy to just say, “parents don’t care” than to face the challenge and ask, “What is one thing we can do?”
4) Many teachers simply aren’t trained to face the enormous challenges placed upon them. Teachers often find themselves being surrogate parent, counselor, social worker, and more! An elementary teacher in CA has a class with a high percentage of English Language Learners( there are 7 languages spoken in my classroom!), as well as kids suffering abuse/neglect, poverty, trauma, as well as a multitude of self-regulation and social cognition issues. For many teachers, the only contact they have with psychologists is when they are trying to advocate for a child that needs support services. Unfortunately, the system is set up to pathologize the child in order to get help. Obviously this causes enormous problems in seeing a child from a strengths perspective!
I have shared the “Flourishing Schools” website with my principal in an attempt to make some changes; however, with the serious budget crises facing CA schools, I doubt that anything requiring financial output will happen right now. For now, I have some ideas about bringing positive psychology into teaching credential classes and hope to collaborate and be a part of change in education. As you aptly mentioned, it’s not only training and change in mindset that will facilitate new practices among educators, but support and commitment in everyday practice that will make it happen. Thanks again.

Senia Maymin 2 March 2009 - 11:21 am

Louis, Barry, and Jeff,

Louis, thanks for the answer.
Barry, this is the site? http://www.toysofdiscovery.com
Jeff, welcome back!


Louis Alloro 2 March 2009 - 11:57 am

Kathryn, Thanks for pointing out that just because a place of privilege leads the way does not mean that the program is only for the privileged.

Wayne, it’s a start. Let’s be mindful of that, ey? The cost of the program at GGS is party due to the fact that the researchers running it have costly rates. There are many of us on the ground who are ready where the rubber meets the road to integrate positive psychology into cultures and curricula at places that don’t have $1M to spend!

So, keep that in mind, please.


Louis Alloro 2 March 2009 - 12:07 pm

Hi Jeff – Thank you for the Abu Graib example. Many psychologists would argue that it’s the environment we need to change if expect the way people to shift the way they think and behave.

Makes me wonder as far as schools, what we need to change environmentally, so that people shift behaviorally and start walking the talk? Anybody have any ideas?


Jeff Dustin 2 March 2009 - 12:24 pm

Reinforcers are magnets. They draw us into certain behavioral tendencies. We need the right magnet combo. Which ones are the fewest we need to create a big change?

Jeff Dustin 2 March 2009 - 12:43 pm

Kristen: “…I would highly recommend three things…

1. Read Resonant Leadership (and there’s a follow-up workbook called Becoming a Resonant Leader) by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

2. Engage in a regular practice of mindfulness

3. Speed up the impact of your mindfulness practice by using the biofeedback heart rate variability software

4. Exercise is also really good.”

I have read Resonant Leadership and tried to apply it to my workspace while I was in the military. I was quite unsuccessful. Maybe the setting was too dysfunctional, beyond help. Those who responded best to leading from the heart seemed to be those who espoused a compassionate worldview. The majority rejected that style of leadership. They espoused an authoritarian style of leadership and thought that Resonant Leadership “made you a pussy”. Probably it was the way I approached RL. Whatever, I still think it is a good way to go.

Mindfulness creeps me out a little. When I peer into my thoughts, I realize that they are influencing my actions far more than my conscious mind. I do take time to reflect on my successes and failures, though I could make it a regular addition.

I haven’t tried suggestion #3.

#4 is a riddle. Every time I start to exercise I get derailed by competitiveness. I’m short and stocky (read obese). I find myself pessimistic about exercise and give up. In fact, I’ve started exercising for health literally hundreds of times. It always get derailed by
a) a sense of competitiveness with leaner men
b) the ambiguity of “health goals”…no visual progress.
c) overly ambitious goal setting
d) a desire not to keep failing

I think #4 has the highest potential to defuse stress and improve my overall positivity & work effectiveness. The practical side of regularly doing it has eluded me.

Thank you for such a physically and mentally quick reply.


Louis Alloro 2 March 2009 - 1:17 pm

Kirsten, Thanks for your suggestions on what we might do to right now to increase some of these psychological capacities. This mindfulness stuff reminds me of the importance of slowing down, being present, and living in the moment. School is so often viewed as preparation of “what’s next” – rather than for the enjoyment and cultivation of “what is”. This is a societal dilemma, I think, and one that will require not just students and teachers build mindfulness, but that parents, too, begin realizing that the “rat race” is nonsensical and counterproductive.

Jeff, I think some other practices we can incorporate into schools will help kids to tap into their strengths. This means we change education as usual: you’re not good at math and what do you get? More math!?!?


Jeff Dustin 2 March 2009 - 3:04 pm

…but are you not good at math, or did you not have a solid preparation that played to your other strengths? It is too easy to fall into labeling ability not examining the underpinnings of why a child fails or succeeds.

Too often I find myself saying, that kid is just lazy rather than looking at my assignments or the kid’s history. Should we give up on time-tested subjects like math just because a child hasn’t had teachers using best practices?

Arthur Benjamin is the author of a book on speed calculation. I learned from him that doing mental math from left to right, versus the way I was taught to do calculation right to left, was easier. Was I a Bad Math Student or did I lack the proper best practice based preparation?

To what degree do kids need to achieve in a subject area before we say, good enough?

We know that language arts, life skill mathematics to a certain degree, and science are bedrock education staples. They have withstood the test of time. They prepare kids for further study in professional fields, should they choose to go on to college. Social studies and history are nice because you want kids that know there is more than just their town or city. You want good global citizens. I know it sounds preachy and philosophical, but at a basic level without a good grasp of where these kids are going, we can’t make rational decisions about programming.

Schools shape an essential to society product: the student. If we give up on what works, like core subjects, because it doesn’t feel good in the now society is in big trouble. There’s no reason we can’t have both, though, and I think that is what you were saying in your latest article.

Joan Young 2 March 2009 - 6:00 pm

Ellen Langer’s book, The Power of Mindful Learning, tackles the myths pervasive in education/society that perpetuate mindlessness in learning. As she tackles each myth, she also provides practical solutions for mindful learning. Her exploration is quite eye-opening and thought provoking. Mindfulness, among other benefits, promotes the flexibility and creativity that is needed to solve complex problems. We definitely need kids with these high level critical thinking skills.
Back to the original question of your article, Louis. I think the most important action schools can take is to educate all involved: students, parents, teachers, on the ways that a positive, strengths based learning community empowers and supports all students in establishing and meeting goals. Each student needs to believe that he matters and must know that caring adults will be there to support and hold him accountable for achieving his goals. We need to dismiss the “misunderstanding” that exploring strengths means neglecting the basic content/subject areas. In many discussions where strengths comes up, it seems that some people think building strengths or working through strengths means copping out or ignoring subjects that are challenging to a student. This is not the case! When a student is fueled by passionate, engaged learning,in a subject he is interested in, he often gains the momentum to work on more challenging subjects. A student with a strong artistic ability can use that strength to study for vocabulary tests by drawing “vocabulary cartoons” or study for a math test by drawing out word problems. Using strengths means facilitating a student’s discovery into what works for him/her as a learner. Respecting each student’s uniqueness and building learning environments that support self discovery are key.

Louis Alloro 2 March 2009 - 6:17 pm


Thanks so much for your insight in this discussion. Your experience as a teacher adds richness and depth here. I love what you say about building self-efficacy in students and how leveraging strengths means facilitating what works. This is at the heart of Positive Psychology — and the very reason why it has a natural home in schools.

Building learning environments to support unique learners is crucial–timely, costly–but also requires we think outside the normal paradigm of schooling. It means we may need to revise the school day or begin measuring things other than math and science — how about well-being, anyone?


Louis Alloro 2 March 2009 - 6:29 pm

Jeff- Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. This is a both/and discussion. Most of Positive Psychology is both/and (not and/or) as a matter of fact.

You say that “language arts, life skill mathematics to a certain degree, and science are bedrock education staples…” but I challenge you here and ask, “why?” Is it because it’s just the way it’s always been? I’m not suggesting we do not teach math and language arts, but I do question the emphasis we place on these disciplines as *The* means to preparing global citizens.

What do you think?

The world has changed, and so too must the way we approach schooling.

Jeff Dustin 2 March 2009 - 7:02 pm

The need for communication ability and literacies is increasing, not decreasing. Literacy, numeracy, and scientific thinking have in fact grown. I can’t absorb the wonderful articles on PPND without a high degree of reading and writing skill. That means that somebody without literacy is getting left behind.

The facility with which a person can move about comfortably and ably in the different languages of science, math, communications will determine their place in the world in large measure. Being born wealthy helps, too.

Some schools emphasize these skill sets perhaps overzealously and deemphasized vocational training. That’s a pity. Its not Either/Or. Finding ways to integrate subjects is what problem based & inquiry learning does best. Real world challenges demand interdisciplinary strength.

The way we access information has changed by the volume of it available. Yet even with advances such as sophisticated graphics, the old ways still are necessary in some form. Maybe kids use a calculator and don’t know basic ciphering. Yet the math is still there helping them.

While the core abilities are more or less stable and enduring, the way we teach them can be fluid and match the needs of the learner.

Tapio Kymäläinen 3 March 2009 - 3:09 am

Hi all,

I’ve been fortunate to be in very exceptional education here in Finland. From my experiences I can draw few thoughts related to the article. So, here we go;

Tapio’s four thesis about changing education.

1. Education in teams

– Team is responsible of the learning of it’s individuals, and there is team-coach, not an teacher to support it. This makes it possible for people to learn superb social skills, really have dialogue and work together. (I’ve been speaking about this to number of Americans, and they don’t seem to get it at all, why is that?)

2. Learners are in the main role when deciding what to learn. (coach is giving guidance, in other words, asking questions)

– Two main reasons; (1) There is so much information produced all the time, very important to learn what do you need to learn. (2) Motivation, you are motivated when you have decided with your team what you need to learn, instead of teacher forcing on it, and you don’t understand why.

3. Consciously using enthusiasm as a source of positivity.

– Kids, (and adults) are mostly enthusiastic and curious about new things. Unless they are restricted by dull and strict curriculum which does not support learning process, but is created for getting marks. Providing structures where this enthusiasm can flourish is one key in generating atmosphere of positive learning.

4. Community and leading thoughts.

– Not more than 150persons in a unit. Community with goals, values, vision and mission, in which students are influencing every year. In this way they learn how they are part of the bigger system, on organizational level.

There is one website of the “school” that works in this way. That is for Bachelors degree program, but there is examples in Finland from kindergarten and primary school to Universities.


Interested to hear your thoughts.

Louis Alloro 3 March 2009 - 8:48 am

Jeff, Beautifully said. I agree; the need for literacy is increasing. The need for critical thinking skills is paramount, especially in this global, web-based world.

One of the (private) school settings I once taught at forced me to graduate a senior who could not write a cohesive paragraph. When I approached the Head of School with my concern, she basically told me that the girl must graduate; case closed.

What does it say about the state of education when the school leaders lose sight of true learning? Of the importance of writing and critical thinking? I’ve seen the same thing happen at the bachelors and masters levels too. What becomes the value of these degrees when people get passed along as a rites of passage?


Louis Alloro 3 March 2009 - 3:18 pm

Tapio – Thanks for your comments. Your thesis is certainly in line with the principles of Positive Psychology. Also sounds very Rousseauian. Emile: or, On Education, which Rousseau considered his most important work, is a seminal treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship. Are you familiar with it?

All of your points seem in line with the pedagogy for young children — and young teachers — but as people move through the system, especially in the US, this sense of wonder and curiosity and teamwork seems to dissipate, at least from my perspective. What does everyone else think?


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